PROVIDENCE — On an afternoon that was definitely the Rick Massey show, the rookie goaltender for Holy Cross nearly stole the show, literally.
As possibly the year’s biggest underdogs, the Holy Cross Crusaders used a solid defensive effort and great goaltending to hang in a tight game against No. 10 Providence before finally succumbing, 2-1, in a matinee at Schneider Arena.
The Crusaders, who led 1-0 midway through the game, surrendered a late-second-period tally and a shorthanded goal with 10:13 left in regulation, to account for the 2-1 score.
“We’re very proud of our effort,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “We knew we wouldn’t get a lot of chances, so we’d have to play well defensively. We did that and Rick [Massey] played well in net.”
The rookie goalie made his first non-league start for the Crusaders and ended up the day with 34 saves, many of the tough, point-blank variety.
“In prep school, I got used to seeing 40 or 50 shots enough,” said the young Massey, who was recruited by Providence, along with Dartmouth, BU, Harvard and Princeton before choosing Holy Cross. “I’ve been looking at this game on the schedule for a while hoping I’d get a chance [to play]. I knew [Providence] coach [Paul] Pooley would be watching and I wanted to play well.”
Pooley indeed was watching, and was impressed by the young goaltender’s performance.
“We talked to Rick [Massey] last year and had him here for an unofficial visit,” noted Pooley. “But we told him to take a year and play junior and we’d talk again. Instead he decided to go to Holy Cross where he’s playing well.
“You never know when a kid you look past will go into a program and develop and have a great game against you.”
If anyone thought that the Crusaders would come into Providence and hope to beat them by sitting back in a neutral zone trap, they were mistaken. Pearl, whose game plan was to allow one forechecker to attack while the third forward committed to the backcheck, said that he didn’t think Holy Cross could afford to sit back and let Providence come to them.
“They’ve got some defensemen that can come at you with a head of steam,” said Pearl. “We didn’t think we could allow them to do that and as long as we had the third guy coming back we’d be okay.
“We only allowed two odd-man rushes and both of them were mistakes made by the defensemen, not the forwards.”
Although Massey’s performance was a show-stopper, Providence’s Drew Omicioli was the hero on the scoresheet. His goal late in the second tied the game, and it was his hustle that led to Marc Suderman’s shorthanded game winner in the third.
In net for Providence, Boyd Ballard (14 saves) collected his fifth win of the season. Though not called upon to make many saves, a couple of the ones he did were spectacular.
“When you come up against a hot goaltender, sometimes you start pressing. And when you start pressing, you break down defensively,” Pooley said. “It was those times today that Boyd [Ballard] bailed us out.”
The two teams skated to a scoreless opening period, with Providence outshooting Holy Cross, 8-3. The Crusaders showed signs of solid defense, with forwards backchecking hard to support the defense on the rush. For those opportunities that the Friars did have, Massey was there with the save.
Those saves included back-to-back gems on Friars fourth-liner John Luscsz. The first came after Luscsz beat the Crusaders defense and went in untouched on Massey. Just 18 seconds later, Luscsz seemed to have an empty net for the rebound, but Massey dived across the crease and smothered the shot, keeping the game scoreless.
Said Sunderman: “We’d put a shot on [Massey] and the rebound would be there. We’d get a good whack at it and he’d be there already.”
With Holy Cross’ hoping to stay close to Providence, it did one better at 8:28 of the first when Brandon Doria gave the Crusaders a 1-0 lead. Doria was sent in alone from the blueline thanks to a tape-to-tape pass from Pat Rismiller. Doria’s shot was saved by Ballard’s pads, but bounced into the air and hit Ballard on the way down, trickling into the net.
That goal, though, might have been the wakeup call for the sleeping giant, as the Providence attack began to pummel the Crusaders with offense. Thanks, though, to good composure, some lucky breaks, and most definitely strong goaltending, the Friars were held off the board.
That was until Omicioli got the puck. The junior winger broke down the right side and was stopped originally by Massey with a nice shoulder save. But Omicioli found the puck in the high slot less than 30 seconds later and fired it off a Holy Cross defender and over the glove of Massey to even the game.
Late in the second, though, Massey continued to show his form, stopping a total of 11 Friar shots, as Providence held a lopsided 20-6 margin in shots through two periods.
With the game up for grabs in the third, both clubs had early chances. Doria was stoned at the 1:32 mark when he was set up alone in front by Jeff Dams. Then, at 5:30, Stephen Wood missed a wide open net for the Friars after Massey was knocked out of position.
At 9:11, a Providence penalty for hooking averted a Holy Cross breakaway and proved to be the smart thing to do. Aggressively, forechecking on the penalty kill, Omicioli picked the puck out of the corner and fed a streaking Murc Suderman who redirected the pass inside the right post to break the deadlock and give Providence a 2-1 lead.
Said Suderman about the game-winner, “I just went to a place where I know goal-scorers score from. Drew is fast and beat the defender so he got me the puck. I just had to bang it home.”
With plenty of time still remaining on the power play, Holy Cross was finally able to set up and Tim Cantwell unleashed a blast from the left point that deflected through traffic before hitting the inside of the right post. Providence had dodged a bullet.
The Crusaders continued to press and get there chances, but Ballard stood ground. With Massey pulled for an extra attacker, the Crusaders got two solid chances. But Ballard was in position for the first and the second deflected wide, right before the final buzzer.
The win improves Providence’s record to 13-5-3, and, coupled with a win Friday over Iona — another MAAC school — it should keep the Friars cemented around the 10 spot in the USCHO.com poll. The Friars will take on Boston College next weekend in a home-and-home series that will have a major bearing on the top spot in Hockey East.
Holy Cross falls to 5-13-1. The Crusaders will complete the PC-HC-Iona “round robin” next Friday night before playing the club’s final non-league game at Yale on Saturday.