STORRS, Conn. — Coming off the long break for exams and holidays, most coaches fear that rust can be a big problem. Holy Cross (9-5-2, 6-2-2 MAAC) came out of the gates sloppily, but survived a quick Connecticut (3-9-3, 3-5-2 MAAC) goal to win by a score of 4-1, once again proving that slow and steady wins the race.
“It’s definitely a big deal to have to get into that game mode again,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “I thought we came out a little slow, but when all was said and done, we played a strong 60 minutes of hockey.”
Huskies coach Bruce Marshall said, “You had to love the way that we came out of the gates, but after a while the intensity just faded. We came back and played our game late in the second and into the third, but by then we just ran out of time. The key to winning games at this level is certainly consistent play, something that Holy Cross did very well tonight.”
Holy Cross broke things open in the second period by killing off a penalty and taking advantage of its own power play soon after. Captain Tony Deluzio netted his second of the season to give Holy Cross its first lead of the game.
“Tony might only have about 10 goals for us in his career, but he is a hard worker and a really gritty, character guy. We decided to throw him on the second power-play unit and he was able to finish one off for us. Special-teams goals are always tremendous lifts,” said Pearl.
The goal certainly shifted the momentum in favor of the Crusaders. Soon after the score, they were consistently winning loose pucks and holding the territorial edge. Their gritty play was rewarded as a scramble out in front of Connecticut netminder Jason Carey that resulted in a 3-1 lead. The rugby-style scrum ended with the puck in the back of the net, an unassisted score credited to Holy Cross’ John Bombard.
Pearl said, “Those are the kind of goals that go your way when you are working hard. I felt that the only person on the ice who was sure that was a goal was the one with the orange armbands. Our goals tonight were all products of hard work down low and that’s something I can be very proud of as a coach.”
The crazy play continued in the third period. Connecticut, down a man due to a penalty after the closing whistle of the second, took a too-many-men penalty, putting Holy Cross on a 46-second two-man advantage.
“It was a strange situation,” said Marshall. “Everyone was confused by the 4-on-3, something we rarely get to see.”
“Excuses aside, the penalties were uncharacteristic for our team. We are generally a well-disciplined club, but our frustration began to get the best of us after that third goal.”
As the penalty expired, UConn had a chance cut the lead in half, but Holy Cross goaltender Derek Cunha used a quick poke-check to thwart the breakaway attempt.
“Derek was really on top of his game tonight,” said Pearl. “He was able to come up big whenever we needed him.”
Pat Rismiller added an insurance goal late in the third period, stealing the puck at the blue line and breaking in alone on Carey. That score put the Crusaders up 4-1 and guaranteed a matchup in the tournament final with Air Force.
Ron D’Angelo netted the first score of the game, UConn’s only tally of the contest.
Cunha finished the game with 24 saves in the win for Holy Cross while Carey stopped 28 for the Huskies.
“The good thing for both teams is that we will get to play tomorrow,” said Marshall.
Connecticut will face Bentley in the consolation while Holy Cross will challenge Air Force for the championship of the Cingular/UConn Classic. In the nine-year history of the tournament, this will be just the second time that UConn has not played in the title game.