WORCESTER, Mass. — With its six-game winning streak on the line, Holy Cross faced its biggest scare Saturday, when visiting Fairfield nearly upset the Crusaders at the Hart Center. Trailing 2-1 heading into the third period, Holy Cross used three unanswered goals to fend off the Stags and take control of the nation’s longest winning streak at seven games with a 4-3 victory.
“I’m shocked,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl, after finding out about the streak. “I thought there should be teams winning more. We are just concentrating on playing one game at a time. If it adds to the streak, that’s fine by me.
“We played a very good Fairfield team tonight. There is something wrong if we don’t see them in the playoffs this year.”
The Crusaders thrived off the line of Greg Kealey, Pierre Napert-Frenette, and Tyler McGregor. Kealey recorded a goal and one assist on the night, while McGregor and Napert-Frenette each tallied a goal and two assists to lead both teams in scoring. The line picked up eight points among the three of them, all coming in the third period.
Both teams appeared to have done a role reversal in the opening minutes of the first period. The normally speedy Crusaders were swarmed by Fairfield in their own zone. The pestering Stag attack paid off when senior Steve Calderara’s blast from the top of the right circle rocketed over the shoulder of a screened Tony Quesada for the early goal. Calderara’s second tally of the year came just 55 seconds into the opening stanza. The last time Holy Cross failed to score first was October 26 against Iona.
It would take five minutes for Holy Cross to register its first shot on goal. The tide slowly turned back in favor of the purple when Jeff Dams led a two-on-one with under 14 minutes to play, but his shot from the left circle deflected off the glove of Stag goaltender Mike Wolfe and went wide. Holy Cross ended up outshooting the Stags 11-6, despite the slow start.
Wolfe would get help from the iron when both R.J. Irving and Joe Weber had shots from the point that nearly found their way into the net. Nevertheless, Fairfield took a 1-0 lead into the locker room.
“We were getting a lot shots, but they were all coming from the perimeter,” said Pearl. “We do best when we go to the net. They packed us in, making it difficult to get there, but we knew if we kept doing what we were doing, the goals would come.”
A drama-filled second period saw each team race end to end with an abundance of scoring chances. Quesada kept the Crusaders within one goal early, robbing Tom Palladino streaking down the right wing with a clear look at the net. Quesada was out cutting down the angle and closed his pads to deflect the puck into the corner.
“Tony has just a very cool personality,” commented Pearl. “He is a great athlete, and our players feed off of that. He was excellent tonight.”
With 8:34 to play in the second period, Jack Devaney camped out on the left doorstep, accepted a pass from Brian Payant across the crease, and slid it past the diving Quesada to give the Stags a two-goal cushion.
The Crusaders nearly cut the lead in half with 6:22 to play when Tim Bernstein tipped a Joel Robbins shot from the left point. The puck eluded Wolfe and nearly trickled across the goal line, but dinged off the post instead. The goal was under controversy as the red light came on, but after conferring, referees let the call stand.
With under 5:00 to play, and the Crusaders on their first power play of the game, both Irving and Weber hit nothing but iron with rockets from the point.
It wasn’t until 3:59 to play in the second stanza that the Crusaders struck. After a six second five-on-three expired, Brandon Doria rifled a shot from the top of the left circle and past Wolfe to get Holy Cross on the board. Doria’s goal was his league-leading ninth goal of the year, coming with 1:54 remaining on the second half of the five-on-three.
Doria’s goal carried the Crusader momentum into the third period. Killing of 17 seconds of a carryover penalty in the opening of the third, McGregor let go a shot from the left point that was tipped by the stick of Kealey and over the shoulder of Wolfe to knot the game at 2-2. Kealey’s goal came just 1:23 into the third to complete the Holy Cross comeback.
The relentless purple attack continued when Napert-Frenette took Kealey’s pass from behind the net and banged home the go-ahead goal just 3:14 later. Frenette’s goal was his fifth of the year. He leads Holy Cross rookies in points with nine.
McGregor and Kealey would hook up once again, only this time it was Kealey who head-manned the puck for McGregor. The freshman deked around the defender and walked in all alone on Wolfe before tucking it in. The duo’s second connection of the night came with 5:14 to play.
Fairfield threatened with time dwindling in the third. With Wolfe on the bench for the extra-attacker, the Stags took advantage of a six-on-four. Dan Cotter tallied after scooping up a loose puck at the bottom of the right hash mark to score on the diving Quesada with 15 seconds to play.
It was as close as the Stags would get. The loss drops Fairfield to 1-3-1 in the MAAC, while the Crusaders improve to 6-1-0. Holy Cross will host Connecticut Friday night, and Fairfield will face a home-and-home against Iona.