WORCESTER, Mass. — Coach Rob Riley knew that if Army was going to continue to make progress in the MAAC standings, it’d have to take full advantage of their home-and-home series with the Crusaders. After freshman goaltender Brad Roberts turned in 33 saves tonight, earning his team a 3-1 decision over Holy Cross, he gave them just that.
“This was a great weekend for us,” said Riley. “Holy Cross threw a lot at us and we responded well. Brad kept his composure and just had a fantastic weekend. His play was phenomenal and it gave us a chance to win.”
The Black Knights are now 4-1 in their last five games and continue to prove to be the surprise team of the new year. Their sweep against Holy Cross boosted them into a tie with the Crusaders for sixth place in the standings. The points were even more crucial as Army has a bye-week from MAAC play next weekend.
“Next weekend is still huge for us when we play the Royal Military College of Canada,” said Riley. “These four-points were extremely important. Teams will catch or pass us, but this coming weekend’s games will still be very important. Every game is crucial.”
In a game that was dominated by special teams, Army’s were simply just that. All three Army goals were tallied on the power play. In a physical and closely-called game, both teams were charged with a combined 20 penalties, many of which came after whistles.
“Special teams is always the name of the game,” Riley noted, whose team was 3-8 on the night. “Last night Brad made the saves for us and that carried over into tonight. We haven’t had very much success on special teams against Holy Cross in the past, so tonight was a good achievement. They are very talented, but Brad always gives us a chance to win.”
The staggering Crusaders, who are now winless in their last six games and have dropped 12 of the last 14 contests, fell behind from the onset. On the power play, junior Jon Boyle took a lead pass from Chris MacLeod that sent him streaking down the left wing boards. Boyle unleashed a slap shot from the top of the left circle that beat Crusader goaltender Tony Quesada over the right shoulder with 7:29 to play in the first.
Boyle’s seventh goal of the season gave the Black Knights the lone tally of the first period, and the lead for the remainder of the game.
A charged Holy Cross emerged in the second using a pestering forecheck that gave Army great difficulty breaking out of their own zone for the majority of the game.
“We just tried to move the puck,” said Riley. “The whole first half of that period, they came at us hard. A goal or two could have put us away.”
Holy Cross’ Jonas Tomiuck made the hard work pay off for the Crusaders just 1:17 into the second stanza. Tomiuck corralled a Roberts rebound off of Blair Bartlett’s shot from the slot and sent it into the yawning net from the right doorstep. The Crusaders would get a power play after Mike McLean was charged for hitting HC’s Chris Smith after the whistle; however, the Crusaders were unable to capitalize.
Both Quesada and Roberts traded saves for the remainder of the period, but it was Quesada who would flinch first. Sophomore Matt Field received a pass from Nic Serre on the point and quickly one-timed a shot past Quesada, who was moving left to right on the low glove side. Quesada would finish with 29-saves and has not won since Nov. 16.
“Our defense has been playing strong,” said Roberts, who blanked the Crusaders 4-0 the night before. “We needed four points, especially after losing to UConn. Last weekend. I just tried to lead by example and give my team a chance to win.”
Army took that 2-1 lead into the locker room. The Crusaders lack of discipline put them down five-on-three with 1:17 to play in the third, and they were not able to recover. Chris Garceau notched an empty-netter with seven seconds to play to secure the victory and complete the sweep for the Black Knights.
The Black Knights (12-12-0/8-10-0 MAAC) will return to MAAC action in two weeks when they travel to Fairfield on Feb. 14 while Holy Cross (10-14-0/8-8-0 MAAC) looks to make up some much needed ground when they face AIC in a home-and-home Feb. 7 and 8.