WORCESTER, Mass. — Championship week took on new meaning at Holy Cross this past week, and Saturday night’s opening round matchup between the third-seeded Crusaders and number-six Army continued the electrifying experience. Holy Cross’ 3-2 victory, thanks to freshman Tyler McGregor’s goal with 1:54 to play in regulation, vaulted the Crusaders into their first trip back to the MAAC final four in four years.
“Everyone has been so pumped all week,” said McGregor. “We went to the women’s basketball championship Wednesday to see them win (the Patriot League) there, and then last night with the men. We had a great crowd tonight, and we just wanted to do our bit.”
The Crusaders found their situation eerily reminiscent of last year’s quarter final draw against UConn when they mounted a four goal comeback, only to lose 6-5 in the waning seconds. Tonight, Holy Cross was on the other side of the coin. After taking a 2-1 lead into the last 4:02 of the third, it would be Army that would mount the comeback effort; however, it was the Black Knights’ turn to feel the sting of a late goal, foiling their season.
“It’s great to be on the other end of this,” said Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl. “Especially after we came back last year only to give up the game winner with 17 seconds left. In a game like today’s, you have to hope your seniors will be at their best. (Brandon) Doria, gave a great individual effort. Mark Spiers and Tim Bernstein were excellent on the forecheck and backcheck, while Joel Robbins and Chris Smith probably played the best game of their career.”
Doria, playing in his 135th career game with the Purple ranking him first among all Holy Cross players, assisted on McGregor’s game winning goal after breaking through two Army defenders.
“Brandon came to the bench first,” said McGregor. “Coach Pearl calmed him down after he missed an opportunity on our last shift. When he gets fired up, he makes plays happen. I knew I just had to go to the net and, sure enough, the puck ended up on my stick.”
The Crusaders, who finished third in the league on the power play, delivered on their lone man-advantage of the night. Holy Cross won the special teams battle, forcing Army to go 0-3 on the night. When the two teams clashed for a home-and-home series on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1, the Black Knights were able to tally four times.
“Tony (Quesada) made saves for us tonight,” said Pearl. “He cleared the puck well, and got some bounces that we weren’t getting earlier in the year. Once it was on our stick, we sent it the length of the ice.”
Quesada, making his first collegiate playoff start, turned aside 21 Army shots on the night, and bolted the door shut against the Black Knights. His counterpart, Army’s Brad Roberts, who garnered two impressive wins against Holy Cross earlier in the season, made 21 saves also in the losing effort.
“Quesada was composed tonight,” noted Pearl. “He controlled his rebounds and that’s when he’s at his best. He was like a praying mantis and just sucked in everything to his body. We turned down some good shots tonight against Roberts. Whenever you go up against a good goaltender, he’s going to get into your head.”
With the score 2-1 with 15:36 to play in the third, Army’s Chris Casey walked in all alone on Quesada, deked the freshman, but couldn’t finish the play, and the Holy Cross lead stood for the time being.
“This is just the best feeling,” said Quesada. “It was a complete team effort tonight. On the breakaway, I tried to throw a poke check. Fortunately, it came off his stick and into the corner. It was very fortunate for us.”
The Crusaders got on the board first when Andrew McKay banked a shot off of Roberts from behind the goal line that snuck under the freshman with 4:37 left in the first.
Army answered just 22 seconds later when defenseman Mike McLean took Tim Quinlan’s face off win in the Holy Cross zone and rocketed a shot over a screened Quesada for the equalizer.
“I was a little nervous tonight,” said Quesada. “I like playing a little nervous though. The defense and forwards did a great job clearing the net for me. The only two goals they got were ones I couldn’t see.”
Jeff Dams gave Holy Cross the edge in the second period with 39 seconds left on the man-advantage and 13:16 to play in the period. Dams was wide open on the right circle and rocketed a shot over Roberts to put the Crusaders up 2-1.
Nic Serre knotted the game at 2-2 with 4:02 to play in the contest. Serre broke down the right side, pulled up as if to find Dave Andros on the far side. Instead, he threw a wrister at Quesada that beat him over the blocker.
“We knew we had to keep playing,” said Doria. “We couldn’t let them dictate play and get momentum. We took it to them in the end.”
The tie would not last, setting the stage for McGregor’s heroics to send Holy Cross into the next around and avoid the upset.
“This was a huge character win for us,” noted Doria. “This team hasn’t been out of the first round in four years. We proved we could battle tonight.