WEST POINT, N.Y. — When Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold found out earlier in the week that goaltender Jamie Holden was ready to return to the lineup after a three-week absence, it signaled good news and bad news.
Holden, a playoff-tested goalie, is one of the league’s top netminders, but having both he and Justin Eddy available for Friday’s MAAC semifinal against Holy Cross left Pecknold with a very difficult decision.
“We’re blessed to have two great goaltenders,” said Pecknold, who rode Eddy into the semifinals after a 3-2 victory over Canisius one week ago. “But having two goaltenders left me with a very difficult decision.”
Regardless, the decision paid off a Holden stifled the Crusaders, which combined with an early offensive outburst, was the difference as the sophomore posted a 30-save in a 3-0 victory to advance to the MAAC championship game for the third straight year.
“I don’t think anyone likes to watch their team play from the stands, especially playoff games,” said Holden. “To get back in there with the season on the line was important to me, so that was my motivation.”
Holden’s shutout set up a championship matchup with Mercyhurst — a 10-2 winner over Bentley earlier Friday — for the third straight season.
Quinnipiac’s win was sparked by an offensive outburst — three goals in 14 minutes in the opening period — to account for all the offense in the game. The Bobcats’ ability to hold onto the lead let them play a defensive-oriented third period to preserve the shutout.
“In the third period, we did a great job of keeping players above the puck,” said Pecknold about a defensive corps that allowed only four shots in the closing 20 minutes. “We were doing the little things that we’ve been focusing on that we did early in the just but not so much lately when we’ve been losing hockey games.”
“We couldn’t get any shots in the third period,” said Holy Cross captain Brandon Doria. “They did a good job of tying us up and they just outworked us I guess.”
Pecknold had said earlier in the week that his team wasn’t as hungry as he’d like them to be. Given that, he said that he gave them a motivational speech before the game on Friday and talked about being hungry.
“The speech obviously worked tonight, so let’s see if it works on Sunday,” said Pecknold. “They were fired up and were just flying. They were hungry tonight and that’s why I’m so proud of them.”
A major factor in the game was special teams. Though neither team scored a goal, Quinnipiac held the Holy Cross power play off the board on all five attempts. Much of that can be credited to solid penalty killing, but the play of Holden on the shorthand was likely the biggest factor.
“Last time we played Holy Cross, their power play scored a couple of goals on us,” said Holden. “They do an excellent job of getting the puck to the point and getting off one-timers through traffic.
“Any time they did that I just tried to come out as far as I could to take away the chance.”
The game’s offensive story was told in the opening frame. Michael Bordeiri scored his fifth goal of the season early in the game blasting a one-timer through the legs of Holy Cross starter Anthony Quesada (seven saves) at 3:39 to give the Bobcats an early 1-0 lead.
Less than eight minutes later, Quinnipiac’s Matt Froelich extended the lead scoring on a faceoff play. Froelich was able to muscle his way to the front of the net and bury the rebound of Matt Craig’s original shot at 11:07 for the two-goal cushion.
Matt Craig gave the Bobcats a 3-0 lead minutes later, scoring on a breakaway by deking Quesada and burying the puck five hole. It appeared that the second semifinal might be headed the blowout route of the opener, but strangely that was all the offense this game would see.
Holy Cross would have its chances to pull closer, including a disallowed power-play goal at 13:25 when referee Rob Melanson lost sight of the puck before the Crusaders buried it, and also a number of shots off the post in the first and second period.
But with the Crusaders unable to capitalize, Quinnipiac was able to go into a defensive set in the third period and ride that strong play to victory.
“If we had scored in the first period, would it have been different [in the third]? Probably,” said Pearl. “Quinnipiac might have had to be a little more aggressive and who knows what happens then.”
But that wasn’t to be and Holy Cross joins fellow Massachusetts school Bentley as a semifinal exit.
It also sets up the rematch of last year’s championship game. Last year, Quinnipiac beat Mercyhurst, 6-4, for its first NCAA berth, one year after the Lakers knocked off the Bobcats, 6-5, for a chance at the big dance.
Pecknold wanted to make it clear that he has plenty of respect for his opponent.
“Certainly Mercyhurst is the cream of the crop in the league,” said Pecknold. “We’re happy to play Quinnipiac, but we’re just happy to be playing anybody on Sunday at this point.”