WEST POINT, N.Y. — Saturday has officially become donut day at the Atlantic Hockey tournament.
Holy Cross’ Tony Quesada became the third straight goaltender to post a shutout, blanking ninth-seeded American International, 5-0, as the tournament’s number-one seed advanced to Sunday’s semifinal of the inaugural Atlantic Hockey tournament.
“The goaltending in this league is great,” said Pearl. “I look at [Quesada] and the fact that he made the league’s second team [all stars]. He’s been good for us but there are a lot of other great goaltenders in this league.
Quesada finished the night with 28 saves, but the key ones came in the middle period when AIC mounted a decent offensive charge. Holding just a 1-0 lead at the time, Quesada kept Holy Cross in control.
“I thought Tony did a good job of not only making the save but also getting out on his angle and controlling the shot and the rebound,” said Pearl. “When AIC was in tight or there was traffic he sucked the puck in real tight to the body.”
The offensive effort was helped by captain Greg Kealey, who scored early in the third and added another later in the period after the Crusaders had taken a 2-0 lead in the closing minute of the second.
“Everybody will talk about the second goal, but to me the third goal was the turning point,” said AIC captain Guillaume Caron. “In the third period, two goals behind, you felt the next goal one way or another would be a big turn in the game. Obviously [for us] it turned the other way.”
Holy Cross jumped in front early when leading scorer Jeff Dams potted his 12th goal of the season. Dams was stationed in the right spot after Greg Kealey’s shot from the top of the left faceoff circle was blocked. The puck bounced right to Dams’ stick and he released a snapshot through a screen that beat AIC goaltender Frank Novello (44 saves) cleanly over the glove at 7:03 of the first.
The middle frame turned into a skating affair, with both teams generating solid scoring chances. Holy Cross, though, was the only team to cash in, staking a 2-0 lead late in the period. Andrew McKay took a pass in the slot from behind the net and fired a hard backhander that beat Novello top-shelf with 14.1 seconds left.
“That [goal] took a lot of weight off my shoulders,” said Quesada. “They’re certainly still in the game down two but that goal gives us a lot of confidence in the locker room.”
The two-goal cushion expanded early in the third when Kealey finished off a chance at the left post, catching Novello out of position after Dams attempted to move towards the net. Novello’s momentum following Dams from left to right gave Kealey just enough room to squeeze the shot at 1:09 of the third for the 3-0 lead.
That goal realistically put an end to any type of miracle for AIC, and the Crusaders confirmed that when Kealey added his second of the game at 6:43 and senior Matt Conway scored unassisted at 13:14.
The win pushed Holy Cross into Sunday’s semifinal against either Bentley or Canisius. And for Pearl, it’s nice to have that first playoff game behind him.
“It’s absolutely good [to win the first game],” said Pearl. “I’ve said it all year long that this is a very balanced league.”
For AIC, it ended a weekend and season of ups and downs, including its upset win in Friday night’s play-in game.
“When you’re not favored to win [and you do] you take great pride in that,” said an emotional Caron. “The whole weekend has been a lot of different emotions. For the seniors it was our first tournament.
“They called [Friday night] a playoff game, but we didn’t take it that way. We took it as a game to get into the playoffs and that was our first objective. So personally I’m really proud of that.”