BOSTON — Led by a two-goal performance by senior Andrew McKay, Holy Cross skated to a 5-2 victory over Quinnipiac in the first game of Saturday’s Atlantic Hockey doubleheader at the FleetCenter to take sole possession of second place in Atlantic Hockey.
The victory placed the Crusaders one point ahead of third-place Canisius and one point behind conference-leading Sacred Heart, a 4-1 winner over American International Saturday.
McKay, along with linemate Pierre Napert-Frenette, accounted for three of Holy Cross’ five goals.
“We’ve got some good chemistry going right now,” said McKay of the Crusaders’ top line that includes himself, Napert-Frenette and Tyler McGregor.
It was a game in which Holy Cross was opportunistic, as both teams generated plenty of shots. Quinnipiac held a 42-41 advantage in shots on goal, but the Crusaders made the most of their opportunities.
“Holy Cross outworked us at the opportune times,” said Quinnipiac head coach Rand Pecknold, whose Bobcats were held without a 5-on-5 goal, scoring both goals on the power play. “They finished and we didn’t and that’s part of the game of hockey.”
Goaltending also proved a difference on Saturday, as Holy Cross netminder Ben Conway (40 saves), though not called often upon to make gamebreaking saves, stood his ground when necessary.
On the other hand, Quinnipiac goaltender Jamie Holden (36 saves), though largely without blame for the Holy Cross goals, was unable to make the big saves at key times to which his team has become accustomed.
That may be where Quinnipiac lost the game.
“I think we’ve been trying to address our defense issues all year,” said Pecknold. “Right now, we’re the worst backchecking team in the league. We put too much pressure on our goaltenders to make the big saves.”
In addition to Holy Cross’ top line playing well, the Crusaders also got first-period goals from two freshmen, which according to McKay, helped get his line going.
“It’s a big lift whenever the young guys pitch in,” said McKay. “The older guys seem to feed off of that.”
The Crusaders opened the scoring on the power play at 7:56 of the first. Dale Reinhardt left a perfect drop pass for Matt Werry in the slot that the rookie winger fired over the shoulder of Holden for the early 1-0 lead.
Quinnipiac, though, answered with a power-play goal of its own. Ben Nelson, who entered the game with a five-game goal-scoring streak, eluded two Holy Cross defenders and fired a shot on Conway from the right faceoff dot. The puck sneaked through Conway’s pads and trickled across the goal line before anyone could get to it, evening the game at 12:35.
Just over two minutes later, though, Cal St. Denis put the Crusaders back in front. Standing on the doorstep with only one hand on his stick, he banged home the rebound of a Jonas Tomiuck shot at 14:49 to send Holy Cross to the locker room with a 2-1 lead through one.
In the second, Holy Cross took a territorial advantage and, in the process, a commanding lead.
At 4:22, the Crusaders extended the lead. After Conway made a big right pad save in the defensive zone, Holy Cross transitioned on a three-on-two break. Napert-Frenette dropped a pass to McKay, who fired a shot high on the glove side for the 3-1 lead.
At 13:44, the Crusaders struck again with the Napert-Frenette/McKay combo. This time it was Napert-Frenette who buried the rebound of a McKay shot, again high over the glove of Holden, to spot Holy Cross a three-goal lead entering the third.
Midway through the third, Quinnipiac had its best opportunity to draw closer. Michael Bordieri was sent in on a shorthanded breakaway from center ice but fired a shot well over the crossbar at 12:30.
Holy Cross took immediately took advantage. Napert-Frenette sent a clearing pass that put McKay on a two-on-one. McKay opted for the shot that beat Holden five-hole for a 5-1 lead.
Matt Craig added a late goal on a five-on-three advantage for Quinnipiac to account for the 5-2 final.
The win gives Holy Cross a two-point advantage over Quinnipiac in the Atlantic Hockey standings. The two clubs entered in a tie for third. Quinnipiac now sits all alone in fourth place.
Holy Cross will have a brief rest before returning Tuesday night to play UConn in Storrs, Conn. Quinnipiac will host Canisius for two games next Friday and Saturday.