WORCESTER, Mass. — When it comes to playoff games, textbook hockey is the way most coaches prefer their teams to play.
So after a textbook 4-1 win over Connecticut in the opening game of the 2006 Atlantic Hockey final four, its no surprise that Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl was happy.
“That would be exactly how we wanted to play,” said Pearl, who admitted his team was a bit flat in the opening period, but took some motivation from a UConn goal, its only one of the game, late in the first.
The Huskies got an eight-point outburst from their first line, including two second-period goals from senior James Sixsmith, to pace the attack.
Special teams were also a major storyline. The Crusaders killed all seven UConn power plays, while chipping in a goal apiece shorthanded and on the man-advantage.
UConn coach Bruce Marshall, whose club had scored seven power-play goals in its last four games, admitted that its lack of success on the power play Friday was a major factor in the outcome.
“You’ve got that man-advantage, and any time you get it you try to get that energy going the other way,” said Marshall, whose club was unable to capitalize on a 1:13 five-on-three power play that spanned the end of the second and beginning of the third period. “Our power play did some nice things but didn’t work it hard enough the whole time to keep it going.”
Not surprisingly, Holy Cross controlled the tempo early and 3:20 into the first got on the scoreboard. Blair Bartlett’s shot from the slot landed right on the stick of Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year Tyler McGregor, who backhanded the puck past UConn goaltender Brad Smith (25 saves) for the 1-0 lead.
The Crusaders missed numerous opportunities to extend the lead, though the best of those actually appeared to have crossed the line. Tanner Fogarty’s shot off a rebound at 4:47 bounced off Smith and looked to land just in back of the goal line. Neither the goal judge nor referee Brian Panek agreed, though, and the score remained 1-0.
Holy Cross’ inability to capitalize seemingly gave UConn energy. The Huskies held a 13-6 advantage in shots and, according to Pearl, had taken over the pace of the game. And late in the frame the Huskies drew even. Chris Uber’s shot off a scrum in front of Holy Cross netminder Tony Quesada (37 saves) with 13 seconds left trickled into the net.
UConn seemed to have balanced the ice early in the second and on a power play after Holy Cross’ Shane McAdam was sent off for tripping at 4:33, hoped to grab the lead.
Instead, Sixsmith became a one-man show.
Shorthanded, he made a nifty move at the offense blueline to toe-drag the puck around the UConn defense and then deked Smith, stuffing the goal inside the left post at 5:24.
“It’s all reaction,” said Sixsmith of his highlight-reel move. “The biggest thing was catching the puck. It was a little bit behind me.”
Quesada noted that the move wasn’t as easy as Sixsmith described.
“He beats me on that move every day in practice,” said the Crusaders goaltender. “It’s a legit move.”
Just 85 seconds later, Sixsmith gave his club its first two-goal lead of the game by burying a power-play tally. Again using the toe-drag, he pulled the puck around the defense to get to open space, then fired a riffle of a wrist shot that deflected of a UConn defender inside the left post to give the Crusaders a 3-1 lead.
Late in the second, the Huskies had their best chance to get back into the game. Back-to-back Crusader penalties led to an extended five-on-three, but the best the Huskies could muster was a puck illegally kicked into the net with two seconds left in the frame, forcing referee Panek to correctly disallow the goal.
In the third, despite UConn holding an 18-11 advantage in shots, the Crusaders kept the Huskies’ chances to the outside. When UConn finally did muster quality shots, Quesada was there to make the save.
Holy Cross finished the scoring at 13:31 as Sixsmith set up linemate Pierre Napert-Frenette, finishing off a two-on-one to account for the 4-1 final.
Holy Cross advances to the league title game for the second time in three years, while UConn’s Cinderella run ends at 11-23-2. Holy Cross will face the winner of the Mercyhurst-Bentley game in Saturday’s championship game. It marks the second straight year that the host school will reach the championship game (Quinnipiac, 2005).