WORCESTER, Mass. — For the second straight season, the seventh seeded Holy Cross Crusaders knocked off the tenth-seeded AIC Yellow Jackets at the Hart Center in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament by a final of 4-2.
It marked the first victory for the Crusaders this season against the Yellow Jackets and ran Holy Cross unbeaten AHA home tournament streak to six games.
Rob Linsmayers third goal of the season midway through the second period proved to be the difference for the Crusaders as they now take to road where they will meet the second-seeded Sacred Heart Pioneers in a best-of-three quarterfinal series.
Freshman Ben Meisner got the start for the Yellow Jackets and was impressive through the first 30 minutes of action. Meisner started two of the four regular season meetings against Holy Cross and shut out the Crusaders both times.
He increased his shutout streak to 149:29 scoreless minutes as the Yellow Jackets hopped out to a 1-0 lead, 6:48 into the second period when Chris Markiewicz blasted one through a maze of bodies past freshman netminder Thomas Tysowsky.
However, Holy Cross woke up from there and finally beat Meisner at the 9:29 mark of the second when Jordan Cyr scored his team-leading 13th goal of the season as he poked one past Meisner off a point-shot from Mark Znutas.
It was a big goal, said Cyr. I think the boys were a little nervous being that its win or go home here in the first round. Their goal woke us up a bit and it was nice getting that one past their goalie who had been very tough against us this season.
The goal sparked Holy Cross to score two more quick ones that put the Crusaders on top for good, 3-1. The three goals, scored in a span of 2:58, saw the end of the night for Meisner as he was pulled in favor of junior Dan Ramirez. J.P. Martignetti put the Crusaders up 2-1 when he fired a bad-angle shot that caught Meisner by surprise and found the back of the net. Linsmayer, who celebrated his 20th birthday with a goal and an assist on the evening, scored the eventual game-winning goal, 12:31 into the period when he tipped home a Cyr shot from the high slot.
Yeah it was a nice little birthday present for myself, Linsmayer joked. It was a busted play when we came over the line and Cyr just got enough of the shot to get it near the net and the tip was good.
AIC would not go quietly as the cut the deficit to one, at the 15:23 mark of the second period when Mike Little took a cross-ice feed from Richard Leitner and buried one past Tysowky.
It would be as close as the Yellow Jackets would get to the Crusaders though as Holy Cross added insurance in the third period. Matt Celin, the converted defenseman playing right-wing for Holy Cross, collected a loose puck off a Brendan Baker shot, and went top-shelf past Ramirez to conclude the scoring for the evening.
Obviously we wanted to score earlier in the game, Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl said. The longer you keep a team tight like that and allow them to hang around, it gives them more confidence to try and pull the upset. Their goalie was fantastic this season and even shut us down most of the night tonight, but we just scrapped and found a way to get the job done tonight.
A banged up Crusaders squad without two of their best scoring options in Jay Silvia and Luke Miller, will now cruise down I-95 to Milford, Connecticut where the rested Sacred Heart Pioneers will be waiting. Sacred Heart won the season series, 3-1, but the lone Holy Cross victory came in Milford.
Its going to be a fun series, said Cyr. Theyre a good team, were playing well, and we want another shot at them for sure to get out to Rochester.
The sure-to-be entertaining series will kick off next Friday night at 7:05 PM.