FAIRFIELD, Conn. — It might not have been the most beautiful goal Matt Gingera has ever scored, but it certainly was his most important.
The sophomore from Winnipeg scored 4:53 into overtime Saturday, giving Sacred Heart a wild 4-3 victory over Holy Cross at the Milford Ice Pavilion and a sweep of its Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series.
An exhausted Pat Knowlton flipped the puck toward the net, where it hit Gingera on the left leg and bounced into the net. The victory lifted the Pioneers (20-12-4) into next weekend’s Atlantic Hockey Final Four in Rochester, New York.
In the semifinals, Sacred Heart will face Air Force, which eliminated Army, 4-2, Saturday.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” said Gingera, who registered his 11th goal of the season.
At first, Gingera wondered if the officials might huddle to determine if the puck was kicked into the net, but he was confident the goal would hold up, and it did. The referees immediately counted it with no hesitation.
“At first, I kind of celebrated and then I waited, but I knew I just directed it,” Gingera said. “I didn’t have a kicking motion, so I knew it was a goal.”
While the Pioneers celebrated, the happiest man on the ice might have been Knowlton, who admitted he stayed out too long.
“I was just hoping Gingera buried that because if not, I don’t know if I would have been able to come back to the bench because I was so tired,” Knowlton said. “I might have had to change on their bench.”
Sacred Heart played the third period with only five defensemen, as captain Corey Laurysen was drilled into the back boards on a crushing check by the Crusaders’ Andrew Cox late in the second.
Laurysen lay on the ice for several moments, but was moving his head, and was able to get to his feet on his own. Sacred Heart coach C.J. Marottolo expects that he will be able to play next weekend.
Saturday’s game, in which the Pioneers squandered a 2-0 lead after the first period, and fell behind, 3-2, was an odd affair in some ways. The freshmen goalies — Sacred Heart’s Steven Legatto and Holy Cross’ Thomas Tysowsky — were shaky at times, letting in goals they would have liked to have back.
Legatto made a seemingly miraculous save just over a minute into overtime. The Crusaders’ Everett Sheen had an open net, but a lunging Legatto managed to get his stick on the puck and deflect it wide.
“I had to get the first save out of the way in overtime,” said Legatto, who finished with 16 saves. “I was pretty nervous, so I just tried to focus in on the puck.”
After blanking the Holy Cross, 4-0, in the series opener Friday, the Pioneers dominated early Saturday. Nick Johnson opened the scoring just 3:22 into the contest before Eric Boisvert made it 2-0 with 7:25 left in the first.
Having blanked the Crusaders (12-19-6) through four periods, the Pioneers appeared to be in control, but they suffered a defensive lapse, surrendering three goals in the first 8:14 of the second, including two within 20 seconds.
Ed Linsmayer stunned Sacred Heart by scoring just 21 seconds into the period. A Sacred Heart giveaway led to the tying goal, as Jordan Cyr beat Legatto high to the glove side with a snap shot from the right circle.
Legatto then let in a soft goal, as Kyle Atkins’ seemingly harmless shot from the blue line beat the netminder low to the glove side at 8:14.
“I knew I had to refocus,” Legatto added. “I had to get guys going, so I was trying to get into my own zone and start making saves.”
After Holy Cross’ third goal, Marottolo called a time out.
“I just said, ‘Guys, relax,’” Marottolo said. “We were getting away from our game. For us to be successful, we have to play to our strengths, and were getting away from it. Holy Cross is a very good team. They are very well-coached.
“They weren’t going to roll over and die, so I don’t know if our guys got a little over-confident. But just settle it down, let’s just play our game, and good things will happen.”
Tysowsky returned the favor by letting in a bad goal of his own, as Ed Jarman’s knuckler from the top of the slot handcuffed the goaltender and found its way into the net with 4:32 left in the second.
“We weren’t really worried,” Knowlton said. “We had a five-minute lapse where everybody knew we weren’t playing our best hockey. It was important for us to calm the play down and go back to doing what we do best. That’s working them down low and getting the puck to the net.”
Buoyed by Jarmin’s tying goal, the Pioneers played much more confidently in the third, allowing only five shots in a defensive-minded third period.
“We weren’t executing very well,” Marottolo added. “We weren’t taking care of the puck during that couple-minute period. The puck is a precious thing in hockey, so going into overtime, we just wanted to keep things simple, get pucks to the net, get bodies to the net. Don’t try anything out of the ordinary.”
Now the Pioneers will have a chance for some payback against Air Force, which eliminated the Pioneers in the quarterfinals last season. The Falcons also handed Sacred Heart a pair of bad losses at the end of his regular season, 6-3 and 8-1, in Colorado Springs.
“We want some payback, for sure.” Gingera said.