WORCESTER, Mass. — Not even an emergency evacuation of their home rink could prevent the Holy Cross Crusaders from continuing their stellar play heading into the postseason.
The Crusaders extended their unbeaten streak to 12 games—tied for tops in the nation—with a 6-3 win in Game 1 of their best-of-three Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinal series against Canisius at the Hart Center on Friday night.
The start of the game was delayed due to a full evacuation of the Hart Center shortly after 6:00pm due to a false alarm. The arena was declared safe by the Worcester Fire Department following a thorough sweep of the complex and the contest began 45 minutes late.
In a game that was fast-paced, almost frantic for short intervals and notably calmer at others, Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl credited his less heralded players for keeping the team focused.
“To get scoring from different players and trust guys in all situations is big,” said Pearl. ”We have 3 seniors on our checking line and I thought they carried us tonight.”
Among those players who provided the scoring was freshman Adam Schmidt, whose goal at 1:36 of the third period put Holy Cross in front for good.
“It’s huge, getting a quick goal like that and knowing you have a lead early in the third,” explained Schmidt, whose tally was just his second since November. ”From there, we just played off it and got a couple more.”
Despite strong play from the home side early in the game, Canisius struck first midway through the opening period. Griffins captain Phil Rauch blocked a slap shot by Jeffrey Reppucci and slid the puck ahead to winger Kyle Gibbons. The freshman converted a 1-on-2 rush when he unleashed a knuckling wrist shot from just inside the blue line that beat Crusaders netminder Adam Roy to the glove side and gave the visitors a 1-0 lead which they would carry into the first intermission.
“They sneak by you sometimes, but I thought Adam was very good tonight,” Pearl said of the senior, who made 22 saves and improved his record to 10-6-3 on the season. ”He’s a mentally tough kid.”
Senior Cory Conacher, the Griffins’ all-time leading scorer, nearly extended the lead the Crusaders sleeping fresh out of the locker room, as he split the defensemen on the opening faceoff and fired a shot off the crossbar just seconds into the middle frame.
Holy Cross woke up quickly, however, as sophomore Kyle Fletcher finished off a goal-mouth scramble at :58 to tie the game and junior Matt Clune capitalized on another rebound situation to put the Crusaders in front 2-1 moments later.
The lead would last just three minutes, as Canisius defenseman Chris Forsman notched his third goal of the year on a shot that found its way through a crowd from along the wall outside the left faceoff circle, knotting the game at 2-2.
Shortly after Schmidt’s go-ahead tally in the third, the Griffins began an offensive surge that produced a number of chances, including a howling slap shot from senior Eric Rex that drew iron with 7:10 remaining in the game.
Schmidt, however, would step up again, rushing into the offensive zone and drawing a tripping call on Forsman at 14:15. Fighting against a mounting tide of momentum, the Crusaders turned to their top scoring line of Fletcher, Rob Linsmayer and Brandon Nunn for the ensuing power play. A mere eight seconds after the faceoff, Nunn doubled the Holy Cross advantage with what turned out to be the game winner.
That sequence proved to be the defining moment in the contest.
“I thought it was a pretty even game in the first and second periods, but we could’ve done a couple things better, faceoffs being one,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith commented. ”They got a power play goal and deserved the win.”
Griffins senior Vincent Scarsella narrowed the margin to 4-3 shortly after, as Canisius remained aggressive. The result was not secure until the final minute when Holy Cross center Shayne Stockton won an attacking zone faceoff forward to himself and finished top shelf on Canisius goaltender Dan Morrison with under a minute remaining.
“We’ve been trying that play all year,” said Schmidt of his classmate’s seventh goal of the year. ”It’s a great time to have it finally work.”
Linsmayer added an empty-net goal to round out the scoring.
The series resumes on Saturday with a scheduled 7:00 p.m. puck drop at the Hart Center.