WORCESTER, Mass. — For a moment, it looked like a nightmarish deja vu scenario for Holy Cross on Sunday night, but in the end the third-seeded Crusaders avoided the upset and downed eighth-seeded Canisius 7-3 in the decisive game of their best-of-three Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series at the Hart Center.
Holy Cross allowed the Griffins to erase a two-goal lead in the third period for the second straight night, but this time the Crusaders had time to respond.
With the game tied at 3-3, freshman Shayne Stockton gathered up a loose puck on his own blue line and charged into the Canisius zone. Stockton weaved a path around defenders before deking Griffins netminder Dan Morrison and tucking home the game-winner for Holy Cross.
“We weathered the storm,” said Crusaders coach Paul Pearl. “Instead of going to overtime, there was time left and we continued to do what we did. We didn’t have to sit in the locker room and brood. We could go back at it on the next shift.”
“The game-winner was a spectacular individual effort by [Stockton],” Griffins coach Dave Smith said. “He made a big-time hockey play at a big point in the game. That’s how good teams win and they did that.”
Kyle Fletcher scored three times for the Crusaders, who held a two-goal lead early in the third before Griffins defenseman Scott Jenks danced around a sliding Matt Celin and fired a shot that hit two posts before it fell across the goal line at 1:31.
Four minutes later, Canisius pulled level with Cory Conacher took a pass from Vincent Scarsella, dragged the puck from right to left in front of Holy Cross goaltender Adam Roy, and snapped a quick finish low to Roy’s stick side.
The senior Conacher, who along with his classmate Scarsella logged extensive ice time in the third period, concluded his career as the Griffins’ all-time leader in goals and points. Scarsella, meanwhile, scored the first Canisius goal of the game and assisted on the other two.
“They play terrific together, they’re talented and skilled,” Smith said of the duo. “The more they are on the ice, the more good things happen.”
But nothing could stem the tide of momentum following Stockton’s go-ahead goal. Rather, a defensive-zone turnover shortly after the ensuing faceoff allowed the Crusaders to double their lead just 19 seconds later. Sophomore Brendan Baker intercepted an errant pass 50 feet from the net, and his slap shot was redirected by fellow sophomore Fletcher outside the crease to give Holy Cross a 5-3 lead.
The goal was Fletcher’s second of three in the game; he and freshman Adam Schmidt both notched empty-netters in the final minute. Freshman Jeffrey Reppucci and senior captain Everett Sheen scored in the opening period to build an early lead for the Crusaders.
“It’s nice to see young guys like that — freshmen and sophomores — step up and play a huge role,” Sheen said. “It was a huge weekend all around; the guys played unbelievable.”
Pearl credited his seniors with setting the tone for Game 3 after Saturday night’s heartbreaking overtime loss.
“They’re a great group,” he said. “They don’t all have a huge role but they all work hard. I give them a lot of credit for today. There was a good feeling about tonight when we had our meeting this afternoon. They just said, ‘We lost last night. Let’s get the job done tonight.’”
Among the seniors is the netminder Roy, who made 20 saves on the evening and improved to 11-7-3, including 10-1-3 since Jan. 22.
“He’s a battler,” Sheen said of Roy. “I’ve played with him for four years and he shows up ready to work every day. We have all the confidence in the world in him.”
The win sets up a semifinal matchup with Air Force, against whom Holy Cross was 0-1-1 during the regular season.
After the game, Pearl turned his sights to Friday’s contest, the first semifinal berth for Holy Cross since 2006. “We look forward to it; I’m sure they look forward to it. We had a tough series out [in Colorado] but you don’t have to win a series, you only have to win one game.”