WORCESTER, Mass. — Holy Cross survived a scrappy effort by Army to notch a 3-2 win in the first game of their Atlantic Hockey first round series on Friday night.
Shayne Stockton’s influential performance (the game-winning goal and two assists) ultimately separated the two teams as the Black Knights defied their season-ending skid and leaned on the efforts of Ryan Leets (36 saves) to push the Crusaders for 60 minutes at the Hart Center.
With the victory, Holy Cross can now finish off the series and seal a meeting with Mercyhurst in Erie, Pa., next weekend by notching a second straight home win on Saturday night.
“Shayne played really well,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl said. “When his feet are moving and he’s got his game together, he’s as good as there is.”
Brandon Nunn staked the Crusaders to an early advantage just six minutes into the contest as Stockton foreshadowed his contribution to the proceedings. The sophomore center from Kanata, Ont., combined with Matthew Davis to set the table for Nunn, who slotted home his 15th goal of the season.
It took a bit of time for Army to settle into the game at the outset, but Andy Starczewski scored against the run of play to tie the game at 10:36 of the opening period. Mac Lawlor and Mike Hull notched assists as Starczewski stunned the Crusaders faithful with his 13th goal of the season.
The equalizer seemed to perk up the Black Knights. They skated just a touch harder in the aftermath of goal, apparently convinced they could pull the upset and send the fifth-seeded Crusaders to a shocking defeat on home ice.
Holy Cross quelled some of the uncertainty in the arena by restoring the lead at 17:05. Erik Vos nabbed his 12th goal of the season after quick work by Stockton on a faceoff to the left of Ryan Leets. Mike Daly provided the telling pass across the front of the net and left Vos with a simple finish at the back post to restore some normalcy.
“We actually have been working on that faceoff play in practice, so it’s good to see it pan out for us,” Daly said.
Stockton appeared to create some distance between the two teams when he grabbed his sixth goal of the season on a power play at 9:55 in the second. Army took an unnecessary penalty by having too many men on the ice during a poor line change, and the Crusaders made them pay with some quick combination work inside the blue line. Stockton’s deft finish completed a tidy sequence of passes with Kyle Atkins and Jay Silvia to create the two-goal cushion and punish the Black Knights for their mental mistake.
“We were moving the puck around great, got the goalie sliding a little bit and Jay fed me a nice crossing pass,” Stockton said. “I just got a lot of it on a one-timer, got lucky and got it in a good spot.”
Tensions flared shortly after Holy Cross’ third goal following a minor fracas in front of Crusaders goalie Matt Ginn. Bill Day ultimately took a charging penalty shortly after the initial scrum as the game threatened to spiral out of control. Army coach Brian Riley called a timeout to settle his charges down and shift the focus back to the task at hand.
“I called the timeout to get our emotions back in check,” Riley said. “I thought going forward we did a much better job of not letting emotion get the best of us.”
The tactic worked, as Army managed to cut the deficit in half heading into the third period. Bryant Skarda created a chance out of nothing on the right wing boards and flipped a shot toward Ginn. The effort squirted between Ginn’s legs to give Skarda his third goal of the season at 18:31 of the second and guarantee the Black Knights would enter the third period with a chance to tie the score.
The equalizer never arrived in a third period chopped up by penalties. Leets made a couple of critical saves to keep the Black Knights in the game, but the visitors couldn’t muster up the goal required to send the game to overtime.
“Leets gave us a chance to win the game,” Riley said. “We were hoping to make it a 20-minute game, which I think we did, but you gotta give them a lot of credit.”