WORCESTER, Mass. — Holy Cross took advantage of a fast start and two power-play goals to down Army 5-2 at the Hart Center on Saturday night to complete a two-game sweep of the Black Knights in their Atlantic Hockey first-round series.
The Crusaders advance to a best-of-three quarterfinal series at Mercyhurst beginning next Friday. Holy Cross was 0-1-1 in two home overtime contests against the Lakers in January, but enters the series with a mark of 9-0-1 in its last ten games.
Holy Cross dominated play from the outset and broke through when Adam Schmidt notched his 16th goal of the year. Schmidt, the National Division I Player of the Month for February, also added an assist in the contest. He now has seven multi-point efforts during the Crusaders’ unbeaten streak, which is the second-longest in the nation.
“It was very important because we’d been playing very well and hadn’t scored,” Crusaders coach Paul Pearl said. “You worry that if you keep pushing and pushing and don’t end up scoring a goal then they come down and they throw one in, so I think that first one really relaxed us a little bit.”
That relaxation proved fruitful as Shayne Stockton doubled the Holy Cross advantage just 1:05 later, beating Army netminder Ryan Leets (36 saves) from just outside the crease. The Crusaders held the Black Knights to just three shots in the opening period and carried the 2-0 advantage into intermission.
“They came out flying,” said Army coach Brian Riley. “They were playing like they were the team with their backs to the wall.”
Army rallied in the middle frame and quickly produced a golden chance to narrow the margin when Bill Day broke through the Crusaders defense two minutes into the period. The winger’s shot was gloved by Holy Cross freshman goaltender Matt Ginn (20 saves), whose 16th win is tied for the third-highest season total in school history.
Any gain in momentum was quickly nullified, however, when Black Knights’ captain Marcel Alvarez took a tripping penalty eight minutes into the period. Holy Cross promptly stretched the lead to three as Matt Clune corralled a failed clearance at the blue line and fired a laser over the shoulder of Leets for an unassisted goal, the senior’s first career game-winner.
“They came out to start the second period really well,” Clune said. “So when we got that power play, I think we all kind of sensed that it was time to bring the pressure back on them.”
Army inched closer six minutes into the third period as the Crusaders’ Kyle Fletcher was serving an interference minor. Marcel Alvarez cleaned up a loose puck that had caromed toward the top of the right faceoff circle. Three consecutive penalties to the Black Knights thwarted the comeback effort and Andrew Cox added a 5-on-3 goal for the Crusaders at 12:50, restoring a comfortable margin.
Holy Cross converted on two of their six power-play opportunities in the game while registering 13 shots with the man advantage. Army was one-for-three, but managed just two shots and tallied only three combined shots on six power plays in the entire series.
Mike Hull added a late goal for Army and Fletcher notched an empty-netter for Holy Cross to produce the 5-2 final.
The Crusaders, who lost a tiebreaker and finished fifth in Atlantic Hockey, were forced to play an opening-round series despite ending the regular season just two points out of first place in the league.
“We’ve been going since October [and] it’d be kind of weird to have a weekend off,” Pearl said. “I like the fact that we played this weekend. I’d love to be playing at home next weekend, but we’re a pretty good road team, too. We’ve been a much better road team after Christmas, so I like our chances.”