WORCESTER, Mass. — After last night’s loss in the opening game of the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals, Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl cited increasing scoring chances as the critical point of focus for his squad in a do-or-die Game 2 on Saturday.
The Crusaders responded with 38 shots – 22 of them in a fervent second period – and turned the tables on Mercyhurst, notching a 3-2 win to force a decisive Game 3 on Sunday.
Freshman Joe McNamara was the unlikely hero for Holy Cross. The blueliner’s first career goal broke a 2-2 tie with 9:08 remaining in the game to lift the third-seeded Crusaders over the sixth-seeded Lakers.
“We have a great group of seniors,” McNamara said. “In the locker room before the third period, you could hear it in their voices and look in their eyes and know how much it meant to them. We didn’t want to wait until next year.”
For the second consecutive night, the opening frame featured no penalties and exactly one goal, though this time it was Mercyhurst who lit the lamp first. Chris Bodo redirected a low dive from Tyler Shiplo past the left toe of Holy Cross netminder Matt Ginn 14:39 into the game. The goal was Bodo’s team leading 17th of the season.
The teams managed just nine combined shots in the first 20 minutes, a period that Pearl likened to “an old Adams Division battle [in the NHL].”
The Crusaders’ best scoring chance came as a result of scrappy play below the goal line from Adam Schmidt. The junior created a backhanded chance for Shayne Stockton from close range, but Lakers’ backstop Max Strang was up to the task.
Strang, a fifth-year senior, took over in goal for last night’s starter, junior Jordan Tibbett, as coach Rick Gotkin continued to split time between his two goaltenders, who have posted nearly identical stats throughout the season.
“We’ve been doing that all year,” Gotkin said. “We like Max a lot, we like Jordan Tibbett a lot, both guys have played well. We feel like we have two No. 1 goaltenders.”
Urgency set in after the intermission for Holy Cross, who finally responded to Pearl’s plea for more scoring chances by peppering Strang with 22 shots in the middle frame. Many of those came from the nation’s tenth-best power play unit, who had laid dormant for the prior four periods.
Mercyhurst hadn’t committed a penalty through the first 83:29 of the series, but was whistled for three minors in the period. The Lakers successfully killed off the first two infractions before Grant Blakey, who scored the game-winning goal last night, was called for charging after a vicious open-ice hit on Karl Beckman.
Holy Cross won the ensuing faceoff and embarked on a crisp series of passes that culminated with senior Brandon Nunn slotting home a goal mouth feed from classmate Rob Linsmayer just 11 seconds later. The assist gave Linsmayer his 100th career point. The assistant captain will also set a school record for games played when he suits up tomorrow for the 150th time.
Less than a minute later, however, Jake Youso yielded Mercyhurst a man-advantage with a cross check, allowing Blakey a chance for redemption. The Lakers’ captain chipped a redirected puck over the stick-side shoulder of Ginn to restore the Mercyhurst lead heading into the third period.
Despite the loss of momentum, Holy Cross kept the pressure on in the final period and knotted the game at 2-2 after six minutes. Stockton, who also scored in last night’s contest, went around the net and tucked home a tidy wraparound.
“I think the kids showed a lot of character,” Pearl said. “I just thought we played our best period of the season [in the third].”
“We were confident the whole time,” Stockton confirmed. “Getting that second goal I think really fired us up and we just built off every shift.”
The Crusaders appeared to have turned the game on its head less than a minute later when another Stockton wraparound led to a scramble in the crease. Nunn tapped the puck across the goal line just as the referee whistled the play dead.
A go-ahead tally seemed almost inevitable for Holy Cross at this point. With Daniel Bahntge in the box for charging, McNamara bagged the game-winner on a slap shot through traffic.
“It feels good because my older brother [Crusaders forward Mike McNamara] has been giving me a little slack because I hadn’t scored yet,” the youngster commented. “It felt good to finally see a puck go in.”
“Holy Cross was a desperate hockey team tonight, as we knew they would be,” said Gotkin. “We had our chances at 2-1 to push it to 3-1 and we couldn’t. I’m not shocked it’s going three games.”