Breaking Away

“Recruit offense and teach defense.”

Maine’s Shawn Walsh believed in the credo. Holy Cross head coach Paul Pearl drives his program with the same philosophy.

Certainly, defense has been the soup du jour in the stingy Atlantic Hockey circuit, particularly with the Crusaders, who have limited conference opponents to a slim 21.1 shots per game.

But the Crusaders, who found themselves in their first NCAA tournament less than a year ago, have recently discovered that living without a steady diet (eight goals in their last six games) of offense isn’t anything that can’t be overcome with a little bit of help from the blueline.

Pearl lost power-play specialist R.J. Irving and J.R. Walker to graduation this season — and in stepped senior assistant captain Tony Coskren to fill the void.

Heading into the holiday break, the 6-2, 200-pound Walpole, Mass., native was among the top two scorers for the Crusaders. Coskren put up 0-9-9 numbers in 2003-04, but was already well ahead of that pace with three goals and 12 points in 14 contests as the campaign reached the midpoint.

Pearl wasn’t caught off-guard by his defender’s offensive emergence. First, there is the practical side of things; secondly, Coskren has taken to his role like a second skin.

“He’s playing the top of the umbrella on the power play — that will certainly help,” said Pearl. “R.J. held that spot for four years, so Tony is there now and he’s taken advantage of it. He’s absolutely embraced it. It stands to reason that any D-man likes to get a little bit of offense.”

Coskren has a healthy outlook on his early success.

“It feels good to be able to do it,” said Coskren, who played for Massachusetts power St. Sebastian’s 2001 New England championship team. “Things have been bouncing my way. They (the departed seniors) were a huge part of our offense, so to be able to step it up — I don’t want to say it’s all luck.

“Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. Now that I’m on the power play I’m trying to do a lot more (things), and putting the puck in the net is just one of them.”

Coming into the season, Coskren says he would have been content with his stay-at-home slot. “It’s not something that I’ve focused on or strived for. I’ve mostly focused on my defensive play, but it’s nice to have things go my way.”

Coskren got a number of looks after his prep career, most notably from Northeastern. But brother Tim, who last skated for Pearl in 2003-04, and is the career leader in games played (138) aided in the recruiting process.

“This just seemed like a better fit,” said Coskren. “I like Northeastern and Hockey East, but Coach Pearl put a good offer out there for me. With my brother here, I got to know a lot of the guys, which made my decision easier.”

“He was a heck of a player and had a lot of people calling,” said Pearl, adding that bringing in Tony wasn’t as easy as it seemed, given the fact that his older brother was in Pearl’s corner.

“I think he really liked the place and obviously Timmy did a good sell job on him, and the end result is we’re glad Tony’s spent his career here.”

The Crusaders open the second portion of the schedule with a spate of road games. And despite scoring at a modest clip of 2.3 goals per game, Pearl hasn’t pushed the panic button on the offense yet.

“Look around college hockey — Boston College is putting 61 shots on net and only getting one goal,” he said. “There’s good goaltending out there. No I’m not worried about that (lack of scoring) at all. I know that we’ve got good offensive players — I also think that we have a lot of younger guys on the team that, as they get stronger and more used to how hard teams play defensively against us and how good the goaltenders are, they’re going to score more.”

The Coskren File

6-2, 200 lb.
Walpole, Mass.
St. Sebastian’s School

Sociology major … a 2001 All-Scholastic selection at St. Sebastian’s.. second on the team in 2003-04 in penalty minutes with 46 … Played midfield for St. Sebastian’s lacrosse team.

2004-05 (as of 12/7) 14 3 9 12 20 1
Career 97 7 29 36 168 2