It has been nearly 20 years since Paul Pearl took over at Holy Cross. Over a span of almost 700 games, Crusaders fans witnessed 300 victories, three league championships, two trips to the national tournament and one of the greatest upsets in college hockey history (the 2006 victory over Minnesota).
In May, the Pearl era, the one noted for putting the Worcester, Mass., school on the college hockey map, ended when he resigned to accept the associate head coaching position with Harvard.
With the head coaching position open and the team coming off a 20-loss season for the first time since 2009, Atlantic Hockey’s model of consistency in the eastern pod all of a sudden looked shaky and fragile.
Then came the hiring.
A month after Pearl departed, the Crusaders hired David Berard, the former coordinator of hockey operations for Providence. A former Friars player himself, Berard is also the coach who took over on an interim basis for Bruce Marshall two years ago at Connecticut.
After helping lead the Huskies to 19 wins and a fourth-place finish that season, he returns to Atlantic Hockey not needing to orient himself to the league’s 11 programs.
“The experience at UConn is going to be helpful,” said Berard. “I know what teams and coaches are like, what the rinks are like, how far of a road trip it is to certain places. We played everywhere with Connecticut, and that familiarity is going to be helpful at Holy Cross.
“I’ve been to Holy Cross in particular many times throughout my career, and having the summer at the school really helped me get even further into knowing who and what the school is all about. I come here with a better understanding of what it means to be a head coach, which really helps. The main difference is that when you’re an interim, you’re leading but it’s not your program. Holy Cross has given me a great opportunity in a very competitive league.”
Berard takes over a Crusaders program lacking major punch on the offensive side. With a young roster, last year’s team scored 97 goals, the lowest since 87 in 2009-10. He’ll be without two of the team’s major cogs in Adam Schmidt and Shayne Stockton, both of whom graduated.
And he’ll have to deal with the new, unbalanced Atlantic Hockey schedule. Holy Cross will play four games against Bentley, Niagara, Sacred Heart and Rochester Institute of Technology, drawing a stretch in January where it plays two consecutive weekends at Canisius and Mercyhurst. There’s also a typically tough nonconference schedule featuring a home-and-home series with Merrimack, a home game against Yale and two on the road at Penn State.
He will, however, return many key players, including the entire defensive unit that allowed fewer than three goals per game. Matt Ginn, the team’s backstop for three years, returns as well with 47 career wins and a lifetime collegiate GAA of 2.80 for his senior year.
“[The challenge] is that this is brand new for everyone, and we have to get our guys ready to play,” said Berard. “But that’s also not a negative. It could be the same or different for guys once they get comfortable with the routines. Players receive new beginnings. They can showcase themselves without any predisposition.
“We’re not concerned with perfection, but we’re looking forward to everyone giving their best effort. There’s no fear or anxiety. We’ve all gotten off to a good start, and we’re looking forward to seeing how everyone will progress.”
About the Crusaders
2013-14 record: 14-22-3
2013-14 conference record: 11-13-3 (tie, seventh)
2014-15 predicted finish (coaches poll): Eighth
Key losses: F Adam Schmidt, F Shayne Stockton, D/F Ryan McGrath
Key returnees: F Matt Vidal, F Castan Sommer, F Mike Barrett, D Logan Smith, G Matt Ginn
Impact rookie: Brett Mulcahy scored 30 goals last year in the BCHL, split between Surrey and Vernon, pushing him closer to the 50-goal mark over his final two years in the league. Already 21 years old, he’s also physically mature enough to jump right into the collegiate game.
Why the Crusaders will finish higher than the coaches poll: David Berard proves he’s a winner and Matt Ginn backstops this team back to playoff prominence with a quarterfinals series at home for a return trip to Rochester.
Why the Crusaders will finish lower than the coaches poll: An already lackluster offense fails to pick up a new system, and improved competition in the league pushes Holy Cross closer to its first last-place finish.