BUFFALO, N.Y. – How many serious Atlantic Hockey fans would have thought a Holy Cross at Canisius game in early February would be a battle for first place?
Not many? Thought so. Join the crowd.
But that’s what it was on Friday evening, as the Crusaders took over sole possession of first place with a dominant 5-1 victory over the Golden Griffins in the frigid HarborCenter. Holy Cross now has 28 points – two ahead of Canisius, which does have a game in hand.
“It was definitely a good win,” said Holy Cross’ Danny Lopez, who has 10 points in his last seven games. “But it was a battle for first place tonight, and tomorrow is another test between two good teams. I think we just kept it simple and knew our game plan.”
The triumph was rolling Holy Cross’ sixth win in its last seven games. Meanwhile, the Griffs have been struggling since finishing the first half, going 3-6-1 in their last 10.
“It was a frustrating game for our guys,” said Canisius coach Trevor Large. “We were in the box the whole second period. We put so much pressure on so few guys on the penalty kill. I think that hurt our chances to build momentum. They took advantage of our frustration and lack of discipline.”
The key juncture of the game came at the end of the second period with the Crusaders leading 2-1. Holy Cross had a two-man advantage for three minutes, and cashed in – but not until the last second – literally.
The pivotal goal came when Scott Pooley’s shot was stopped by Canisius goaltender Daniel Urbani, but the rebound went right to Lopez, whose shot banked off Urbani with 0.7 seconds left in the period for a 3-1 lead. The play was reviewed and stood. The goal gave Holy Cross some breathing room and seemed to make Canisius to sag a little afterwards.
Perhaps a connoisseur of destiny would agree that it has been that type of season for the Crusaders.
“I was definitely in the right place at the right time,” Lopez said. “It (the puck) hit off of someone’s skate and came right to me. I shot it at the net, it went off of the goalie’s pad and went in. It was definitely a big one.
“Those end of period goals are momentum shifters. That goal took us into the third with a really good feeling.”
Earlier, the Crusaders took control early with two goals just 1:22 apart midway through the first period.
First, Lopez gave Holy Cross a 1-0 lead at 9:33 when he batted a puck from just outside the crease. The puck fluttered high into the air over Urbani and landed behind the line on its descent. Then at 10:55, Michael Laffin took a sleek pass from Pooley on a 2-on-1 and redirected the puck past Urbani for a 2-0 lead.
Canisius cut the deficit to 2-1 six minutes later when defenseman Alex Jaeckle jammed in a rebound during a scramble in front of the Holy Cross net.
TJ Moore and Brett Mulcahy scored for Holy Cross in the third period. Holy Cross goaltender Paul Berrafato recorded 19 saves while Urbani made 32 stops.
Holy Cross went 3-for-7 on the power play while the Griffs were blanked in their three attempts.
So again on this night, the Crusaders appeared to be the real thing.
“We came in with a game plan, and when you are on the road, you have to keep it simple,” said Holy Cross coach David Berard, whose club improved to 9-2-2 in Friday night games this season. “I felt we did a really good job of starting the game the way we wanted to, and when you get a lead you gain some confidence. It was a good game, and we weren’t playing our best, we got through it.
“And then we were able to cash in on the goal at the end of the second period, which was really big for us.”