A Matter of Timing
Holy Cross Picks Perfect Time in Win Over BU
by Michael King/CHN Reporter
BOSTON With rumors swirling about the future of its program, there couldn't have been a better time for a marquee non-conference win for Holy Cross. Though perhaps not as skilled, fast or physical as Saturday night's opponent Boston University, the Crusaders proved they could play with — and defeat — one of Hockey East's flagship programs in a hostile venue. It was a hard-earned, 5-4, victory that saw Holy Cross score four consecutive goals to transform an early one-goal deficit into a three-goal advantage mid-way through the third period.
With the recent announcement of Notre Dame's admittance to Hockey East, many have speculated if the conference would add a 12th team to simultaneously alleviate scheduling complications and boost its influence in the sport. Some argue that Holy Cross would be the proper fit, given its Catholic affiliation and close proximity to half of the league's schools. Others question how much its presence would benefit Hockey East and if the Crusaders could even compete at that level.
Despite a 1-7-2 recent record against Hockey East opponents entering Saturday, the win against BU erases that from memory.
"We think — regardless of the [conference] rumors — that there's a lot of potential for this program," coach Paul Pearl said after the game. "Wherever we play, we're happy with it."
The logical comparable for this victory is Holy Cross' dramatic defeat of a supposedly superior Minnesota team in the first round of the 2006 NCAA tournament. That win provided significant national exposure for the program. The spotlight — though certainly bright — was fleeting as Holy Cross has not returned to the tournament since that victory.
"Tonight's win is fantastic for this group of guys since none of them were there for [the NCAA tournament victory over Minnesota]," Pearl said. "So this was as big as that or as big as any win we've had."
In the four immediate years after that memorable 2005-06 season, which included Atlantic Hockey regular season and tournament championships, Holy Cross finished no higher than sixth and as low as ninth. Down in the bottom-half of the league's standings adjacent to schools like Bentley University and American International College, it was a sharp contrast to success in the NCAAs.
However, as Pearl continued building his program, the Crusaders last year finished third and managed a win over Hockey East foe Northeastern early in the season. The team is now poised to maintain or eclipse that mark this year with a 2-1 start to the season and a third-place predicted finish in the preseason coaches' poll.
A third NCAA tournament bid in school history would be an impressive accomplishment for Pearl, who's in his 17th season at the Worcester college. Despite having a record just above .500, he is the winningest coach in school history, in addition to being an alumnus and a passionate member of the Holy Cross community. After the game, the coach lauded his program's ability to provide an excellent education and offer a platform to play hockey at a high level, as evidenced by Saturday's win.
And that passion is not restricted to Pearl. Based on the exuberance level of the skaters as they piled around freshman goaltender Matt Ginn once the final horn sounded, the Crusaders had this game identified as an opportunity to demonstrate the quality of their team. After the victory, sophomore Adam Schmidt (two goals) admitted it was one of the most satisfying victories he's enjoyed in his hockey career.
For Holy Cross, these games against Hockey East opponents are critical, especially since only one or two Atlantic Hockey teams make the NCAAs each year. The Crusaders typically play two or three per season — almost exclusively on the road — and play at Massachusetts on Nov. 11. So beating a team that plays in a top league is important for both the team and Atlantic Hockey in general.
"I think this win shows how good our conference is," Pearl said. "We play most of our [top non-conference] games on the road. And that's a tough situation for anyone to be in."
In addition, these games provide the opportunity to experience a large and boisterous arena — something not found everywhere in Atlantic Hockey.
"Regardless of what happens during the season, our goal is to make the NCAA tournament," Pearl said. "Through games like this, we're able to have that not be the first time they play in front of a larger crowd."
Now that the Crusaders have beaten one of Hockey East's best, perhaps the crowd size and fervor at the Hart Center will come to resemble those of Hockey East. And depending upon how Holy Cross supplements its victory over BU the rest of the season — through on-ice success and program support — it can put itself in the best position to receive a Hockey East invite, should one be available.