Holy Cross has knocked off two of the past three NCAA Champions in the span of just four games.
On Tuesday night, the Crusaders improved to 4-1-1 on the season with a 6-4 win over No. 20 Union College. They had already beaten Providence, 2-1 in overtime, just over two weeks ago.
“That was a lot of fun. It was a great hockey game. We talked to the team that this is why you play college hockey. It was back and forth. Both teams were ready to play and both teams battled,” said third year Holy Cross coach Dave Berard.
It was the second time this young season the Crusaders were able to celebrate a big win over a nationally ranked team. The overtime win against Providence allowed a young team to believe it could compete with the best of the best.
“That Providence game was a big game for a lot of reasons. We were up against it. It was 0-0 with five minutes left. We ended up tying the game late in the third and we won in overtime. That gave us a lot of confidence,” said Berard.
“If you can beat a team like Providence, Union and Brown, you can compete with anyone,” he added.
In addition to Union and Providence, the Crusaders also went up against Boston College and Brown in a four-game home-stand all against nonconferece opponents.
“We’re trying to challenge ourselves against the best teams in the country. When you play a team that won the national championship three years ago, it’s a great measuring stick. To come out on top was tremendous,” said Berard.
Berard believed his team could take down the top teams in the country, but actually doing so has given the program and this year’s team a big boost.
“Obviously, it’s been great for our program. I wanted to get to a point where we could play these teams and beat them. I knew we could. I know we have the personnel and talent to do it. But, it’s actually seeing your way through it and finding your way on top,” Berard explained.
Holy Cross hasn’t been the only Atlantic Hockey team to enjoy success out of conference this season. Air Force, Bentley, Sacred Heart and Niagara all have marquee wins on their resumes.
“Atlantic Hockey is getting better and better. The parity in college hockey is at an all-time high. It doesn’t matter how many scholarships you have, how big your rink is or if you have a video board. What matters is the quality of players and coaches,” said Berard.
Making Offense from Defense
A great deal of Holy Cross’ offense Tuesday night came from its blue line, whether it be pushing the pace in transition or moving the puck precisely around the offensive zone from the point.
“We spend a lot of time on transition to offense and getting our D active. The game of hockey is getting faster and faster every year. In order for us to be able to score against good defenses, we need to try to get that fourth guy in the rush,” Berard explained.
“[The defensemen] have the ability to get up in the play and it’s making us a lot more affective offensively. Most teams will do a good job with three guys on the attack, but if you can get four guys in, you can create some offense,” added Berard.
The emphasis on the defensemen joining the rush is not a new phenomenon for the Crusaders.
“Last year, we had all of our defenseman have 10-plus points. It’s something we work on and it’s something that adds to our offense,” said Berard, who was a goaltender at Providence from 1988-1992.
Sandwiched between the win over Providence and wins over Brown and Union was an ugly 6-1 loss to Boston College. The drubbing served as a learning opportunity for a young Crusaders team that dressed just one senior on Tuesday night.
“That BC game was a wake-up call for us. We watched video and re-evaluated how we wanted to play down there. The last two games have been evidence of that. We’re figuring out what we need to do in our own end to keep pucks out,” said sophomore Spencer Trapp, who had three assists Tuesday, raising his total on the season to eight.
“When we’re not playing in our end, we can go get on the offense and score more goals. Focusing on our defensive play leads to offense,” added the blue liner from White City, Saskatchewan.
The attention to detail in the defensive zone was immediately rewarded with a 3-0 shutout victory over Brown. The renewed focus on playing better defense has translated into better possession numbers.
“The last two weeks we’ve been focused on playing our game better and eliminating some of the mistakes that plagued us against BC. In the process of getting better defensively, we’re becoming much more dynamic offensively. The last two games we’re possessing pucks. We’re getting up the ice. We’re playing fast,” Berard said.
Center T.J. Moore and right wing Danny Lopez make up two-thirds of Holy Cross’ top line. The pair have scored ten goals between them, including a tally each on Tuesday night.
“We put them together last year early in the year. They’ve played together. They’re roommates. They have that chemistry,” Berard explained. “They’re both extremely skilled. They just read off each other. To get 12 shots between the two of them against an opponent like Union is pretty special.”
As is the case with most linemates who have success, the two skill sets are unique and compliment each other.
“This year Danny is starting to move his feet. He’s playing a bigger man’s game down low, possessing pucks. He’s really good from the top of the circles and in. He can really wire pucks,” said Berard.
Moore, who has 33 collegiate goals, steals most of the headlines, despite standing at just 5-feet-8.
“TJ has been our leading scorer the last two years. He’s not a big guy, but he probably has the hardest shot on the team. He also has the ability to find guys and make plays,” Berard said.
Holy Cross will look to continue its hot start when it returns to action with a home-and-home Atlantic Hockey series against AIC, beginning Thursday night in Springfield.