December 27, 2012

Atlantic Hockey Journal: Best hockey still to come for HC

By Allen Lessels

Defenseman Evan Zych leads the Crusaders with 12 assists on the year. (Photo: Peter Cooke)

The Holy Cross power play, normally a strength of Crusader teams, did not produce up to its normal standards in the first half of the season and needs to improve, says coach Paul Pearl.

In the same vein, the Crusaders must crank things down on defense and cannot be allowing their opponents to get as many shots on net as they have been, the coach said.

Those fine-tuning items aside, it’s hard to find fault with how things went in Worcester

leading up to the holiday break.

“The scary thing is, this team hasn’t played a full 60-minute game yet, and we still have a pretty good record,” said senior forward Brandon Nunn.

Pretty good as in 9-4-2 overall, the best record for Holy Cross at the break since the 2005-06 season, and 6-3-2 in Atlantic Hockey. The league mark put the Crusaders tied with Mercyhurst for second place in the league behind first-place Niagara.

Pearl spends little time pondering the standings at this point in the season – he subscribes, he said, to a theory Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotin espouses of not looking at the standings until at least Valentine’s Day – but thinks things have been going pretty well for his team overall.

“I like our team,” Pearl said. “We have 11 freshmen on the roster and eight or nine playing every night with three or four freshmen defenseman in the lineup, but we’ been playing well and strong and have been fairly disciplined. We’ve done a lot of good things that teams do so they don’t beat themselves.”

But he still would like to see the overall defense tighten up.

“Were giving up too many shots, over 30 a game, and that’s horrifying to me,” Pearl said. “We’re playing a little run and gun. But scoring hides a lot of ills.”

The Crusaders gave up three goals a game in the first half, but they scored 3.4 per outing.

Senior forward Kyle Fletcher led the way at 6-7-13 and junior forward Adam Schmidt was at 8-4-12 with senior defenseman Evan Zych chipping in 12 assists.

Nunn was at 5-4-9 in the first seven games before being sidelined with a shoulder injury and hopes to quickly pick up where he left off in the second half.

The first-year defensemen, in particular Joe McNamara (Chestnut Hill, Mass.), have fit in nicely with the assistance of junior defenseman Jeffrey Reppucci (Newburyport, Mass.).

Reppucci was limited last year by concussion issues and has not yet been able to play this season, but is helping out with the team.

“They call him Coach Pooch,” Pearl said.

Joe McNamara has been impressive despite missing games early as he recuperated from off-season hip surgery and then being slowed by a hand injury. He may be able to play some earlier, but likely won’t be back full bore until the first of February.

“He’s so smooth and smart and just real solid in all facets of the game,” Pearl said.

The Crusaders have some major tests ahead as they take aim at Valentine’s Day and beyond.

They play a couple of ranked teams with Yale (7-3-2) at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., on Sunday afternoon at 2:05 and then North Dakota (10-5-3) on the road for a pair on Jan. 4 and 5.

They close out a tough January against teams they will compete with for home ice in Atlantic Hockey with two at Mercyhurst, two at Niagara and a home-and-home series with Bentley. 

Player of the Week

Matthew Zay, so., F, Mercyhurst

Zay got back to his habit of collecting timely goals with a game-winner against Canisius in overtime on Dec. 18. It was his fourth goal of the year and initial game-winner. Last year, Zay scored five goals as a freshman and three of them were winners. He’s at 4-8-12 thus far this season. 

Game of the week

AIC at UConn, Saturday

The Yellow Jackets and Huskies meet in the first round of the 20th annual Toyota UConn Holiday Classic in a game that counts in the league standings. UConn leads the AIC by one spot and two points in the standings and both are looking for a jumpstart to the second half. Minnesota State and Brown play in the first game of the Classic and consolation and championship games are on Sunday. 

Power Rankings

1.      Niagara (10-2-4, 9-0-1) . . . The Purple Eagles put their nation’s best 12-game unbeaten streak _ 9-0-3 _ on the line at Bowling Green on Saturday. Bowling Green is 3-10-4. Niagara returns to league play on Jan. 4 at home against Air Force. The Purple Eagles are on a 13-game home unbeaten run that started with a 3-3 tie with Air Force on Feb. 11. 

2.      Holy Cross (9-4-2, 6-3-2) . . . The Crusaders take on Yale on Sunday afternoon at the New England Sports Center in Marlborough, Mass., looking to build on their best first-half record since the 2005-06 season. Holy Cross has lost all four games it has played against the Bulldogs, who are 7-3-2. 

3.      Mercyhurst (8-6-1, 7-3-0) . . . The Lakers moved into a tie for second place with Holy Cross in the Atlantic Hockey standings with a 3-2 overtime win over Canisius on Dec. 18. The Lakers have been at .500 at the holiday break a couple of times in recent seasons, but this is their first time over .500 since 2005-06.

4.      Robert Morris (7-4-2, 4-3-1)  . . . The Colonials won a 3-2 game at Penn State heading into the break and now face the Nittany Lions again in a first-round game of the inaugural Three Rivers Classic on Friday at the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Miami and Ohio State meet in the other first-round game and the finals are on Saturday.

5.      Army (5-7-2, 5-2-2) . . . The Black Knights are at Canisius on Saturday in the only two-game Atlantic Hockey set of the weekend. Army will try to turn the tables on the Golden Griffins: Canisuis earned its first-ever sweep at West Point last year with wins by scores of 4-2 and 2-1.

6.      Canisius (5-7-4, 4-3-2) . . . A 3-2 overtime loss at Mercyhurst on Dec. 18 snapped the Griffs’ streaks of three straight wins and four games unbeaten. Canisius has scored 1.88 goals a game and given up the same number. Junior goalie Tony Capobianco hit the holiday break with impressive save percentage (.938) and goals against (1.90) numbers.

7.      Air Force (5-7-4, 4-4-2) . . . The Falcons travel to Minneapolis for their second appearance in the Mariucci Classic on Saturday and Sunday. Air Force coach Frank Serratore sends his team up against his son’s team in its first game. Tom Serratore is a junior forward for Minnesota and is at 6-0-6 for the season. 

8.      Bentley (6-8-1, 5-5-1) . . . The Falcons open the second half of the season at UMass-Lowell on Sunday. Bentley hit the holiday break leading the country in scoring at 3.80 goals a game and junior Brett Gensler led the country with 1.73 points per game at 10-16-26. Sophomore Steve Weinstein (1.00) and freshman Matt Blomquist (0.93) were one-two among defenseman in points per game.

9.      RIT (4-8-4, 3-5-3) . . . After a rough start, the Tigers appear to have turned things around some with a 2-1-3 mark in their last six games. They took a pair from Sacred Heart and then earned a 2-2 tie at league-leading Niagara in their last three. RIT is at St. Lawrence, 7-8-2, on Jan. 4 and 5.

10.  UConn (4-7-2, 3-6-1) . . . The Huskies will try to take things one step further in their 20th annual Toyota UConn Hockey Classic on Saturday and Sunday. The Huskies have won their first round game and lost in the championship in each of the last two seasons (to Princeton in 2010 and UMass-Lowell in 2011). UConn plays AIC in its first game on Saturday. Minnesota State and Brown are the other two teams in the tournament.

11.  AIC (4-8-3, 1-6-3) . . . The Yellow Jackets play UConn on Saturday in the first round of the UConn tournament. AIC went 1-0-2 against the Huskies last year to grab a couple of points in the league standings. The teams also play a home and home series on Jan. 25 and 26, starting out at UConn and finishing at AIC.

12.  Sacred Heart (0-14-2, 0-11-2) . . . The Pioneers are making a little ECAC swing before returning to Atlantic Hockey play. Sacred Heart plays at Rensselaer on Dec. 31 at 4 p.m. and then at Colgate on Jan. 4 and 5. RPI is at 4-6-4 going into games at St. Cloud on Thursday and Friday this weekend and Colgate is 9-7-2. 

Allen Lessels can be reached at