Editor’s note: This article originally appeared in the April 2011 issue of New England Hockey Journal.
They gave it a good run. And now they want more.
UConn and Holy Cross both took their hockey seasons to a place they had not been in recent years — Atlantic Hockey’s championship weekend — and they gave the league’s latest powerhouses all they could handle in the semifinals.
The next step is to build on this season — a season in which youngsters played prominent roles for both programs — and climb another rung, or two, on the championship ladder.
“Now the challenge for us, with all the experience and minutes our younger guys got, is to do it again,” UConn coach Bruce Marshall (West Boylston, Mass.) said. “It’s not a layup to get back to the semifinals every year. The real work begins now.”
The words from Worcester echoed those coming out of Storrs.
“We’re excited,” Holy Cross coach Paul Pearl (Winthrop, Mass.) said. “Last year, we had a good February. This year, we had a hot start and a tough middle of the year when we were a little beat up. Then we got everybody back and we made a run. I really feel it’s something that has been building for a year and a half, and I’d like to think 2012 is going to be even better.”
There was much to like about both programs in 2010-11, not the least of which was the way they closed out the season.
UConn (15-18-4) had not been to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals since 2007 and moved out of the quarterfinals and on to the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y., with a hard-earned sweep of Mercyhurst.
The Crusaders (17-16-5) were stuck in a slightly longer drought, and their road to Rochester was a bit bumpier. They hadn’t been to the semis since 2006, and Holy Cross and Canisius played the league’s only three-game series of the quarterfinals before the Crusaders prevailed.
Both journeys ended in tight games in the semis.
Down 3-0 in the first period, UConn rallied to cut RIT’s lead to 3-2 before falling, 4-2.
Sophomore Erik Vos scored to give Holy Cross a 2-1 lead early in the third period, and eventual champion Air Force needed a pair of goals by senior Jacques Lamoureux, the winner with 4:16 left, to pull out a 3-2 win.
“We’re making strides,” Marshall said. “I think Paul’s group and our group got a little taste of it, and hopefully they’ll get a little hungrier.”
That both groups have a bunch of guys back makes it even better.
Everett Sheen was the second-leading scorer for Holy Cross. He was the only senior, and there was only one junior, among the top nine point-getters.
Sophomore Kyle Fletcher led the Crusaders with 16 goals and 22 assists for 38 points, and classmate Rob Linsmayer not only had 12 goals and 22 assists for 34 points but also was named the league’s best defensive forward.
Freshman Jeffrey Reppucci (Newburyport, Mass.) led the team’s defensemen in scoring at 3-16-19 and was named to the All-Rookie team.
The Crusaders continued to play their customary solid defense, Pearl said, but they really started to roll when the offense heated up toward the end of the season.
“We got a lot of chemistry going among the forward lines and generated a lot more goals, and because we had the puck more we started giving up less goals,” Pearl said. “I think it was kind of a combination of everything coming together at the right time and the younger kids getting more mature and the older guys really accepting their roles, which was huge.”
When the Crusaders beat Canisius in the first quarterfinal game, they pushed their school-record unbeaten streak to 12 games at 9-0-3.
For the season, Holy Cross averaged one goal more a game than a year ago, 3.37 to 2.35, for its best average since the 2001-02 season.
UConn’s offensive improvement was even more dramatic.
The Huskies bounced from 1.59 goals a game a year ago to 3.08 in 2010-11.
“I think we grew up a lot as a program this year,” Marshall said. “Our younger kids came in and made some real good impact and our seniors did a nice job of changing their roles a little bit so those young guys could flourish.”
Freshman Cole Schneider led the Huskies in scoring at 13-20-33 and was named to the All-Rookie team.
“He’s a difference maker,” Marshall said. “He’s got speed, he’s got size and he can score. Some guys are power forwards and shooters and other guys are playmakers, and he’s got a little of both in him.”
Sophomore Sean Ambrosie was at 10-18-28 for the Huskies, and freshman Billy Latta at 11-15-26. Six of the top seven scorers were freshmen (four) or sophomores (two).
The offenses for both teams, then, seem to be on track. Marshall and Pearl want to focus a bit on the other end of the ice.
UConn needs to tighten up some in its own end, Marshall said.
Goalie Garrett Bartus helped the Huskies start their turnaround a year ago when he arrived at midseason and had a solid sophomore season, too. Marshall looks to have the guys in front of him help out a little more.
“We played well there down the stretch, but overall our defense didn’t have as much impact on the game as we would have liked,” Marshall said. “That doesn’t mean we want them to get more offensive, but maybe control the game a little more. Garrett led the nation in saves. You’d like to see him not have to make as many. But that’s not just on the defensemen, it’s forwards and backchecking, too.”
UConn gave up 3.65 goals a game last season and 3.59 in 2010-11.
Holy Cross, meanwhile, has a deep core of defensemen. Pearl’s main job opening for next season is in net.
“It could not be more open, which I think is a good thing,” Pearl said. “All three of our goalies have ability, but they have to earn it, have to prove it.”
Tom Tysowsky played well as a freshman a year ago, but senior Adam Roy (Feeding Hills, Mass.) took the job and ran with it in his final season
Derek Kump (Falmouth, Maine), who will be a sophomore, and incoming Matt Ginn, who had a good season with Victoria in the BCHL, are in the mix, too.
All will try to help the Crusaders take the next step.
“We’re not there yet,” said Pearl, who was speaking for his team but might as well have been speaking for UConn, as well. “But we’re getting there. We’re definitely hungry to get a step further.”
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com.