The Holy Cross Crusaders, Atlantic Hockey’s
representative in the 2006 NCAA tournament, are struggling
through their worst season in six years but coach Paul Pearl
says it’s no time to cry about his team.
Sixsmith (pictured) has linemates Dale Reinhardt and
Sean Nappo back, and they've been productive for Holy
"We're getting better every week,"
he said, "and hopefully that will result in more wins
down the stretch."
Holy Cross (9-13-4) is coming off a weekend
split with American International College. The Yellow Jackets
earned a 4-2 win on Friday, and the Crusaders responded
with a 4-3 win on Saturday in what Pearl described as one
of his team's best outings of the season. It was Holy Cross'
first home win at the Hart Center since Nov. 21, snapping
a three-game winless string.
A lack of consistency and below-average even-strength
play have been the biggest issues. Pearl said his team played
well in five of six periods in recent sets with Bentley
(1-1) and Air Force (two ties), only to be doomed by one
Pearl has tinkered often with his offensive
lines, but none more substantial than breaking up his front-line
unit of James Sixsmith, Dale Reinhardt and Sean Nappo. The
trio accounted for 52 total points through the first 15
games. On Dec. 2, Pearl moved Nappo to another line (mostly
with Ryan Driscoll and Kai Magnussen). Over the next nine
games, Holy Cross went 1-5-3 and averaged 2.1 goals per
Pearl reunited Nappo with Sixsmith and Reinhardt
last weekend and the trio produced seven points and took
16 shots. "It was right back together and doing well,"
Overall, the line changing experiment was
not a huge success. "It was ability issues," Pearl
said. "Either guys were moving into roles weren't good
enough to take those roles, or guys we want to move into
those roles aren't experienced enough or strong enough for
Holy Cross suffered significant graduation
losses, and the only thing that was going to make up for
that was time. "Some freshmen and sophomores who didn't
play a lot last year are starting to catch on to what it
takes to win at this level," Pearl said.
Three freshmen Pearl is particularly high
on are Ryan Driscoll (fourth on team in scoring with 17
points), Rob Forshner (ninth with 9 points) and Brodie Sheahan
(six points). "Those guys, as they get bigger and stronger
and used to playing college hockey, they become more effective,
and they are ascending to the top lines now."
Pearl disputes the notion that Holy Cross
struggled under the expectations following their two-game
run in the NCAA tournament. "I don't think it weighs
on us at all," he said. "We lost a lot of god
players who did great things for us. ... We're a good program
and we will continue to be a good program. We're not Minnesota
or B.U. (Boston University) – we don't feel the top
spot is owed to us. We know we had to work hard to get what
we got last year."
Even with the struggles, Holy Cross is 8-9-4
in Atlantic Hockey play, good for fifth place (and the fourth
playoff seed), and Pearl likes his team.
"We're fast and we have a skilled bunch
of guys who have gotten better over the year," Pearl
said. "I really like this team and I think it's a good
team going down the stretch. I still think we will be a
pretty dangerous team come playoff time."
SEEN AND HEARD IN ATLANTIC HOCKEY
A little good news: Since
American International College opened the season with 12
losses, it's only fair the Yellow Jackets finally get a
taste of the good life. AIC has won four of its last 10
games to improve to 4-18.
"It's been a big turnaround," said
AIC coach Gary Wright. "We have been more potent offensively.
Our specialty teams have been stronger. Our penalty minutes
have been down. Fortunately, through the difficulties, our
kids hung in there pretty strong and they are feeling a
lot better about themselves. It's been encouraging."
AIC has split its last two weekends, starting
with Bentley and then Holy Cross. A 4-2 win on Friday was
AIC's first over Holy Cross since Jan. 4, 2002, and snapped
a 15-game winless streak against the Crusaders.
"They (Holy Cross) have been a very strong
program," Wright said. "I thought that (win) was
Sophomore goalie Tom Fenton has started the
last 10 games, surrendering four-or-fewer goals in seven
of those contests. In October and November Fenton missed
seven games with a groin injury. "It's helped a little
bit getting Tom Fenton back," said Wright, who was
quick to praise sophomore Coby Robinson for his relief duty.
In fact, Robinson and Fenton share identical 3.91 goals
The goals are finally coming for AIC –
the Yellow Jackets are averaging 3.5 goals is six games
this month, after being held to two goals-or-fewer in 11
of their first 16 games. The most remarkable turnaround
has taken place on special teams with AIC killing off its
last 20 short-handed situations and 27 of its last 28.
FRIES AT THE BOTTOM OF THE BAG
Great Weekend Getaway
Air Force at Bentley (Fri.-Sat.)
If the Atlantic Hockey playoffs were to start today,
Bentley would be headed to Colorado Springs for a
quarterfinal contest. Of course, the playoffs are
still a month away so we have a matchup of one team
(Air Force) trying to sustain its momentum and another
(Bentley) trying to find any traction. Air Force has
gained points in 11 of its last 14 games. Bentley
has lost eight of its last 10 games, surrendering
at least five goals in six of those contests. Air
Force has never lost at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena
International College has cut down on its
penalties and has killed off its last 20
short-handed situations. It's no wonder the Yellow
Jackets have finally found the ticket for success.
Coaches in Atlantic Hockey were puffing
their chests a year ago with a record number of non-conference
wins. No one is talking loud anymore, now that Atlantic
Hockey has managed to post a losing record
against each of the other five conferences.
• Welcome back, Benny: Mercyhurst junior
Ben Cottreau returned from a long layoff due to a concussion
to post a six-point weekend, leading the Lakers to a pair
of wins over Bentley, 7-4 and 5-2. Cottreau had two goals
and four assists, raising his team-leading totals to 13
goals, 16 assists and 29 points. Cottreau was named the
Atlantic Hockey player of the week. It marked only the second
time this season that Mercyhurst has won consecutive games.
• Knights tough on top: A sweep by Air
Force would have dropped visiting Army into fourth place
but the Black Knights came up big with a 2-0 shutout win
on Saturday, holding on to second place (and the top playoff
seed). It was Army's first win in Colorado Springs since
Jan. 19, 2003. Sophomore Josh Kassel posted his second shutout
with a 36-save effort. He also made 24 stops in a 4-1 loss
on Friday, and was named the Atlantic Hockey goalie of the
week. Army's Luke Flicek extended his point-scoring streak
to eight games.
• Home cooking: Army has won two in
a row and three of its last four at home, securing points
in all but one of eight home contests this season (plus
two exhibition wins). Why is this good for the top-seeded
Black Knights? Because Army plays six of its final eight
games at Tate Rink, starting with this weekend's set with
Connecticut. Army swept the Huskies, 5-4 and 7-3, in Storrs
• A win in Roch: Connecticut rallied
from a 3-0 deficit to beat RIT, 4-3 in overtime, on Matt
Scherer's 13th goal at the 39-second mark. The Huskies had
lost their previous four games in Rochester.
• Christmas has come late: Canisius
freshman Jason Weeks produced three goals last week, raising
his January total to eight – that ties the school
record for most goals in any month. Weeks leads the Golden
Griffins with 12 goals and is second with 20 points.
• Pioneers in search of a victory: Coming
off a 4-3 non-conference loss to Dartmouth, Sacred Heart
is riding its first three-game losing streak since Dec.
2005. The Pioneers have not tasted four consecutive defeats
since a six-game skid to close the 2004-05 season. Next
up: a home series with Canisius – the clubs split
a pair in Buffalo in October.
• Magic number is three: Holy Cross
is 8-3-1 when it scores three-or-more goals; the Crusaders
are 1-5-4 when it scores two goals.
• Record-setting: Holy Cross senior
James Sixsmith picked up three points against AIC, giving
him the school record with 144 career points. Sixsmith passed
current San Jose Shark Patrick Rissmiller, and becomes just
the sixth Crusader to amass 100 career assists since the
program turned varsity in 1966-67.
• Nearing record: Bentley sophomore
Jeff Gumaer scored one goal in each loss to Mercyhurst,
giving him 31 career goals, one off the school's Division
• Looking ahead: It's a battle of abbreviations
as AIC hosts RIT for a pair. The visiting Tigers had their
way with the Yellow Jackets in October, posting two dominating
wins, 8-3 and 8-0. Should AIC squeeze out one victory, it
would mark the first time since Feb. 2003 that the Yellow
Jackets have managed a win on three consecutive weekends.
• Record watch: RIT junior Jocelyn Guimond
is nearing two MAAC/Atlantic Hockey single-season records.
He ranks fifth in save percentage (.925) and 12th in goals
against (2.44). Jamie Holden of Quinnipiac (.932) and Scott
Simpson of Holy Cross (2.21) hold those marks. On the scoring
front, Eric Ehn of Air Force ranks 16th in points (45) and
goals (19), closing in on the marks of Quinnipiac's Shawn
Mansoff (56 points, 29 goals). With 26 assists apiece, Ehn
and James Sixsmith of Holy Cross rank 33rd all-time. Freshman
Josh Heidinger of Canisius has 29 points (ranks 16th), not
even close to Quinnipiac's Brian Herbert record of 54. Matt
Smith's nine power play goals ranks ninth, still five behind
the mark set last season by Dave Borrelli of Mercyhurst.
Borrelli's mark of five short-handed goals is just two ahead
of Chris Myhro of Connecticut and Jason Weeks of Canisius.
With four game-winning goals, Andrew Ramsey of Air Force
ranks ninth and trails Chris Cerrella of Quinnipiac by just
A variety of sources were utilized in
the compilation of this report. Ken McMillan can be reached