Colin Healy ‘25
If you search for this season’s Atlantic Hockey preseason poll, you’ll find Holy Cross was picked to finish 10th out of 10. As the favorite to finish dead last, it’s clear other teams did not see the Crusaders making much of a splash this season. They were written off by the rest of the league.
But if you search for this season’s Atlantic Hockey championship game, you’ll find Holy Cross has a date with Canisius on March 18th. That’s right: once redicted to miss the playoffs, Holy Cross has fought their way to the league title game. Second-year head coach Bill Riga has his squad a win away from the NCAA tournament.
The Crusaders finished 7th in Atlantic Hockey, placing them as the 7 seed in the playoffs against 2 seed AIC in the quarterfinal round. Picked to finish first in Atlantic Hockey, AIC hosted Holy Cross in a best of 3 series from March 3-5. AIC took game one from HC, putting the Crusaders against the ropes in a win or go home situation. When the team went down 2-0 in the second period of game two, things looked dire. And yet, HC stormed back with four straight goals to take a two goal advantage. They would hold on for a 4-3 victory.
In decisive game three, back and forth play dictated a classic elimination game. With the score knotted at 3 apiece, overtime was needed to determine a winner. Enter Liam McLinskey, who, with a little over a minute to go in the extra period ,sent the Crusaders to the semifinal by tapping home a loose rebound. It was McLinskey’s second goal of the night and fifth of the series.
Last weekend, HC hit the road again for the semi finals to face top seeded RIT in Rochester. There would be no rest for the weary. Having just gone through the second best team in the league, Holy Cross now lined up against the best in another 3 game series.
Game one saw Crusader netminder Jason Grande play his best game of the season, and maybe his career. Grande made a few highlight reel saves throughout the night, undoubtedly keeping the Crusaders in the game while the HC offense struggled. Thanks to Grande, HC forced overtime in a scoreless game. Once again, enter Liam McLinskey. Left alone in the neutral zone, senior captain Nick Hale hit McLinskey on a breakaway. Moving in alone, the sophomore beat RIT’s goaltender on a crafty move to lift the Crusaders in game one.
Though leading in the second period of game two, RIT came back to tie things up and force overtime for the second straight game. The Crusaders came close to ending the game early in the extra period, but strong goalie play by RIT kept Holy Cross from finding the back of the net. Unable to capitalize on the chances, HC surrendered the winning goal near the halfway mark of the period, meaning it would take a third game to find a winner.
Having just gone the distance with AIC, the Crusaders again found themselves in a do or die game three. Against the top seed in the league on their home ice, HC would again have to pull off an upset to keep their season alive. However, considering where this team was picked to finish in the preseason and where they found themselves now, the underdogs had no problem with the idea of spoiling another team’s postseason.
Holy Cross did just that. Junior Jack Ricketts, the team’s leader in points, put the Crusaders ahead late in the first period. A minute later, senior Grayson Constable added a shorthanded goal after finding his own rebound to tuck the loose puck past RIT’s netminder. After RIT cut the lead in half in the second period, Constable added his second goal of the night to put the Crusaders back up by two. The team wouldn’t look back after that. Two more empty net tallies gave the team a 5-1 victory. For the second straight week, Holy Cross pulled off the upset.
So again, if you search for the Atlantic Hockey championship, you’ll see Holy Cross will clash with Canisius for the league title on the 18th. Unlike the previous two rounds, Saturday’s final is only a one game playoff, which means that it’s do or die again for Holy Cross.
But there’s something about those do or die games that Holy Cross seems to relish. There’s something about being the underdog that lights a fire under this team. Maybe that’s the way they like it. Either way, they’ve earned the right to be in Buffalo Saturday and they’ve earned their shot to play in the NCAA tournament.
Puck drop for the game is scheduled for 6pm. The game will be streamed FloHockey, so you can follow the action by tuning in or following live stats as the game goes on. Bill Riga has the program headed in the right direction, and it’s more than worthy of our attention. Saturday’s final will be the biggest game the team has played in over a decade. The Crusaders are right where they want to be. And their run isn’t over yet. Go Cross!
Featured image courtesy of goholycross.com
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