Oct. 5, 2006
By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Coming off the most successful season in the history of the program, the Holy Cross men's ice hockey team prepares for the 2006-07 campaign with a sense of excitement and high expectations that have become a standard at Holy Cross. The Crusaders return 21 letterwinners to a team that finished with a school-best 27-10-2 record and earned their first win in the NCAA Tournament. The 4-3 overtime victory over Minnesota in the NCAA West Regional Semifinals marked the first time that a No. 4 seed defeated a No. 1 seed in NCAA action (since the tournament expanded to 16 teams), and is considered by many to be one of the greatest upsets in collegiate hockey history. The Crusaders also won the Atlantic Hockey regular season and tournament titles for the second time in three years, and were ranked No. 14 in the final USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll for its highest ever national ranking.
Despite all of the accolades that they earned last year, the Crusaders know that this year is a brand new season. "Last season was great, but especially with our postseason workouts before the team left for the summer, our message to them was as quickly as possible we need to remember that we start with a 0-0 record like everyone else," said 12th year head coach Paul Pearl, the all-time winningest coach in the program's history. "It is a completely new year which is the beauty of college athletics in that it is not professional hockey where you build dynasties. Here you coach a different team every season. With that said I think we have a chance to be very successful this year. I like our team from a talent and personality standpoint and if we play well and become our own team we can be pretty good."
Last year's seniors left the program with 82 wins, which are the most wins in a four year period in school history, so there will be opportunities for people to step up in the positions held by the graduating class. "We lost some real good players to graduation, but we have a group of solid players coming back who will have a great chance to show that they are the top guys," said Pearl. "We also have an excellent freshman class coming in that we are excited about."
The team will look to seniors Tanner Fogarty, Rob Godfrey, Jon Landry, Sean Nappo and captain James Sixsmith as a group for leadership, as this class has been part of 65 wins, two Atlantic Hockey titles, two NCAA Tournaments and one NCAA Tournament victory. "I expect outstanding play and outstanding leadership from these five guys," said Pearl. "I wouldn't expect anything less from these guys. They have worked too hard for three years to not go out on top. Since day one they have all been good players and have had great careers so far. I know these guys are very serious about this season and they want to be remembered for having a great senior year."
Pearl sees the play of his big junior class of 11 players as being a key factor. "I expect a lot of them to move into some of the roles that last year's seniors filled," said Pearl. "We expect them to have more ice time, more goals, assists and points. I think there are some guys that are poised to have big years. It is exciting when you get your program to the point where you do not always have to replace seniors with freshmen who have to be rookie of the year in order for the team to be good. The best way is if you can have your juniors step up and be ready to go."
This year's sophomore class saw a good amount of playing time in 2005-06 and gained valuable knowledge from the experience of last year's tremendous season, while the seven incoming freshmen will be given a chance to contribute right away. "I really like the sophomore class," said Pearl. "Forwards Dewey Thomson and Kai Magnussen both have the ability to put up points and score goals and they should get more minutes this year, including on the power play and penalty kill. On defense both Marty Dams and Shane McAdam were outstanding. Those guys played beyond their years as we got later and later into the season. So I expect them to just continue to improve. And Charlie Lockwood will be vying for the starting goalie job so this is a very good class. All of the freshmen have the ability to make an impact. Where they fall in the scheme of things is completely up to them. They will have the opportunity to become significant players."
Going into the season the strength of the team will be its defense. "We will have to be really good defensively," said Pearl. "We have tons of experience back there with a lot of great players. All of them know our philosophy of how we try to stop other teams." Also the Crusaders would like to continue their strong play on special teams as last season they ranked first in the conference and fifth nationally in penalty kill percentage (87.2) and second in the league and sixth nationally in power play percentage (21.5).
Pearl sees Atlantic Hockey as the strongest that it has ever been, as it also welcomes two new teams into the league this season with the arrival of Air Force and RIT. "The league has become more and more competitive as demonstrated last year with us playing the No. 6 seed UConn in the semifinals and the No. 4 seed Bentley in the finals," said Pearl. "All the teams are getting better so we really have to work hard to stay where we want to be. It is not like we won the league by a lot last year, we won by a point. We want to be in that hunt again where we are in striking distance during the last month of the season and have a shot to do it again."
Pearl believes his team is experienced enough to be playing its best hockey at the end of the season. "We have a tough schedule all year but I think if we get better and better and come back after Christmas and really put it together in January and February, we will be a tough team to go up against in the playoffs."
Once again the Crusaders will play a challenging non-conference schedule with all six games away from the Hart Center, including contests at Niagara (10/14), Merrimack (10/24), Yale (10/27), Dartmouth (1/16), Quinnipiac (1/28) and either Colgate or Northeastern at the UConn Tournament (12/30). Last season the Crusaders set a school record for wins on their opponent's home ice with a 13-5-1 record.
Returning 12; Lost 4; Newcomers 4
Last season the Crusaders had five players with over 30 points and three others with over 20. Despite the departure of All-American Tyler McGregor, Pierre Napert-Frenette and Blair Bartlett, Holy Cross has plenty of forwards that are ready to contribute as they receive more ice time. "We had outstanding depth last season so even though we had some big time goal scorers graduate we have forwards that are ready to step in and score those goals," said Pearl. "I think a lot of guys early in the season will get opportunities especially on the power play. When you get power play time that is when you get points. Most of what is going to occur this season is based on what the players come back like and how hard they worked this summer."
Sixsmith was third on the team in points (40) last year with 12 goals and 28 assists, and he has 105 career points making him the 37th Crusader to reach the 100-point club. He has also shown that he is a clutch player as he was named the Atlantic Hockey Tournament MVP for his three goals and five assists in the three games, while he also scored a game-winning shorthanded goal with just 28 seconds left in the third period in the 3-2 win at Dartmouth. "Sixsmith is one of the best forwards in the league and has been since he was a freshman," said Pearl. "He is very skilled and has great vision of the ice. He also works very hard and comes out of a lot of corners with the puck."
Nappo and junior center Dale Reinhardt are expected to have big seasons. Nappo had a solid junior season with 10 goals and 11 assists for 21 points. "Sean is a prototypical great complimentary player on any line, who can score goals and set up opportunities," said Pearl. "He has been a great player for us and we are expecting a big year out of him." Reinhardt is coming off an outstanding sophomore season that saw him finish tied for fourth on the team in assists (25), while he was fifth on the team in goals (11) and points (36). He came up big in the victory over Minnesota as he scored the first goal of the game. "Dale is a good two-way player who has very good vision of the ice and is also a very good skater," said Pearl. "He is very versatile which has made him a tremendous player for us."
Fogarty has gotten better and better over all three season and Pearl expects the same. "Tanner has improved every year here and I expect a very big season out of him," said Pearl. The Crusaders will need solid production from juniors Brian Kolb, Cal St. Denis, Jim Tselikis, Chris Trovato and Matt Werry, and sophomores Thomson and Magnussen, as they will all have the opportunity to see more ice time. In addition junior Bryce Nantes and freshmen Ryan Driscoll, Rob Forshner, Peter Lorinser and Brodie Sheahan are expected to contribute.
Returning 8; Lost 1; Newcomers 1
Seniors Landry and Godfrey bring a lot of big game experience to a veteran defense that has eight players returning and one newcomer. Landry has played in 106 career games and is coming off a career season offensively as he was sixth on the team in points with 29, scoring nine goals and adding 20 assists. Landry was also named to the Atlantic Hockey all-conference first team and earned a spot on the NCAA West Regional all-tournament team.
Godfrey also had a career season last year as he received the Atlantic Hockey Best Defensive Defenseman Award and chipped in with four goals and 12 assists for 16 points. Junior Matt Burke brings a lot of intensity to the ice and is a good set up man as he recorded 18 assists while also scoring four goals for 22 points which was good for seventh on the team in scoring.
Junior Frank O'Grady redshirted last season because of an injury and is expected to continue where he left off in the 2004-05 season, when he was considered one of the best defenseman in the league as he played in all 36 games and had 11 assists. Dams and McAdam had very impressive rookie seasons and will be looked upon to continue their high caliber play. Junior Brian Gabriel, junior Brent Franklin and freshman Bill Pinel also have the ability to earn ice time in this competitive position.
"We have two guys with a lot of game experience with Jon and Rob, while Frank is coming back from an injury who at the end of his sophomore year was playing as well as anyone in the league," said Pearl. "Marty and Shane both saw a ton of time as a freshman last year and Matt was great last season. Matt improved so much from the start of the last season to the end. He played big minutes down the stretch. Matt is real smart and knows when to jump into the offense when necessary. He is also really tough down low and has the ability to block shots."
Returning 1; Lost: 2; Newcomers 2
With the departure of two top goalies in Ben Conway and Tony Quesada, the goaltender position is totally up for grabs. Lockwood and freshmen Tyler Chestnut and Ian Dams will by vying for the starting position. "Four years ago we had the same situation," said Pearl. "How recruiting goes, we will have the same situation in four years from now. We have to get these guys experienced and get them time on the ice. They have all played a lot of hockey so there is no reason they won't be ready."
Lockwood had the opportunity of learning from Conway and Quesada for a year, while Chestnut and Dams were both top goalies in the Central Junior Hockey League. "Charlie and Tyler are both very technical, while Dams is very athletic and makes good saves with his hands," said Pearl.