By Jim Wrobel
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The 2011-2012 Holy Cross men's hockey team returns five of six starters and 22 letterwinners from last year's squad (17-16-5, 14-8-5 Atlantic Hockey) that earned the most overall and conference victories since the school record-setting season of 2005-2006. With a core group of goal scorers that helped net the most goals per game by a Crusader team since 2001-2002, a strong group of defenders and a talented class of freshmen, this year's Holy Cross team will be looking to earn its third ever appearance to the NCAA Tournament.
A big part of last year's success was the school record 12 straight games without a loss from Jan. 22-March 11. Holy Cross also made the Atlantic Hockey semifinals for the first time since 2006. The Crusaders will be looking to build on the momentum of last year but also know that this is a new team. "We did have some success last year but the players know that was a different team," said 17th-year head coach Paul Pearl. "We did not lose a ton of players but we lost key people. In order for this team to be successful it needs to form its own identity early. Last year's late season success created confidence, but we can't rely on anything we did last year."
This year's team is expected to be strong offensively as the Crusaders have nine of its top 10 point scorers from a year ago returning. Last year, the Crusaders scored 128 goals which were the most in a season since netting 130 in 2005-2006. Pearl expects the Crusaders to be solid up front yet again. "Our team speed is outstanding and our skill level is very good," said Pearl. "Great players with quicker speed will equal more goals. We have players that have a knack for the net and are good at getting to loose pucks. We also have great depth up front. We have a lot of good forwards. Our strong defense is also a help in that we are spending less time in our defensive zone which helps our offense."
The Crusaders' offense was also outstanding on the power play last year as they had the best power play in Atlantic Hockey and the fourth-best nationally with a 24.1 percentage. Pearl does not see why the team should not be successful on the man-advantage again this year. "I expect our power play to be good every year, as that is how you win hockey games," said Pearl. "The best teams are pretty good at scoring in even situations but are really good at scoring on the power play."
A major strength of the team will be its defense as the Crusaders return eight of nine defensemen from last year. "All of our defensemen are good players, so there is going to be a lot of competition for ice time. If you get on the ice this year that means you are a real good player."
The Crusaders will be led by senior captain Mike Daly (South Burlington, Vt.). "Daly is a vocal leader, but the best part is if people watch him play they will see what it takes to be a great player," said Pearl. "His work ethic is second to none. We have never had a guy work harder."
Holy Cross, which was picked to finish in third place in the Atlantic Hockey preseason coaches' poll, will start the season when it plays host to New Brunswick in an exhibition game on Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:00 p.m. The Crusaders start the regular season at ECAC opponent Quinnipiac on Oct. 12 and meet AIC at home on Oct. 15. Holy Cross will play 15 regular season home games. Last year, Holy Cross went 11-6-1 at home which was its best record since going 12-4-1 at the Hart Center in the 2005-2006 season.
Here is a look at the 2011-2012 Crusaders by position.
Returning 12; Lost 4; Freshmen 3
The Crusaders return 12 forwards to an offense that tied for fourth in Atlantic Hockey with 3.37 goals per game. Junior Kyle Fletcher (Kanata, Ontario) is expected to have another outstanding season as he led the team with 38 points a year ago. Junior Rob Linsmayer (Winnetka, Ill.), who already has 53 career points, is also expected to continue to be a big factor on offense. He tied with Fletcher for the team-lead in assists with 22 and was third with 34 points. Linsmayer was also strong on both ends of the ice as he won last year's Atlantic Hockey Best Defensive Forward Award. Fellow junior Brandon Nunn (Fairport, N.Y.) was also on the line with Fletcher and Linsmayer, as he was a huge contributor to the team's late season success. Over the last 14 games of the season he tallied six goals and 10 assists for 16 points.
Sophomores Shayne Stockton (Rochester, N.Y.) and Adam Schmidt (Warrington, Pa.) will be looking to build on strong rookie seasons. Stockton was fourth on the team last year with 25 points and Schmidt was fifth with 21 points. Senior Andrew Cox (Lombardy, Ontario), senior Matt Gordon (Perth, Ontario) and junior Erik Vos (Carlisle, Ontario) were members of a line that were also key contributors last year. All three players had career-best seasons as Cox and Vos each recorded 19 points, while Gordon posted 14.
Seniors Jay Silvia (Burlington, Mass.), Luke Miller (Andover, Mass.) and Gianni Baldassari (Fort Wayne, Ind.) will all be looking to have big senior seasons. "Silvia is a very dependable player and I really think that he is poised to have a big year," said Pearl. "Miller has a great ability to score goals and we expect him to do so this year. Baldassari is our best penalty killer, who can really block shots and has a knack for scoring big goals."
Sophomores Mark Williamson (Centennial, Colo.) and Ryan McGrath (Pittsburgh, Pa.) will also look to contribute offensively this season. "Williamson is a very good player who we expect to contribute," said Pearl. "McGrath is a great player to have on the team because he is a defender who is very skilled and can also be a forward." Freshmen Tommy Dwyer (Ridgefield, Conn.), Mike McNamara (Chestnut Hill, Mass.) and Jake Youso (International Falls, Minn.) will be looking to have strong rookie seasons.
Returning 8; Lost 1; Freshmen 1
The Crusaders have a ton experience on defense as they return eight defensemen including four seniors and two juniors. Daly is the anchor of the defense as he has played in 109 games which are the most by any current Crusader. Fellow seniors Kyle Atkins (Brockville, Ontario), Matt Clune (Toronto, Ontario) and Matthew Davis (Lancaster, N.Y.) have all seen major ice time during their careers and will be a major force in keeping opposing teams off the scoreboard.
Juniors Brendan Baker (Edina, Minn.) and Evan Zych (Kilbride, Ontario) again add to the experience of the defense as both players have played in big games and are expected to be major contributors. Holy Cross also returns sophomore Jeffrey Reppucci (Newburyport, Mass.) who led all defenders on the team with 19 points last year and was named to Atlantic Hockey All-Rookie team. McGrath, who could see ice time as both a defenseman and a forward, and freshman Nilan Nagy (Canonsburg, Pa.) will add to a defense that is considered to be the major strength of the team.
Returning 2; Lost 1; Freshmen 1
As with every season there will be an open competition for playing time in goal. Junior goalie Thomas Tysowsky (Amherst, N.Y.) enters the season ranked fourth on the all-time career Holy Cross Division I list with 1,120 saves and a 2.75 goals against average, while he is tied for fifth with 16 victories. Sophomore Derek Kump (Falmouth, Maine) earned experience last season as he made six starts in net. Freshman Matt Ginn (Lindsay, Ontario) is a talented goalie who played in 63 games last season for the Victoria Grizzlies.