Oct. 18, 2005
As the Crusaders prepare for the 2005-06 season, they do so with very high expectations which have become a norm at Holy Cross since the program has become more and more successful. The Crusaders return 24 letterwinners, including five starters and seven seniors to a team that finished 16-14-6, with an Atlantic Hockey record of 12-7-5 and a fourth place finish. With the first NCAA Tournament appearance in school history still fresh in their memories from two seasons ago, the Crusaders, and especially the seniors, are determined to reach their lofty goals.
In their three seasons, the seniors have averaged 18 wins a year and were a major part of winning the Atlantic Hockey Tournament as sophomores. "They are the most successful class we have ever had," said head coach Paul Pearl. "They are going to get a lot of accolades and they deserve it. I love coaching these guys. This is their team and we expect a lot from them."
The team will look to seniors Blair Bartlett, Marc Bianchi, Ben Conway, Pierre Napert-Frenette, Tyler McGregor, Tony Quesada and Andrew Weber as a group for leadership. "Napert-Frenette and McGregor were elected captains but the whole group are the leaders of this team," said Pearl. "They all get a lot of ice time and they really care about Holy Cross hockey, so they want us to be a real good hockey team. Those guys have put a lot on the line for three years so they are all going to be determined to have big years, but you can't just rely on seven players to win hockey games."
Pearl expects his experienced group of six talented juniors to continue to be major factors on the ice, and he especially looks to his 11 sophomores to take what they learned from last year as freshmen and to become major contributors. "I am really excited about our sophomore class, it is usually the biggest jump from freshman to sophomore year," said Pearl. "All those guys are good players and I think they will respond well to more ice time and responsibility." Pearl also believes that all five freshmen have a shot to earn some playing time.
The strengths of the team will be its defense and its solid depth. "I think we have the deepest team in the league," said Pearl. "Depth is not our problem and team defense is not our problem. For us to win games we need to be able to score goals. Where we struggled last year was in scoring goals compared to what we had done the year before. The way we play we can't be third in the league in power play goals, we need to be first. Depth is good but we need to have our top players play like top players. We need numbers and production, especially from our sophomore class."
The experienced Crusaders except to be ready down the stretch of the season and to be playing its best hockey. "Last year was a brand new team. Even though we had some guys back from the previous year, we had lost the core of what we had been running for four years," said Pearl. "They had to create their own identity and I think we did down the stretch. We played our best hockey in February and March. It took a lot to get to that point but I think if we can be playing our best at the end of this season we will be fine."
Lettermen Returning / Lost: 14 / 3
Despite the departure of Andrew McKay, who in his four year career had 92 points in 124 games, with 38 goals and 54 assists, including 28 points as a senior, the Crusaders return four of their top five scorers, but Pearl is looking for more offense than last season. "We would like to have six guys over 30 points and four or more above 20 points," said Pearl. "That is what we need. That is what we had in years that we scored enough. We can't have games where we take 45 shots on the keeper and only get two goals."
Napert-Frenette was first on the team and third in Atlantic Hockey in points with 38, as he was also second on the team in goals with 13 and assists with 25. He enters the season with 93 career points leaving him seven shy of becoming the 35th Crusader to join the 100 point club. Napert-Frenette is joined by McGregor who led the team and the conference in goals with 21 and added 13 assists. McGregor earned Atlantic Hockey All-Conference first team honors, while Napert-Frenette was named to the second team.
Junior James Sixsmith and sophomore Dale Reinhardt are coming off very strong seasons. Sixsmith recorded 28 assists which was good enough to lead the team and to finish second in the conference. He also scored nine goals and was second on the team in points with 37. "James is a key guy for us," said Pearl. "He is capable of scoring more goals than last season because he has recovered from the wrist injury he had last year. He will come back strong." Reinhardt had an outstanding freshman campaign as he tallied 11 goals and 11 assists for fifth on the team in points with 22. "Dale should have a really good year for us. He is someone to watch for especially after his big freshman season," said Pearl.
Pearl will also need an increase in production from his forwards as a group to reach the goal of six players earning 30 points and four or more above 20 points. So look for Bartlett, Weber, junior Sean Nappo, junior Tanner Fogarty, and sophomores Cal St. Denis and Matt Werry to increase their scoring output and have strong seasons. Sophomores Jim Tselikis, Brian Kolb, Bryce Nantes and Chris Trovato will be looking to contribute to the depth of the offense, along with freshmen Kai Magnussen and Dewey Thomson, who are both exciting players to watch with good offensive instincts.
Lettermen Returning / Lost: 8 / 1
The defense is expected to be a major strength of the team as they are an experienced and steady group with eight of nine letterwinners returning, along with two freshmen looking to make an impact. Marc Bianchi is the lone senior of the group as he played in all but one game last season and Pearl sees him as a tough, strong player.
Junior Frank O'Grady and sophomore Matt Burke are returning starters and expected to anchor the defense again. O'Grady dished out 11 assists, while Burke who earned the team's seventh player award, scored six goals and had five assists for 11 points. "Frank is a very intelligent player and a great skater," said Pearl. "Matt had a very good freshman season and demonstrated his forward like instincts on defense."
Junior Jon Landry brings a wealth of experience as he has played in 68 games in his first two seasons and has the ability to change a game and will be a major factor on the power play. Fellow junior Rob Godfrey will also be key on defense as he appeared in 31 games last season, recording four assists.
Sophomore Brian Gabriel is seen as the heir apparent to Bianchi, and sophomores J.R. Butler, Brent Franklin will look to contribute. Freshman Marty Dams, younger brother of former Crusader Jeff Dams, and freshman Shane McAdam are expected to be solid on defense from the start.
Lettermen Returning / Lost: 2 / 1
Senior Tony Quesada returns for his fourth season in the Holy Cross net. He is second all-time at Holy Cross in minutes played with 4260:54 and wins with 39. In addition, he is third all-time with a 2.58 goals against average. "Tony is a big solid goalie who is well schooled fundamentally," said Pearl. "He is very relaxed in net and very capable of winning games for us."
Ben Conway enters his senior year coming off a season that he played in a career high 15 games for a total of 844:23 minutes and went 7-5-2 with 2.70 goals against average. He is tied with Quesada for the Holy Cross all-time lead in save percentage with a .910 percentage. Conway is a quick and athletic goalie, and like the last two seasons he will be an integral part of the team. "Coming off injuries in his freshman and sophomore years, Ben had a very good junior season and we expect a lot from him," said Pearl.
Charlie Lockwood is coming off an excellent career at the Northwood School before playing for the Bridgewater Bandits of the Eastern Junior Hockey League last year. "Charlie is a very good player and has the potential to compete for minutes," said Pearl.
The strategy of playing a strong non-conference schedule continues this season as the Crusaders will participate in two in-season tournaments. The Rensselaer Holiday Tournament will be held on Nov. 25-26, in Troy, N.Y., and Holy Cross will take on Rensselaer and either Nebraska-Omaha or Providence. On Dec. 29-30, The Crusaders will compete in the Ohio Hockey Classic, at Columbus, Ohio, against Ohio State and either Rensselaer or Miami of Ohio. The other out of conference match ups are at Hockey East member Massachusetts to open the season on Oct. 21, and at ECAC member Dartmouth on Jan. 21.
The Atlantic Hockey Tournament Quarterfinals are scheduled for March 11, at the home ice of the higher seeds. Then Holy Cross will host the semifinals and championship game at the Hart Center on March 17-18, marking the third time Holy Cross has hosted its conference's post season tournament. The Crusaders previously hosted the MAAC playoffs in 1999 and 2002.