We have now reached the top five in our preview series of Atlantic Hockey, starting today with last season’s 5th place finisher the Holy Cross Crusaders. If you broke down last season in tiers for league points there would approximately four tiers: Niagara at the bottom by itself with 8 points, AIC through Holy Cross which were separated by just 8 points (21-29), Robert Morris and Army tied with 33 points and finally Air Force (41 points) and Canisius (42 points) making the top tier.
Holy Cross led the 3rd tier in the league, finishing 3 points ahead of sixth place RIT. However, as discussed yesterday RIT has the look of a team ready to move up the league standings so Holy Cross must find a way to elevate their play to either move up themselves or even hold onto that ledge at 5th place which earns a 1st round playoff bye. The good news for Crusaders’ fans is that, judging by the metrics used here during our team preview series, Holy Cross is set up well to make a move with RIT into the next tier of teams.
2015-16 saw Holy Cross lose .28 goals per game and saw the team slide from 17th in the country scoring to 36th. It was a bit of a disappointment for the Crusaders who had returned their top four scorers from the previous season but saw teams around them get more consistent scoring while seeing their defense surrender almost a full .5 more goals per game. Holy Cross loses just two seniors from last season, one of them being 2nd in points Mike Barrett, and return 88% of their goals scored last season.
The analytics show that last season Holy Cross was a team that was aided by score effects. Their Corsi For was about as even as you can get, 49.8%, but when the game was close they dropped a full 2 percentage points to 47.2%. If the Crusaders are to reach the next tier of teams in the league they will need both numbers to improve but controlling possession in close games will allow them to win tight games more often than they did last season. Holy Cross needs to find more in consistent depth scoring also as 34% of their returning goals scored comes from just two players.
The Crusaders are returning 7 of their 8 defensemen from last season, with the lone graduation coming from a player who appeared in just 3 games. Holy Cross will be led by a top four of Spencer Trapp, Johnny Coughlin, Charlie Barrow and Tommy Muratore. Coughlin led the defense in goals scored last season with 3 of his 4 goals scored being game winning goals. Trapp was the overall points leader for the defensemen on the roster with a 3-17-20 scoring line.
In the crease the Crusaders will return 100% of their saves last season as Paul Berrafato returns for his senior season after playing 95% of all available minutes in 2016-17. Berrafato saw his save percentage go from a .919 to a .896 last year while facing just 53 more shots on the entire season. He will be looking to bounce back this year and if he can get his goals against average to a 2.17 like it was in his sophomore season the Crusaders should be ecstatic.
Player to Watch- Danny Lopez returns to Holy Cross after leading the team in goals and points last season, 17-16-33 in 35 games played. Lopez did the majority of his work on the power play as he was the 5th leading scoring in man up situations, with 12 goals. The Crusaders would probably like more than 5 even strength goals from their senior leader this season but Lopez continuing that power play proficiency will be vital also.
Breakout Player to Watch- Michael Laffin has been named an assistant captain for 2017-18 and will be seeking to increase his goal output after scoring 8 each of his first two seasons with the Crusaders. Laffin was a 30 goal scorer his last season in the USPHL and if he can find a new gear for his junior season that would be huge for the Crusaders.
Freshman to Watch- This is a limited category for the Crusaders as they signed just three freshman to NLIs for the upcoming season. Pete Kessel, a Bloomfield Hills, MI native, appeared in 147 games with the Lone Star Brahmas of the NAHL compiling a 46-45-91 scoring line and was named to the All-Tournament Team for the Robertson Cup winners in 2016-17.
Previously: RIT, Mercyhurst, Bentley, Sacred Heart, American International, Niagara