An ill-timed slump may have cost the Canisius Golden Griffins a bye in the Atlantic Hockey Association Tournament, but they righted their ship in a big way this weekend to earn home ice for the first round of the playoffs.
The Griffs scored twice in a span of 22 seconds midway through the first period to take the lead for good in a 4-2 triumph over old friend Rochester Institute of Technology.
With the win, Canisius swept a two-game weekend series with the Tigers for the first time and also swept the three-game season series for the first time against its longtime nemesis from the Flower City.
Canisius, which had lost five straight before Friday’s 6-5 win at RIT, clinched the No. 7 seed for the Atlantic Hockey Tournament and will host a best-of-three series against No. 10 Bentley beginning at 7 p.m. Friday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. Game Two would be Saturday with Game Three slated for next Sunday if necessary. This is the first time the Griffs (13-18-5, 12-13-2) have hosted a home playoff game since a one-game win-or-go-home contest in 2007 that was won by American International.
After falling behind, 1-0, Ben Parker scored at 10:41 of the first to tie it. Kyle Gibbons gave the Griffs the lead for good 22 seconds later. After a scoreless second period, Mitch McCrank gave Canisius a 3-1 lead. After RIT pulled within a goal, Cody Freeman tacked on an insurance goal with 8:29 left.
Goalie Tony Capobianco made 36 saves.
“It was a complete effort by everybody tonight and our focus was excellent,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “Once again, we scored timely goals and showed great character to grind out a crucial victory.”
In Colorado Springs, Colo., No. 13 Niagara closed out a weekend to forget as the regular-season Atlantic Hockey champions dropped a 6-1 decision to Air Force, the defending conference tournament champions. The Falcons swept the two-game weekend series by a combined score of 11-2.
Air Force (17-11-7, 15-7-5) held a 46-22 edge in shots (97-41 for the two-game series). Cody Campbell made 40 saves for NU.
Patrick Divjak scored the lone goal for the Purple Eagles (21-8-5, 20-5-2), who will be the top seed for the playoffs and have a first-round bye by virtue of clinching their first regular-season Atlantic Hockey title two weeks ago. Niagara will host a quarterfinal series March 15-17.