The experiences for the Canisius College hockey team in the early part of the season have been and will continue to be unforgettable. In the picturesque mountains of Alaska, the Golden Griffins encountered hulking moose, horned Dall sheep and the Northern lights. This weekend, they’ll travel to one of the Meccas of college hockey to play legendary powerhouse Minnesota.
Once the goals start coming, the games will be just as impressive.
The Griffs controlled much of their conference and home opener against Air Force on Thursday, but again the goal lamp barely burned. The teams skated to a 1-1 overtime tie despite a 31-18 shot edge for Canisius.
“It’ll come,” said coach Dave Smith, whose team has five goals in five games. “We’re getting the chances. I thought their goalie [Jason Torf] stole a point for them, made some spectacular saves. We had sustained offensive pressure with a lot of second chances, and that’s what we’re looking for.”
Canisius (1-3-1) had a step on Air Force for much of the night in the Atlantic Hockey opener for both teams. But the visitors found the net first, ending an aggressive start by Canisius and silencing the several hundred in attendance in Buffalo State Ice Arena.
Air Force right wing Cole Gunner stole the puck below the Griffs’ goal line and spotted Kyle De Laurell alone in front. The senior left winger, who entered with 31 goals and 90 points in 110 career games, wasted no time ripping a shot over goaltender Tony Capobianco.
The Griffs tilted the ice during a second-period power play, and they struck soon after it ended. Junior left wing Taylor Law collected a rebound in a crowded slot and went top shelf, tying the game with 4:02 to play in the period.
The game came to a scary halt with 2:29 left in the second period. Canisius center Matthew Grazen hit George Michalke III from behind, with a loud crack echoing through the arena as Michalke’s face mask crashed into the glass.
The junior from outside Cleveland immediately fell backward as if unconscious and was motionless for about a dozen seconds. When Michalke tried to get to his feet, he fell to the ice again. Athletic trainers from both teams and off-ice personnel all came to his aid, applying towels to his bloody nose and eye while he kicked his feet in obvious discomfort.
During the 10-minute delay while Michalke was readied for a stretcher, one of the Air Force coaches walked by the Canisius bench after checking on his player and screamed and pointed.
Grazen was given a major penalty for hitting from behind and a game misconduct. The Canisius and Air Force benches were given unsportsmanlike minors.
The Griffs killed the five-minute penalty with relative ease, continuing their hot start to the season. The penalty-kill unit entered the game having thwarted 21 of 23 power plays.
“We didn’t really give them any shots or second chances,” Law said. “You never want to see a guy get hurt. We were concerned on the bench, but at the same time we knew we had to kill that off to stay in the game.”
As much as the Griffs tried to focus on their opener with Air Force, they couldn’t help but also visualize their coming trip to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers and coach Don Lucia reside in their customary spot near the top of the NCAA, ranked second with a record of 3-1. The Griffs visit the Golden Gophers on Sunday in Mariucci Arena.
“To play in that building, 10,000-plus fans mostly in Minnesota gear and Minnesota chants, that’s an attention getter,” Smith said. “Just like Alaska in terms of the geography and the sex appeal of the name, Minnesota has that. We want to put our guys in those situations to prepare for both league and nonleague play.
“It’s one that a lot of guys circled. We’ve done everything we can to really ignore it until this game’s over tonight, but it’s tough to ignore something like that.”