The standard adjectives used to describe Tony Capobianco are calm, cool and confident. All those elements were on full display Friday night as the junior goaltender made his first playoff start for the Canisius Golden Griffins.
And on cue, he was on fire, making big saves, anchoring the penalty kill and setting two program records as the Griffs blanked Bentley, 4-0, in front of 371 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. With the win, Canisius took a 1-0 lead in the best-of-three series of the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playffs.
Capobianco made 35 saves and in the process set the single-season record for saves in a season with 1,020, passing the mark set by Dan Morrison (993) in 2010-11. His fourth shutout of the season also set a Division I program record.
All in a day’s work, really.
“I just treated it like any other game, but you have to win two games” to win the series, “so there’s some added importance,” Capobianco said. “I felt pretty good and I’m seeing the puck well, too. It was good to get some saves in the first period to get in a groove.”
“I didn’t even think about it as his first playoff game,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “But one of the reasons we recruited Capo was because of how calm, cool and collected he was in junior hockey in the playoffs. Nothing fazes him. He just shows up every day and works at being a goaltender. He’s 1-0, but it won’t change him. It’s one game. He’ll come back and do the same thing because that’s what he does.”
Capobianco made several impressive saves in the first period as the teams skated to a scoreless tie at the break.
Five minutes into the second period, Cody Freeman stuffed in a puck on Bentley goaltender Branden Komm to give the Griffs a 1-0 lead.
They nursed that lead through the period and perhaps the biggest swing in momentum came late in the second period when a pair of penalties to the Griffs gave Bentley a two-man advantage for 1:22. Thanks in part to a shot that hit the crossbar, Capobianco came up with some big saves and kept the Falcons off the scoreboard.
“It was a huge kill for us and I thought Capo made some really big saves, covered the puck well a couple times just to break momentum,” Smith said. “But I also thought we had a couple huge blocks and huge pass deflections.”
Bentley went 0 for 6 on the power play as the Canisius penalty-killing unit continued to be impressive. The Griffs entered the game ranked third nationally in penalty killing (90 percent) while their defense was ranked 17th (2.42 goals against).
Just 2:26 into the third period the Griffs extended the lead to 2-0 on a blast from senior defenseman Ben Parker. It was the second goal in two games for Parker, who had not scored in his previous 89 games. Gibbons and Sullivan were credited with the assists.
With 4:51 left in the game and the Griffs on the power play, Ralph Cuddemi let go a shot. Komm made the initial save but lost sight of the rebound and Preston Shupe was in front of the net to gather the loose puck and score for a 3-0 Canisius lead.
With 3:28 left in the game, a skirmish in the Bentley zone resulted in a five-minute contact-to-the-head penalty on the Griffs’ Stephen Miller, putting the Falcons on the power play for the rest of the game. Bentley pulled its goaltender, but the Canisius defense and Capobianco were solid. With 35 seconds left Shupe scored into an empty net to close out the win.
Canisius (14-18-5) can finish the series tonight and advance to the quarterfinal round when the teams meet at 7 in the Buffalo State Ice Arena. Game Three, if necessary, will be at 7 on Sunday.