There was just 1:58 left in regulation and Air Force had a 3-2 lead. The Falcons looked ready to even the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series and force a deciding third game.
But Matthew Grazen changed all that. His goal continued a third-period rally by the Golden Griffins, who went on to win in overtime. It was a key goal at a key time and one of many instances that can be used to illustrate the reasons behind a successful run by the Canisius hockey team — a goal produced by hard work, trust in teammates and a quiet confidence that the outcome would take care of itself.
“We were down going into the final two minutes, but there really wasn’t much panic on the bench,” the sophomore center said. “Everyone still had their spirits up that we still had a chance. The puck got cycled up to the point. I think Logan [Roe] got it over to Steve Miller and he tried to fire a puck and it just kind of went over to me and I thought I’d put it on net. I got lucky the goalie was moving over and the puck found its way in.”
It’s one of the highlight goals for the Griffs in their run to the Atlantic Hockey championship and the NCAA tournament. And a highlight for Grazen in a season that started out with heaps of difficulty.
Grazen was called for checking-from-behind on a play that injured Air Force forward George Michalke in a regular season game Oct. 25. He received a game disqualification and one of the most severe suspensions from Atlantic Hockey for an in-game play — a seven-game suspension.
Dealing with the hit and the time away from game action proved a challenge for Grazen, but one that he worked through step by step.
“It was tough not playing for a few weeks,” Grazen said. “I just practiced, worked out a lot, got in good shape and just stayed focused.
“I cheered the team on and just did what I could to be ready when I came back. That was an unfortunate incident that happened, but I just kept playing the same way I had been. I tried to keep to my game.”
“I know that he felt for the injured player and we talked about that,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We put him on a little bit of a challenging [training] routine. He’s in phenomenal shape to start with, and we just tried to increase that during his time away. It was privately and quietly an exciting time for our program when he came back.”
Grazen has been a key factor in the renewed Canisius offense that is averaging 4.5 goals a game during an eight-game winning streak. On the season, Grazen has eight goals and four assists, and for the last month has been centering a line with senior Preston Shupe and freshman Ralph Cuddemi.
“Matt Grazen has got the giddy up and go that can push teams back and he’s got the defensive intensity that is hard to play against,” Smith said. “At the center ice position, when you have that, it’s special. He doesn’t talk a lot. He just comes and works. That’s a lot like what our team is all about — just come and work and be hard to play against and play with a lot of tempo. And that’s what he does.”
That he does it in Buffalo is even more special to Grazen.
Grazen is a Western New York kid. He went to Clarence and earned all-league honors as part of the Red Devils baseball team. When it came time to advance his hockey career, he played two seasons with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. He totaled 77 points and was an OJHL Rookie All-Star Team member in the 2009-10 season.
His college hockey decision? That became a product of a good fit and the opportunity to continue to develop at home.
“I had thought about school far away and then as the process went on, I realized that Canisius is a good school and I liked it,” Grazen said. “I liked the program. I liked what Coach Smith had to offer. … Family is a big thing for me. So it all fit together.”
And his family wouldn’t miss this opportunity. Grazen said his parents, Jeff and Monique, are driving to Providence while his older brother, Marcus, is flying to Rhode Island from Indiana, where he is a junior at Trine University.
So when he laces up Saturday night in the first-ever NCAA tournament appearance for the Griffs’ hockey team, he’ll be representing not just his family and school, but showing a bit of hometown pride.
“It was a big deal for us, especially being the first Canisius team to be in the NCAAs,” Grazen said of the whirlwind experience. “I think in a couple of weeks we’ll definitely be able to enjoy it. I’ve been local my whole life so that makes it more special, playing for Canisius in my hometown.”