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PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Preston Shupe knows the sting will eventually go away. He knows that at some point he will be able to look back and think about how his Canisius Golden Griffins were right there with the top team in the country.

“Hopefully, that feeling comes quick,” Shupe said Saturday night after the Griffs saw their two-goal, third-period lead fade away into a 4-3 loss to the No. 1 Quinnipiac Bobcats in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Dunkin’ Donuts Center.

The loss ended the Griffs’ eight-game winning streak and charmed run in March. It also ended Shupe’s career, along with that of fellow seniors Torrey Lindsay, Ben Parker and Chris Barrea.

“I know for a fact that we’ll look back at this year and have nothing but good memories, but for the time being right now, it’s still pretty fresh and stings a lot,” Shupe said. “But the guys have a lot to be proud of. It’s been a special year.”

It certainly was a special year for the Griffs who won their first Atlantic Hockey tournament title, as a seventh-seed, to earn the program’s first trip into the NCAA Tournament.

They even notched their first appearance in the national polls, coming in at No. 20 last week in the USCHO.com rankings.

In some ways, the team that emerged in March is nothing like the team that opened the season at Alaska-Anchorage in October. In other ways, it was all part of the natural progression that led the Griffs to their magical run which ended against a Quinnipiac team which featured 12 seniors.

“Quinnipiac showed a maturity in their game that early in the season, for us, we didn’t have,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We started the season in Alaska and we found a way to let points slip away. But to the credit of the seniors and the leaders in our room, and there are a lot of leaders coming back, we found a way to get points late. We hung in there.

“We checked off a lot of our goals. The guys have business cards with our goals on them and we didn’t have win an NCAA Tournament game on there. That’s how it was not on the radar. But I guarantee it will be on there next year. We just need to learn. We’ve learned a lot from other people’s lessons. I’m really proud of the way our guys responded to every opportunity this year. Every single opportunity this year we learned.”

While Canisius will miss the senior class, particularly their leadership and experience, the Griffs are poised for an impressive 2013-14 season.

The four seniors combined to appear in 472 career games with 164 points (57 goals, 107 assists). This season, the class accounted for 20 percent of the goals (22) with 33 assists.

Returning for the Griffs are 10 sophomores and six juniors who combined to score 81 of the Griffs 113 goals this season – that’s 80.5 percent of the goals and 81.8 percent of the points returning next season.

Leading that offense was junior Kyle Gibbons, who scored 21 goals with 22 assists (43 points).

Tony Capobianco will also be back. The goaltender set three program records in his junior year – saves (1,256), save percentage (.929) and shutouts (four). His 1,256 saves rank as the 12th-most in NCAA history and are the most recorded in one season by a goalie since the 1988-89 season.

Capobianco anchored one of the best penalty killing units in the country. The Griffs finished at 90.1 percent – just the 10th team in NCAA history to finish with a penalty kill above 90.0 percent.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com