The Canisius hockey team picked the right time of year to get on a hot streak. With solid defense and timely goals, the Golden Griffins completed a sweep of Bentley, 2-1, in the best-of-three Atlantic Hockey first-round series in front of 329 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Saturday night.
Canisius (15-18-5) won its fourth straight game to advance to the best-of-three quarterfinals against Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., starting Friday.
It took about 30 minutes before the Griffs could find their groove on offense. Canisius got on the board with about five minutes left in the second period when Cody Freeman put in a rebound of a Kyle Gibbons shot on an odd-man rush.
With 1:05 left in the period, Bentley appeared to tie the game, but it was scored with a high stick and waved off.
Seven seconds later, Freeman tipped in another shot by Gibbons for a 2-0 lead.
“We knew what we needed to do,” Freeman said. “Just play our game with a lot of blocked shots. That’s a big focus of our team, playing simple, playing as a team and just getting the job done. It doesn’t matter who scores or who gets the credit. It’s a team victory.”
The team victory was fueled by Freeman’s offense, which has been plentiful the second half of the season. The 6-foot-2, 205-pound sophomore has 14 points in his last 14 games after recording just seven points in his first 38 collegiate games.
The change came when he moved to the top line with Gibbons and Patrick Sullivan.
“The last half of the season things have just been clicking with me, Kyle and Sullivan,” Freeman said. “I don’t know if it’s luck or hard work. Maybe a little bit of both. We’ve just been playing well together and hopefully we can keep it going.”
“There’s a different skill set with each of those guys,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said about the top line. “Cody is at his best when he takes pucks at the net. He’s got a really good touch around the net. He’s a big body that can do some good things.”
The Griffs again played solid defense. Their penalty kill has become their signature; Canisius held Bentley to 0 for 5 on the man advantage.
Junior goaltender Tony Capobianco made 35 saves, giving up the lone goal to Dan Koudys with 4:40 left.
“For us, it was how we play away from the puck,” Smith said. “That type of responsibility is what the difference in the series was.”
The Griffs went 0-2-1 against Air Force in the regular season. They lost, 3-1 and 3-2, in February in Colorado Springs. The Falcons (17-11-7) had a first-round bye.
Top-seeded Niagara (21-8-5) will host RIT in the best-of-three quarterfinals next weekend after the Tigers swept AIC.