WATERTOWN, Mass. — Trailing by three goals in the third period, the Canisius Golden Griffins had their season on the line.
Lose for the second straight night to Bentley and the Griffs’ season and the careers of seven seniors would end.
Dave Smith had a simple message to his team.
“All that I wanted our guys to do with their backs against the wall was create their own story and not let somebody else dictate it,” Smith said. “A couple of guy stepped up huge. … The guys, they wrote the story. They took charge.”
The Griffs came back to score three third-period goals then senior Kyle Gibbons scored in the second overtime to give Canisius a 5-4 win over Bentley in front of 389 at the John A. Ryan Skating Arena on Saturday night.
The win ties the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series, 1-1, with the deciding Game Three at 7 tonight.
Bentley had built a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Brett Gensler and Tyler Deresky.
Ralph Cuddemi got the Griffs on the board at 1:34 of the second, tipping the puck over the goal line. But the Falcons jumped on their offensive opportunities and took what felt like a commanding 4-1 lead into the third period.
But the Griffs weren’t finished writing their story. And senior defender Ben Danford got them going.
Danford scored on a bullet from the blue line at 5:15 to start the comeback. He then set up Cuddemi on the power play to make it a 4-3 game.
Tony Capobinaco (42 saves) made huge saves to keep it a one-goal game, stopping Gensler, the conference’s all-time leading scorer, point blank several times.
Then Shane Conacher took a pass from Doug Jessey, faked the pass, and fired it over Branden Komm’s right shoulder to tie the game with 4:05 left to play. Komm made 40 saves.
“We didn’t want to go home,” Gibbons said. “That’s the biggest thing. … You dig deep. We all just bought in. We put our passion to win and passion to work hard into one big pile, and we just got the job done.
“We started playing as a team. The first two periods we weren’t really playing as a team. We were trying to do too much, make something out of nothing.”
The teams played a scoreless 20 minutes of overtime and the back-and-forth play was high paced, even as tired legs set in.
It was Gibbons who fired home the game-winner, taking a pass from Tyler Wiseman and completing the Griffs’ comeback tale at 6:59 of the second overtime.
“It feels good,” Gibbons said. “You gotta go to the areas where goals are scored and that’s the front of the net. You’ve just got to hope the puck finds you and Wiseman made a great play, put it on T and I was fortunate enough to bury it. The play started with Wiseman. Coach has been telling me to keep going to the net, keep going to the front. I did. Wiseman made a perfect pass and I just put it in.”
In the first minute of the second period, Canisius lost top-line left winger Cody Freeman when he fell to the ice in the far corner after a hit. He went over to the bench and looked like he might return but then went to the dressing room and did not return for the rest of the game after suffering a head injury.
The Griffs were without the defensive pair of junior Logan Roe and freshman Geoff Fortman. Loe was sick and stayed back in the hotel Saturday night, while Fortman was in a sling after injuring his shoulder on Friday. Fortman was slew footed in the third period but no penalty was called.
Max French was reportedly given a one-game suspension for the hit, although Atlantic Hockey never announced the suspension.
The two were replaced by senior Duncan McKellar, who had played in 16 games this season, and junior Stephen Farrell who played in four games.