It was a long time coming.
Not the championship banner unveiling. Not even the home game.
But the two points in Atlantic Hockey.
With a pair of third period goals, Canisius came back to earn 4-3 win over Mercyhurst in front of 1,013 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena Saturday night.
The win was the first for the Golden Griffins in conference play this season (1-3-0, 2-5-0 overall) and was anchored by the second line of Patrick Sullivan, Matthew Grazen and Braeden Rigney. They were involved in all four goals, with Sullivan netting two, including the game-winner, while Grazen had three assists.
“We were trying to find some chemistry, some depth in scoring ... but I never would have thought putting three centermen on the same line would produce the results that it did,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “They had some chemistry right from their first shift. They also were able to be aggressive in the faceoff circle. It worked and it’s something we’re going to want to ride.”
But the game clincher came in the final 3:39 of the game. Carl Larsson received a five-minute major for charging and a game misconduct.
The Griffs penalty-killing unit has struggled all season and already surrendered a power-play goal to the Lakers earlier in the game.
Opponents have scored 10 power-play goals on 33 opportunities. That means the Griffs penalty-killing unit comes in at 69.6 percent.
Last year, they set a school record killing off 90.1 percent. But Canisius played smart, got in passing lanes and kept sending the puck down into the Lakers’ zone. With a few seconds left, Keegan Asmundson came up with a huge save to preserve the win.
“I think sometimes the situation and the intensity of the moment brought out the aggressiveness we were really looking for,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I thought that kill was, obviously with the situation, the time and the score was very important, but it was our best kill of the year. It was a sustained aggressiveness and obviously to use a baseball term, got the save.”
The Griffs trailed, 3-2, after two periods and came back with a smart, aggressive third period.
They tied the game with 15:07 left in regulation. The hard-working line of Rigney, Grazen and Sullivan put pressure in front of Lakers’ goalie Jordan Tibbett that shift with Rigney jamming the puck in the net for his first goal of the season.
Sullivan tipped in a shot from Doug Jessey with 7:32 left for the game-winning goal.
“I think we had a must-win attitude coming out of the dressing room for the third,” said East Amherst native Grazen who had a career-high three points in a game. “We wanted to work hard, get pucks to the net and keep it simple. We thought we had to win.”
“It was the first time playing together,” said Sullivan, a Derby native. “We had great energy and were working really hard. Pucks were just bouncing our way. ... Everyone needed to play simple and play their game.”
The Lakers took a 1-0 lead with 7:20 left in the first on a power-play goal from a Daniel O’Donoghue.
Canisius evened the game, 1-1, with 4:36 left in the first when Chris Rumble’s shot from the point made its way through traffic and past Tibbett.
The Griffs jumped out early in the second as Sullivan picked up a turnover from the Lakers’ defense and scored for a 2-1 Griffs advantage. But Merychurst came back just 31 seconds later to tie it when Nardo Nagtzaam picked the top right corner with his shot.
Canisius had its first power play of the game, but Mercyhurst took advantage of a two-on-one break with Misiak and Stephen Hrehoriak with Hrehoriak putting home a shot for the short-handed goal and a 3-2 Lakers’ lead.
It was the third start of the year for Asmundson who made 31 saves as the Lakers held a 34-31 advantage in shots.
The Lakers, who lost to Canisius in the conference championship game last year, fell to 2-1-0 in Atlantic Hockey and 3-6-1 overall.
Along with the Atlantic Hockey championship banner and NCAA Tournament banner unveilings in a pregame ceremony, sophomore Stephen Miller received his award for being named the 2012-13 Atlantic Hockey Top Scholar-Athlete.
The Griffs hit the road next weekend for a pair of games at Ohio State (6-4-0), coach Smith’s alma mater.