It was an opportunity lost.
After a dramatic win on Saturday, the Canisius Golden Griffins came out with jump, aggression and poise on Sunday, taking a two-goal lead just three minutes into the game.
But the Griffs failed to keep the momentum, found themselves in the penalty box too often and saw their early lead turn into a 3-2 loss to Sacred Heart in front of 404 at Buffalo State Ice Arena.
It’s the second time this season the Griffs have split a weekend series with one of the bottom teams of Atlantic Hockey. In December, they divided at last-place Army and Sacred Heart entered the game tied for second-last.
“Our guys come into the game every day wanting to win, trying to win. So whomever you lose to, it hurts,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “In the standings we missed an opportunity to get two points. We want to come into weekends and earn the two and I thought we did last night. … I thought we came ready to play tonight and I thought Sacred Heart just earned the victory.”
“I think we just need to work harder,” senior captain Ryan Bohrer said. “They played their game and we didn’t play ours. We need to work harder. I think X’s and O’s are there but if you’re not working hard that’s the difference. Any team in the league can beat anyone if they’re working harder.”
It was a solid start for Canisius, which got on the board 1:10 into the game on a power-play goal by Ralph Cuddemi.
Bohrer put in a rebound 1:40 later and the Griffs were off to an early 2-0 lead.
Instead of gaining momentum, though, the Griffs were forced to fend off the aggressive Pioneers, who had a 16-7 advantage in shots in the opening period.
The Pioneers got on the board with 1:12 left in the first on a goal by Jeff Carroll. Then in the final 40 seconds Canisius took a pair of penalties, giving the Pioneers 1:21 of 5-on-3 time to start the second.
The Griffs had nearly killed off the two-man advantage, but Will Rayner tipped the puck past Canisius goaltender Keegan Asmundson to tie the game.
“They got a goal late in the five-on-three to get the momentum instead of us,” Smith said. “We were just a few seconds away from a huge kill and a huge momentum boost that we could have maybe ridden from there with a 2-1 lead. But they got a goal late and the timing of our penalties, we had to spend a lot of energy to get those kills.”
Canisius never got into a groove after that. A few quality shifts were be cut short by a penalty as Sacred Heart went on the power play seven times, including a pair of 5-on-3s.
“We’d get back on it and someone would take a stupid penalty and take the wind out of our sails,” Bohrer said. “We just couldn’t get it going. … They outworked us for 55 minutes of a 60-minute game. That’s about it.”
The Griffs started to generate quality scoring chances late in the third period, but Drew George picked up a loose puck at his own blue line and rushed down the ice, snapping a clear shot past Asmundson for the game-winner with 3:01 left in the game.
Asmundson made 33 saves. The Pioneers held a 36-30 advantage in shots, including 10 on the power play.
With the loss, its first of the season at home, Canisius fell to 7-5-1 in Atlantic Hockey and remains in fifth place.
The top four teams will get first-round byes for the conference tournament in March. Sacred Heart improved to 5-10-0.
The Griffs will return home next weekend, hosting second-place Bentley at noon on Saturday and Sunday.