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The first start Tony Capobianco made for Canisius College set a record.

As a freshman, he posted 39 saves as the Golden Griffins drew a 1-1 tie against Connecticut on Nov. 6, 2010. That marked the highest save percentage by a Canisius goaltender in his first collegiate start, foreshadowing Capobianco’s record-breaking career.

But as in all great tales involving foreshadowing, there were plenty of false starts and bumps in the road.

Capobianco started just eight games his freshman season and split time his sophomore year. After his breakout campaign as a junior, one that led the Golden Griffins to their first NCAA Tournament and landed him a summer stint at the Minnesota Wild development camp, he struggled to find his game. He was missing that confident air that made him so dominant at the end of last season.

“I kind of had a rough start the first three games in Atlantic Hockey,” Capobianco said. “I didn’t really play my greatest. I wasn’t really seeing the puck the greatest either. Then it was kind of up and down. … Down the stretch, Coach was reminding me that I’ve got the experience. He told me, ‘I want you to be the guy, so just kind of channel that and funnel back to where you were last year. Get back to that mind-set.’

“I really think it started with that Air Force weekend. I was able to get a shutout on the first night and I started feeling better about myself.”

It was a 4-0 win over Air Force on Feb. 14 that gave Capobianco his groove back and tied the program record for career saves. He would set the record with back-to-back shutouts of Sacred Heart as the Griffs swept the Pioneers in the opening round of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.

He has chosen the postseason as his time to shine, taking an 8-0-0 playoff record into the Griffs’ best-of-three quarterfinal series against Bentley, which begins tonight.

Along the way, he’s become one of the best netminders in Canisius history. He set the program record for career saves (2,870) and career shutouts (eight). He is on pace to set the career marks in goals-against average (2.66) and save percentage (.922) while also setting four single-season records.

While hindsight shows a great performance in that first collegiate start, those numbers weren’t necessarily anticipated but developed as part of the evolution of Capobianco’s career.

“He had almost 40 saves in his first collegiate start,” said assistant coach John Daigneau, himself a former standout goalie for Harvard. “I don’t know if we were expecting that type of performance, but he’s continued to build on that. He’s developed physically … and is just getting more comfortable with the game and how to read plays. It’s definitely an art. Goaltending is an art, and he’s a good student and knows what his capabilities are and continues to want to become better.”

Daigneau and Capobianco have worked on details this season – the little things that can make a difference between stopping a puck and skating away from the glow of the goal light.

But if goaltending is an art, it’s also a mental exercise – one that requires confidence and a short memory – and Capobianco works on the mental as much as the physical part of his game.

“It’s not letting your mind kind of wander, not thinking too much I think is the best way to describe it,” Capobianco said. “It’s just going out there and playing your game and for sure having a short memory. You’re thinking about the next puck, and it’s always the next puck.

“If you make that good save, you can feel good about it for that one second, but then you need a short memory. … You don’t want to think too far ahead. You don’t want to think too far in the past. You just want to stay in the present.”

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Defenseman Ben Danford has been named to the third team of All-Atlantic Hockey. He leads Golden Griffins defenders with 24 points. Danford has 81 career points, second among Canisius defensemen, and has played in 153 straight games.

email: amoritz@buffnews.com