ROCHESTER — Week after week, Stephen Farrell worked hard in practice, helped to make his teammates better and ended up a healthy scratch by the weekend.
The junior defenseman played only four regular season games before being called upon last weekend when Geoff Fortman went down with an injury.
And Friday night he had the opportunity to play the unlikely hero for the Canisius Golden Griffins.
His shot from the blue line deflected into the net at 13:30 of the second overtime to give the Griffs a 5-4 win over top-seeded Mercyhurst in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals at Blue Cross Arena.
Canisius, the defending Atlantic Hockey champions, returns to the title game at 7:05 tonight in Blue Cross Arena. The Griffs will face Robert Morris after the Colonials defeated Niagara, 5-4 in overtime, in the late semifinal.
Scott Jacklin scored with 5:04 left in overtime for the win.
Colin South broke a 2-2 tie with 8:31 left in the third period with Cody Wydo scoring one minute later for the two-goal cushion. But Niagara scored twice in a 47-second span, once by Stephen Pietrobon and one by Hugo Turcotte to force overtime.
In the opener, Farrell was back in the lineup as Fortman remained sidelined with a shoulder injury. Duncan McKellar took the defensive spot of Chris Rumble, who was out with illness, while Doug Beck got into the lineup with Cody Freeman out with a head injury.
Those are the guys who don’t get in the lineup as often as they’d like. And those were the guys who helped anchor the Griffs back into the championship game.
“To Stephen’s credit, he’s been a great teammate all year,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “The cards have not been dealt in his favor. He comes in, we talk, he leaves my office and sometimes he doesn’t have the answers he wants. But he always works. Not only him, but the other guys, they need to prepare to be ready for their chance. Doug Beck got it. Stephen Farrell got it. Duncan McKellar got it.”
Farrell was ready for his opportunity, although a fluky play of the puck going off his chest into an open net beside Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco gave Mercyhurst some momentum in the first period.
But Farrell knows about battling through the bad bounces. He’s had to do that all season.
“I tried to approach practice with more intensity I guess because it felt like I had something to prove not playing,” the junior from Ottawa said. “A lot of times it was very tough, but I have a lot of good friends on the team. Everyone’s really close and everyone’s supportive of each other. When I was down, someone would come, pick me up, give me a pat on the back, saying ‘keep working, you’re going to get your chance.’ ”
The chances were plentiful for both sides, although Mercyhurst controlled the balance of play at times, particularly in the third period.
The Lakers took a 2-1 lead after the first period, but Ralph Cuddemi scored his second goal of the night at 1:19 to knot the game.
Another goofy goal where Alec Shields threw the puck on net and it happened to bounce past Capobinaco gave Mercyhurst a 2-1 lead. But back and forth the game went.
Patrick Sullivan and Mitch McCrank scored and the Griffs took a 4-3 lead early in the third period. The Lakers, a talented offensive team, tied the game on a beautiful play by their top line, finished off by Daniel O’Donoghue.
The teams played a scoreless 20 minutes of overtime before heading to another OT.
Of course, the Griffs had been here before. They went to double-overtime in Game Two against Bentley in the quarterfinals last weekend and came out with the win. Canisius took confidence from that experience.
“It’s always a good feeling to know that you’ve been somewhere before,” Cuddemi said.
“We felt that we knew what we had left because we played in something like that before. I feel like all the guys on the bench felt like they still had another shift, another period. We just kept pushing.”
Capobianco finished with 58 saves – the school record for saves in a postseason game and also an Atlantic Hockey semifinal record.
The game lasted 93 minutes, 30 seconds, making it the longest game in Canisius history and the longest semifinal game in Atlantic Hockey history.