If there was a key to the weekend for Canisius hockey, it was going to be its penalty-killing unit.
Connecticut came in with the second best power play in the country but the Golden Griffins defense has started to play its best.
The Griffs held UConn to just 1 for 10 on the power play as the Griffs took three of four points from the Huskies in Atlantic Hockey play.
After a 3-1 win on Friday, Canisius held on for a point on Saturday afternoon as the teams tied, 2-2, in front of 603 at Buffalo State Ice Arena.
The Griffs had taken a 2-1 lead thanks to a pair of power-play goals. But with 1:33 left in regulation, Ralph Cuddemi was called for tripping and eight seconds later, the Huskies got the equalizer. It was the only blip in the 23 penalty kills for Canisius.
“You can’t stop them all,” said junior Mitch McCrank, a regular on the Griffs’ PK. “We did a good job these last two games. They’re going to get one. It’s just unfortunate it’s the tying goal with less than two minutes left. It hurts a little bit, but we still got three out of four points.”
“We were a minute and 20-some away from getting a sweep at home but UConn played great,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “They had a lot of tenacity tonight and a hunger to win that game. For us it was a grind. We really had to spend a lot of effort and the penalty kill really gave us a chance tonight.”
The penalty-killing unit not only stopped six of the Huskies’ seven opportunities, they did so for 1:48 of overtime as Kyle Gibbons went to the box for hooking with 12 seconds left in regulation.
But once again, the Griffs killed the penalty and moved to 3-3-1 in Atlantic Hockey. Canisius has killed off 22 of their opponents’ last 23 power-play opportunities.
“We’re getting our sticks in the lanes,” McCrank said of the unit’s success. “We’re being aggressive. Back to the basics. Being smart. Winning the battles on the walls. I think that’s the main thing and getting it 200 feet down the ice. “
McCrank seemed to constantly be out on the penalty kill, often playing up top, closing off lanes and chipping loose pucks down the ice.
“He’s got maybe the highest IQ of a hockey player on our team,” Smith said of McCrank. “He sees the game. He knows the game and quite honestly I want him out there on the penalty kill as much as we can. He takes draws. He gets pucks down. He’s one of the many reasons we’ve been very good on the penalty kill lately.”
Canisius took a 1-0 lead in the second period when Doug Jessey blasted a shot from the blue line on the power play.
The Huskies tied the game early in the third when a bouncing puck off the faceoff got past Tony Capobianco.
Less than a minute later, Canisius took a 2-1 lead working with a two-man advantage. A quick blast by Kyle Gibbons found the back of the net.
But UConn kept coming, applying pressure and scrambling the Griffs in their own zone, leading to Cuddemi’s penalty. Brant Harris scored as the Huskies pulled the goaltender to play six-on-four.
Capobianco finished with 36 saves as the Huskies held a 38-20 advantage in shots.
Canisius will spend December on the road along with its extended semester break. The Griffs are at Army next weekend, then play at the Catamount Cup facing UMass-Lowell and host Vermont Dec. 28-29.