NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. — Both Canisius and Iona entered Saturday night’s game needing a win. The Golden Griffins were fighting to secure home ice in the MAAC Quarterfinals while the Gaels were just fighting for their playoff lives. In the end, the more desperate team won as Iona defeated Canisius, 5-1.
Iona coach Frank Bretti set the tone for the Canisius game by accentuating the positives from their loss to Mercyhurst on Friday night.
“We really didn’t want to change anything for tonight,” he said. “We were just looking for a complete game and to make sure we had some jump. We knew it wouldn’t be easy for Canisius being on the road so we didn’t want to give them any momentum.”
Golden Griffins’ coach Brian Cavanaugh appeared to echo Bretti’s comments about his team’s road woes this weekend.
“We struggled at the beginning of the game. I thought we were ready to play, but we certainly didn’t show it,” he said. “I am not going to make any excuses. Iona came out strong early in the game [because] it was their Senior Night.
“For us, I don’t know if we worn down, travel weary, or what. It’s been a long season and you are going to have your ups and downs.”
Two weeks ago, Canisius was on an upswing as it swept a pair of games at Fairfield and Sacred Heart. This weekend was a big down turn as it lost at Army and Iona.
Canisius nearly opened the scoring a little more than five minutes into the game, but Iona goaltender Mike Fraser made two saves off an Iona turnover and defenseman Chad Van Diemen swept a third scoring chance out of the crease.
“Mike played well early. He was coming off a pretty good week of practice,” said Bretti. “Fraser knew he was getting the call on Wednesday afternoon and I wanted him to be ready for the game. You look back at the first period and he made some key saves for us early.”
Just like they did against Mercyhurst, Iona jumped out to a 2-0 first period lead. For the second straight game, freshman Neil Clark opened the scoring for the Gaels. Iona cycled the puck down low and fellow freshman Andrew McShea centered the puck across the crease setting up Clark for an easy tap in at the right post for his second goal of the year at 6:11.
Iona doubled it’s lead as Tim Krueckl connected for his 10th goal at 14:31. Jamie Carroll set Krueckl up in the slot and the junior winger deked goalie Bryan Worosz before slipping the puck between the sophomore’s pads.
The key to Mercyhurst’s win over Iona was the Lakers ability to keep the Gaels from extending their two-goal lead — a point that Bretti would not let his team forget.
“We had numerous chances to take a 3-0 lead in the [Mercyhurst] game. Tonight we wanted to make sure that [we knew] a two-goal lead wouldn’t be enough,” he said.
It was a message the Gaels heeded because they jumped out to a 3-0 lead early in the second period.
Worosz stopped Chris Connerty’s shot from the right circle, but Chris Martini followed up the play and banged home the rebound at 2:31 for his third of the season.
The Gaels added even more breathing room late in the second period as they extended their lead to four goals as they cashed in on their fourth power chance of the game.
Brent Williams cut to the net and was able to elude a Worosz poke check attempt. Williams pulled the puck away from the netminder and slid into an empty net at 19:11. Martini and Van Diemen assisted on Williams’s 11th goal.
Cavanaugh decided to pull Worosz at the start of the third period on favor of sophomore Jeremy Redquest.
“Bryan has seen an awful lot of minutes this year. He’s probably going to break the records for games played and minutes,” Cavanaugh said. “It was time to make a change. We were four goals down and it was an opportunity to put Redquest in there that is what college hockey is all about. Then you see if that might jump start the team.”
Goalie change or not, the thing that got Canisius on the board at the start of the third period was a carryover power play. The Golden Griffins broke Fraser’s bid for a shutout in the senior’s final home game just 35 seconds into the third period as Ryan Corcoran scored his seventh of the season.
“I thought we played one of our best 60-minute efforts. Even after they scored early in the third period, we came back on the next shifts and understood that we still had a three-goal lead and were in control of the game,” said Fraser.
Iona regained it’s four-goal lead less than seven minutes later when Mark Hallam scored his ninth of the season on assists from Krueckl and Jamie Carroll.
“This weekend we played two pretty good teams regardless of whether they were at home or on the road,” Bretti said. “We want to keep making sure that we are passing the test as we get ready for, hopefully, making the playoffs.”
Fraser talked about the emotions he felt playing in his final home game.
“It was really nice to get this win tonight and I was excited to get the start. Even more important was to get the win. We really needed it in the standings.”
Iona’s win, coupled with AIC’s loss to Fairfield, means the Gaels now control their own playoff destiny. If they win their remaining games, they are assured of making the playoffs.
Iona (9-20-2; 9-13-1) returns to action on Tuesday night, February 25, when they visit Sacred Heart at the Milford Ice Pavilion. Canisius hosts AIC on February 28 at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.