WEST POINT, N.Y. — It happens all the time that a fluke goal wins a playoff game in overtime. What doesn’t usually accompany that is when a coach draws the goal up on the chalkboard before in-between periods.
Sparked by an overtime goal at 1:37 by Justin Carre that deflected off a defenseman’s skate, and a shutout performance by goaltender Bryan Worosz (27 saves), sixth-seeded Canisius upset third-seed Quinnipiac, 1-0, to advance to the semifinals of the inaugural Atlantic Hockey tournament.
When asked after the game if he said anything special to his players before the overtime, Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh looked at the game’s hero, Carre, and laughed.
“We’re chuckling because we went to the chalkboard and talked about getting pucks to the net,” said Cavanaugh. “Aaron Kemp talked about cycling the puck down low and coming off the hash marks and, instead of trying to go further towards the front of the net, shooting the puck at the net because anything can happen.”
Perfectly executed Carre did just that, turning at the hash marks towards the net and firing a low puck across the ice towards the net. Trying to keep it from finding a man backdoor, the Quinnipiac defenseman tipped the puck right through the legs of Holden to send the Canisius bench, including Cavanaugh, into pandemonium.
“I was just so happy,” said Cavanaugh, in his 23rd year at Canisius, who joined his team in sprinting across the ice to the pig pile on top of Carre. “I can’t tell you the last time that Canisius won a sudden-death overtime game in the playoffs. I’ve been on both ends of this and there have been some tough losses in overtime in the history of this program.”
As the score would suggest, the game featured top-notch goaltending throughout. Holden, named Goaltender of the Year in Atlantic Hockey, had a career performance stopping grade “A” chances one after another, and realistically played as if the only way he’d be beaten would be on a strange deflection.
Worosz matched Holden save for save, and after the game appeared to feel pure relief.
“It took me three years to win a playoff game, so I’m pretty happy right now,” said Worosz, who ironically fell last year in the MAAC quarterfinals to Quinnipiac in a game that saw he and the Griffs surrender a two-goal lead. “Our defense was outstanding because anytime I made a save they were right there to clear away the puck.
“I was just hoping [in the overtime] that we’d get a good bounce and we got that bounce, so that’s good.”
On the other side of the coin, Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold was obviously disappointed to see his club exit in the semifinals for the first time in Division I history, having played in the last three MAAC championship games.
His biggest frustration: his team’s inability to finish scoring chances.
“We had some chances and we didn’t finish,” said Pecknold. “When you get those chances you have to bury them.”
Many of those quality Quinnipiac chances came in the early minutes of the game. Outshooting the Griffs, 12-10, in the first, the Bobcats had a couple of glaring opportunities that either were met by a Worosz save or a missed net.
Canisius, which Cavanaugh said seemed to have some early jitters, came on strong in the second and forechecked Quinnipiac very tough, coming much of the period with two-man, all out pressure.
“I’ve always been tabbed as a defensive-style coach,” said Cavanaugh, “but in today’s day and age, if you’re going to generate any offense, you have to commit a couple of people [to the forecheck].”
The result was a 14-7 advantage in shots in the second period, with Canisius forcing Holden to come up big, especially late when he turned aside a bid in close on Ryan Corcoran to keep the game scoreless.
That led to an extremely tight third period that featured limited grade “A” chances. The best of them, though, nearly ended thing in regulation when Joe Dumais sidestepped two defenders and walked in alone with 1:15 remaining. Making a move, Worosz wasn’t an ounce fooled, finally stopping the bid with a right toe save, sending the game to overtime.
Canisius will now advance to the semifinals for the first time since 2000-01, when the Griffs fell, 4-3, to Mercyhurst in the MAAC semis. No doubt all eyes will be on top-seeded Holy Cross, Canisius’ next opponent should the top seeds win the two late semifinals on Saturday.