BUFFALO, N.Y. — Like two evenly matched pugilists, the University of Connecticut and Canisius College men’s hockey teams jockeyed and jabbed for just over 40 minutes on Saturday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo, NY.
Then, with two points on the line, the haymakers started flying. The combatants combined for six goals — three to tie the score, three to go ahead — over the final 18:49 of an explosive third period.
The result? A 4-4 draw, marking the fourth consecutive overtime decision between the Atlantic Conference rivals, with a rematch slated for Sunday afternoon in Buffalo.
“I’m disappointed in our defensive effort in the third period,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith, whose Golden Griffins (4-6-1, 3-3-1) could not maintain a pair of late one-goal leads. “We worked extremely hard to put ourselves in position for success at home against a good hockey team, and we let it slip away.”
The final tally came with just 2:45 left on the clock. Connecticut (2-6-1, 2-3-1) senior defenseman Brendan Olinyk skimmed a low shot from the right wing boards deep in the Canisius zone that avoided the traffic around the Griffs’ net and skipped past goaltender Dan Morrison.
Olinyk’s game-tying goal came as the result of tough work deep in the attacking zone by underclassmen Scott Ambrosie and Daniel Naurato, each of whom was credited with an assist. The Huskies, losers of 21 of their previous 25 road contests, pushed the level of intensity throughout the game and refused to allow Canisius to get comfortable on its home ice.
“One of the things we’ve learned from our six or eight previous games is what you have to establish (on the road),” Connecticut coach Bruce Marshall said. “I’m happy to be gritty. We realize we’re not going to be beating teams 6-1. We’ve got to grind it out, and it’s got to be 2-1, it’s got to be 3-2, and that’s what we’ve been focusing on, to play hard and to do those kinds of things.”
Olinyk’s first goal of the season gave balance to what had been a hectic third period between two competitors coming off big weekends at the expense of their Atlantic Hockey opponents.
Tied 1-1 after the second period, Canisius — fresh off a home-and-home sweep of Mercyhurst — took its first lead of the game when junior sniper Cory Conacher potted a power-play goal at 1:11 of the third. Overall, the Griffs finished two-for-nine with the man advantage.
The Huskies — winners of two over American International last weekend — converted once in three power play opportunities, and that marker at 6:56 of the third period, from junior forward Jason Krispel, tied the score at 2-2.
Connecticut took a 3-2 lead at 11:50 on a nifty goal from junior winger Andrew Olsen, who danced through a pair of defenders before beating Morrison with a slick wrister inside the right post.
The momentum, however, swung quickly. Less than one minute after Olsen’s go-ahead goal, sophomore Dave Kostuch’s fourth tally of the season tied the game at 3-3. Forty-one seconds later, fourth-liner Scott Moser’s point-blank one-timer near the left post gave Canisius a 4-3 lead with 6:33 before the final buzzer.
Olinyk’s score at 17:15 sent the game to overtime.
“When you’re up by a goal at home with six minutes left to play, you want to get two points out of it,” Smith said. “But UConn showed a lot of heart, a lot of character in the third period, and kept putting it to us. We need to find a way to lock that down.”
The teams combined for three shots in the five-minute overtime session. Connecticut defenseman Jeff Sapieha spent two minutes in the penalty box for hooking but the penalty was neatly killed by the visitors.
Jeff Larson, the reigning USCHO.com Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week, allowed four goals on 33 shots for the Huskies. Morrison made 20 saves for the Griffs.
Ambrosie finished with a pair of assists and Mike Coppola added a short-handed goal for Connecticut. Ryan Klusendorf had a power-play goal and Carl Hudson had two assists for Canisius.
A victory on Sunday would give UConn its first three-point-or-more road weekend in Atlantic Hockey competition since collecting a win and tie on Feb. 17-18, 2006 at Army.
A Griffs win would earn the team its fourth victory in its last six conference games.
“We want to play with the guys in the upper echelon of Atlantic Hockey,” Canisius center Josh Heidinger said. “It’s a battle. It’s a battle every time we play. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s going to be 60 hard-fought minutes. We’re fighting just like (Connecticut) is fighting. It was a good match tonight, a draw, but we want to come out tomorrow night and come out on top.”