BUFFALO, N.Y. — The Canisius College men’s hockey team obliterated a three-game losing streak with an eye-opening 9-3 victory over visiting Bentley University on Saturday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo.
Cory Conacher tied a Canisius school record with five points on a goal and four assists. The junior forward from Burlington, Ont. now has 25 points on the season, catapulting him into a tie with James Marcou of Massachusetts for the NCAA Division I lead. Conacher, the Atlantic Hockey Player of the Month for November, is also tied for the top spot nationally in goals with 13.
“I can’t take all of the credit,” Conacher said. “My teammates did a lot of the work as well. My linemates, Vinnie (Scarsella) and (Preston) Shupe played really well tonight. The defense that was out there with us played well, too. I got a couple good bounces, and they were on the right side of the stick, so it was just a good game, overall.”
The Golden Griffins had lost 13 of their previous 17 matchups with the Falcons, including two of three in the 2008-09 Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinals.
Still smarting from a 5-4 loss on Friday in which the home team blew a 4-3 lead in the final 4:40 of the third period, Canisius jumped on its guests early and took a 3-0 advantage into the first intermission.
Scarsella opened the scoring on a one-timer behind Bentley goaltender Kyle Rank at the right post at the 5:16 mark. Senior center Josh Heidinger collected his own rebound and netted the Griffs’ second goal at 8:54 of the first period, and junior fourth-liner Derek Dankowski added his first goal of the season just over three minutes later to pace the Canisius attack.
The quick start was a distinct difference from Friday’s contest, in which the Griffs trailed, 2-0, after the first 20 minutes.
“I thought Bentley, last night, did a good job of taking what we gave them; we gave them a lot of open ice,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith, whose squad tallied nine goals for the first time in eight years. “We were too deep, too often, and muscled out at the side of our net. So I thought, let’s correct those things, and tonight, we did, and the game went in our favor. I thought that we looked bigger defensively as a team, and took away some of the options that Bentley used last night.”
The scoring binge continued for the Griffs early in the second period. Conacher buzzed a sharp red line pass from senior defenseman Carl Hudson past Rank just 59 seconds into the frame, and Heidinger notched his second goal of the game one minute later.
The Falcons finally got on the board when junior forward Dustin Cloutier scored on the power play — his third goal of the weekend — at 7:16 of the second period, but Matt Zuke responded for Canisius in less than two minutes to give the Griffs a commanding 6-1 lead.
That’s when things got a little dicey. A post-whistle confrontation in the Canisius goal crease between Griffs blueliner Chris Forsman and Bentley winger Jeremy Robert at the 9:22 mark exploded into a wrestling match along the boards, setting the stage for 58 minutes in penalties over the next 7:57 of the second period. At one point, six Griffs and five Falcons were perched in their respective penalty boxes.
“Our team should be more mature, to be able to handle that on the ice,” Bentley coach Ryan Soderquist said. “At that point in the game, we still could have came back and won that game. Instead, we took the easy route out, which was penalties and (hanging) our heads. I was extremely disappointed to see our guys do that.”
Canisius wrapped up its scoring on goals by Hudson, Scarsella, and sophomore winger Dave Kostuch. Justin Kemmerer and Marc Manzione added late goals for the Falcons.
Sophomore goaltender Dan Morrison made 26 saves to earn his sixth win of the season. Rank stopped 19 shots in the loss.
The victory allowed the Griffs to maintain possession of fourth place in the Atlantic Hockey conference with 15 points, while Bentley dropped into sixth place with 12 points.
The Griffs have now scored seven or more goals twice since Nov. 20. Defensively, Canisius has also put together a 213-minute scoreless streak this season. Could a second-half surge be in store for the coach Smith’s group?
“We’ve seen that we can be very good defensively, and we’ve been very good offensively,” said the Griffins’ guru. “We just have to click at the right time. We want to be a great team from January through March. We’ve had some really neat experiences on both ends of the spectrum through this point.”