BUFFALO, N.Y. — Junior winger Cory Conacher continued his torrid scoring pace with a pair of goals and Canisius College — the third most penalized team in Division I hockey — killed a trio of third period penalties in a 5-2 win over Atlantic Hockey rival Army on Friday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo, NY.
I think our guys have a lot of pride. Armys a very good team that beat us last time, Canisius head coach Dave Smith said, referring to the Black Knights weekend sweep of his squad in November at West Point. Our guys want to play well. Our guys want to win every night. Army clearly was the better team the last time we played them, and we wanted to show them that were a good team, as well.
The Golden Griffins improved to 9-7-1 in conference play (11-10-2 overall) and remain in fourth place, three points ahead of Bentley in the battle for a first-round home game in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Sacred Heart and Army (6-7-2, 7-11-3) are now five points behind Canisius in the standings.
The Pioneers have three games in hand on Canisius. The Falcons and Black Knights each have two.
If Conacher and the Griffs continue scoring at their current clip, the extra games may not matter. The Canisius offense now ranks eighth nationally with 3.48 goals per game.
I think if we just stick to our game plan, its simple hockey, Conacher said. If we stay out of the box, then I think we can be a really good team in Atlantic Hockey. Hopefully, if we do that for the rest of the year, we can start making strides into first, second, or third place.
Conacher leads Division I hockey in goals per game (0.81) and game-winning goals (five). He is tied for the goal-scoring crown (17) and is second in points per game (1.62).
Despite the gaudy numbers, the Griffs have struggled at times because of the whistle. Canisius entered the game killing only 78.7 percent of penalties, and recently suffered through a three-game stretch in which opponents converted 11 of 26 power play opportunities.
On Friday, the Griffs managed to snuff four of the Black Knights five opportunities with the man advantage.
What I was most proud of was that (Army) scored a power play goal in the second period, and we made a little adjustment, and our guys responded right away, Smith said. That tells me our guys are focused. The same situation happened after that, and our guys were in the right position, and made the right playit was absolutely a total team effort.
Canisius winger Jason Weeks opened the scoring at the 1:13 mark of the second period with a one-timer that beat Army goaltender Jay Clark to the left post. The 48th goal of Weeks collegiate career moved him into a second-place tie on both the schools all-time goal-scoring and power-play goal lists.
Junior center Eric Rex collected a rebound in the crease just over one minute later and deposited a backhander to give the Griffs a 2-0 lead.
A power-play goal from Armys Cody Omilusik cut the advantage to 2-1 at 5:09 of the second, but Conacher responded by snapping a shot over Clarks shoulder from the lower left circle at 6:34 to increase the lead to 3-1. Senior defenseman Carl Hudsons cannon blast from the right point at 14:45 of the second period pushed the Canisius lead to 4-1.
Andy Starczewski redirected a bouncing puck past Griffs goaltender Dan Morrison with 92 seconds remaining before the second intermission, but Conachers second goal of the game at 12:54 of the third period and timely penalty killing by the home team capped the 5-2 decision.
The loss continued a tailspin for Army. After struggling to a 1-7-2 record in their first 10 games, the Black Knights responded with six wins in their next eight contests. That upward trend ended in the new year, and Army is now 0-3-1 in January and have won just two of 12 games on the road this season.
Good teams find a way to win on the road, Black Knights coach Brian Riley said. Were still trying to find a way. We still have some tough road games coming up, so hopefully well be able to figure that out. Its hard winning hockey games — its hard winning at home, its hard winning on the road, but if you want to be a team that finishes in the top half, youve got to find a way to get points on the road.
Army and Canisius meet again on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Buffalo.