BUFFALO, N.Y. — It’s just four games into the 2010 season, and the Army offense has officially hit a wall.
On Friday night, that wall’s name was Dan Morrison.
After mustering seven goals in its first three games–all losses–the Black Knights were shut out, 4-0, by goaltender Dan Morrison and the red-hot Canisius squad in an Atlantic Hockey showdown at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Friday night.
Morrison made 32 saves to earn his fourth win of the season. The junior from London, Ontario is the reigning Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week and had not faced fewer than 35 shots in his previous five outings this season.
“(Morrison) looked very composed in there tonight,” Army head coach Brian Riley said. “He didn’t get rattled when we were putting pressure on him. He was really good, and we know he’s been good for a while. I’m not surprised.”
Freshman winger Kyle Gibbons had a pair of first period goals for the Golden Griffins, who improved to 4-1-1 overall and 3-0-1 in Atlantic Hockey. Sophomore forward Preston Shupe collected a shorthanded goal and senior sniper Cory Conacher added his sixth tally of the season.
Gibbons has been a rookie revelation, earning a coveted spot on the top Canisius line alongside the high-scoring senior duo of Conacher and Vincent Scarsella. His first goal of the contest, assisted by Scarsella and freshman defenseman Ben Danford at the 3:33 mark of the opening period, was his fourth of the season and the first game-winner of his career.
Gibbons scored again just 2:38 later, tapping a rebound from a Conacher shot past Army goaltender Jay Clark at the right post.
“I’m playing with two of the best guys in college hockey right now,” Gibbons said. “You get on the ice with those guys enough, they’re going to find you. Fortunately, I was able to bury two tonight.”
While the Golden Griffins’ offense is cruising along at a healthy clip of four goals per game, the Black Knights are struggling to find the back of the net. It’s not for a lack of trying — Army has averaged 35 shots per game in each of its past three tilts, and managed to apply heavy pressure in the Canisius zone for extended stretches throughout the game.
“They can hurt you,” Golden Griffins head coach Dave Smith said. “I thought they had some good scoring chances, which Dan was able to see, (and) I thought our commitment to getting pucks deep was excellent. That has to continue for us to have success.”
Morrison set the tone early in the first period with a mask save on a wrister from the left circle and then continued to deny the Black Knights in what would became a frustrating game for the Army skaters, capping the shutout with a nifty glove save on a Marcel Alvarez laser from the point with one minute left in the third period.
The Black Knights also had a pair of would-be goals overturned by the officiating crew, once on a loose net and again on a puck stuffed under Morrison’s pads at the goal line.
The Golden Griffins were not even ranked among the top 40 defensive units in the country at the end of the 2009-2010 season, but Canisius entered Friday’s game in a shocking tie for fourth in Division I hockey in total defense, allowing just two goals per game.
Much of the credit is due to the goaltender. Morrison led the nation in total saves through five games, knocking away 194 shots. He appears to be up to the task of the number-one netminder after sharing time with Andrew Loewen during his freshman and sophomore seasons, posting an uneven 18-20-5 record.
“He’s made an outstanding commitment to physical fitness, which is the first and most noticeable change,” Smith said. “He gives our team a sense of confidence because he handles the puck so well, and has a good sense of the big moment, the big game…
“Right now, this is Dan’s time, and we’re going to ride him.”
Army will face the Golden Griffins again in Buffalo on Saturday night, the second game of a five-game road jaunt that will include visits to the University of Massachusetts and Mercyhurst.
“Tomorrow night is a new night,” Riley said. “We need to come out and give the same kind of effort, and find a way to get some pucks behind that guy.”
Opening faceoff is at 7:05 p.m. in the Buffalo State Ice Arena.