By scoring two goals, Army didn’t exactly break out of the offensive doldrums on Saturday night. After five games, the Black Knights are averaging a meager 1.8 tallies per contest.
Army did however, snap its season-long losing streak, knocking off Atlantic Hockey rival Canisius, 2-1, at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in the second game of a weekend visit to Western New York.
Senior winger Cody Omilusik and sophomore forward Andy Starczewski each scored a first-period goal for the visiting Black Knights. Senior netminder Jay Clark stopped 32 shots to earn the win.
Army improved its record to 1-4-0 overall and 1-3-0 in Atlantic Hockey.
Freshman Ryan Bohrer had the lone goal for the Golden Griffins, who fell to 4-2-1 overall and 3-1-1 in conference play. Junior goaltender Dan Morrison, flawless in a 4-0 win on Friday, took his second loss of the season. Morrison made 24 saves in defeat.
The Black Knights flipped the first-period script on their hosts on Saturday, building a 2-0 lead in the first period; Canisius carried an identical lead into the first intermission on Friday night en route to the shutout win.
Omilusik opened the scoring when he snapped a low shot past Morrison seven minutes into the game. Starczewski added the game-winner when he converted a behind-the-net turnover into Army’s second goal at the 12:43 mark.
“One of the things that we talked about was trying to get that first (goal),” Black Knights coach Brian Riley said. “Especially after last night, when we couldn’t score (against Morrison). The longer you go without scoring, you start wondering if you’re ever going to get to this guy. We were able to get one early, and you could just feel that there was life on our bench.”
Army used that life to strangle the potent Golden Griffins offense that entered the contest among the top 20 programs nationally in scoring with 3.83 goals per game. The Black Knights successfully killed three penalties and prevented the red-hot scoring line of Cory Conacher, Vince Scarsella, and Kyle Gibbons from recording a point. It was the first time this season that the three-man unit was held to less than two points in a game.
“We have to work hard,” Riley said. “We don’t have a lot of high-end players. We have a lot of hard-working players. If we can bring that, we put ourselves in position to win games.”
Army’s plan of attack included the use of its own top line — wingers Omilusik and Danny Colvin, along with center Mike Hull — to bear down hard on the top Canisius guns.
“They have that line with Conacher and Scarsella, and that’s a scary line,” Riley said. “You have to make sure that when you’re out there with them, that you’re trying to take time and space away from them and try to make it hard for them.”
The constant pressure and relentless physical play worked. Army’s number-one line finished a combined plus four, while Conacher, Scarsella and Gibbons were minus three as a group and found itself in the middle of numerous post-whistle scuffles throughout the tense third period.
Golden Griffins coach Dave Smith agreed that the Black Knights got the jump on his bunch, but was bemused by the lack of whistles. Only three total penalties were called in a game that saw at least three Canisius players limp back to the bench after a particularly brutal shift.
“I thought Army outworked us early in the game, and that turned out to be the difference; their goaltender played great,” Smith said. “And when teams are allowed to tackle, both teams are allowed to tackle, and do things that on most nights would be penalties, it turns into a funny game.”
The Black Knights will continue their five-game road swing on Friday with a nonconference battle with struggling Hockey East opponent Massachusetts.
The Golden Griffins will not have much time to rest. Archrival Niagara will pay a visit to the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Tuesday, the first time that the teams will face off as members of Atlantic Hockey. The Purple Eagles are 1-3-0 and 1-1-0 in conference action.
“They are a feisty, extremely competitive team, much like Army,” Smith said. “They’ve got a lot of skill. It’s going to be a really difficult, difficult game. If we’re ready, we’ll be fine.”