BUFFALO, N.Y. — It was a game filled with potential story lines.
The continuing struggles of a perennially powerful Air Force squad that remains winless (0-2-3, 0-0-1) five games into the season. A pack of Canisius (1-3-1, 0-0-1) cubs that barely score but rarely allow goals. The Atlantic Hockey opener for a pair of teams that were soundly spanked by nationally ranked competition last weekend.
But the only thing that really mattered was the health of George Michalke.
With 2:29 remaining in the second period of the eventual 1-1 draw at the Buffalo State Ice Arena, Michalke — a fourth-line forward for the visiting Falcons — absorbed an illegal hit from behind by Canisius’ Matthew Grazen and suffered a gruesome facial cut and apparent concussion, eventually leaving the ice on a stretcher. Canisius sports information staff reported that Michalke had a head injury and was in stable condition at a Buffalo hospital, where he was taken for precautionary measures.
Grazen received a five-minute checking from behind major and was tossed from the game.
Air Force coach Frank Serratore characterized Grazen’s penalty as a “careless, vicious, dangerous hit” and called for swift action from conference administrators.
“That’s a hit that could paralyze someone,” Serratore said. “Players have just got to be aware. You just simply — you can’t do that. You have a guy from behind in a compromising position, you know, how can you do that to somebody?
“It makes you sick, and that’s all I can tell you,” he continued. “That’s one that our commissioner and our referee chief are going to have to look at, because in my opinion, the message has to be sent that [when] you play like that, you’re not gonna play. If that was my player that hit someone like that, I would expect and want the same. I’ve got two sons playing college hockey. We’ve got to protect our players. We’ve got to protect our kids.”
“I hope [Michalske] is OK,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We don’t want that to happen. I know that our guys are prepared for that, our doctors are prepared for that, and they’re giving him the best treatment.”
The incident occurred just 91 seconds after Golden Griffins junior forward Taylor Law scored his first goal of the season to knot the game at 1 apiece. Law, a big-bodied bruiser who tied for the team lead in points in 2011-12 with 26, knocked in a bouncing puck from the top of the left crease after Falcons goaltender Jason Torf failed to control the rebound off Canisius forward Braeden Rigney’s shot from the point.
“I think we’re playing well offensively, we just need to get more pucks in the net,” Law said.
The Griffs entered the game ranked 11th in the nation in goals against average but were averaging only one goal themselves and had been shut out twice in their first four games.
“We got a lot of shots there, a lot of traffic against their goalie,” Law said. “We’ve just got to bear down on the shots there and make sure they get to the back of the net.”
Torf finished with 30 saves. After holding opponents to 24.7 shots per game in 2011-12, Air Force has allowed an average of 34 shots over its past three contests — losses to Colorado College and Denver and Thursday’s tie with the Griffs.
The injury to Michalke and subsequent delay in the game appeared to rattle the Falcons. The shaken cadets, who jumped out to a 1-0 lead on senior forward Kyle DeLaurell’s first-period goal, managed only three shots on the ensuing five-minute power play, which was split nearly evenly over the final 2:29 of the second period and the opening 2:31 of the third.
“I tried to play the rally card and, you know, let’s do it for George and all that type of thing,” Serratore said. ”I think we rebounded a little bit [after] the period ended, but we were useless after that two-and-a-half minutes [in the second]. Between periods, the guys got a chance to gather themselves. At least we knew that he wasn’t paralyzed or anything like that.”
The Falcons — winners of five of the past six Atlantic Hockey crowns — will Robert Morris on Saturday.
“The good news is, we’ve got [Friday] off,” Serratore said. “We’ve got some time now to put this behind us. That’s our game. Unfortunately, these things happen from time to time, but we’ve got some time to put that behind us and reevaluate and get ready for what’s next.”
Canisius, on the other hand, prepares for a road matchup in Gophers territory with second-ranked Minnesota on Sunday. The Griffs — despite their scoring woes and their eyebrow-raising lack of seniors (three) — hope they have taken a step toward establishing an identity in Thursday’s tie.
“We’re definitely confident in our game plan,” said Law, who described it as “…getting pucks deep, touching pucks first and finishing our checks.”
“We feel like we can skate with anyone,” he said. “Even a couple weekends ago, we were able to have a couple good shifts — even Western [Michigan, which beat Canisius in a pair of road tilts at Kalamazoo on Oct. 19-20] couldn’t get the puck out of their zone. We just need the more consistent effort, like it was tonight.”
“We’re big, we’re fast and we can skate,” Smith said. “The difference between fast and skating is puck movement, and we’re going to win games because of that.”