BUFFALO, N.Y. — Friday night at the Buffalo State Ice Arena offered a study in two offenses going in different directions.
Robert Morris University is firing on all cylinders, netting 13 goals in its last three games, including a trio of second-period tallies in a 4-0 Atlantic Hockey road win over Canisius. The Colonials (4-3-0, 3-2-0) have now scored four or more goals in five out of seven games this season.
“I think we’ve got some balanced lines,” Colonials coach Derek Schooley said after the game. “We’ve got two lines that have really been scoring for us, and we got our third and fourth lines to chip in a little bit offensively tonight. Those are big goals, when you can get some goals and production that you’re not used to getting.”
The gears of the Golden Griffins (1-5-3, 0-1-1), by comparison, are colder than a Western New York winter. After scraping together five goals in a pair of home-ice ties with ECAC guests Clarkson last weekend, the Canisius offense disappeared again.
The Griffs were shut out by freshman Robert Morris goaltender Terry Shafer in his second career start — the first was a 5-4 loss to Bentley last weekend — and have now been blanked four times this season.
“You come into a game and you have high expectations,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We know we didn’t play as well as we are capable of.”
The Colonials opened the scoring with a goal by freshman center Greg Gibson, who took a Brandon Denham feed from the slot in the right circle and wristed a hard shot past Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco at the 8:27 mark of the first period.
The goal was the first of Gibson’s collegiate career.
“Hopefully, we can go on a roll here,” Gibson said. “All these guys love each other on and off the ice. There’s a lot of chemistry in the room. Every line is finishing their checks and getting goals. It’s good.”
Robert Morris then broke the game open in the first 10 minutes of the second period. A pair of tic-tac-toe passes from forward Adam Brace to Scott Jacklin opened up linemate Cody Wydo in front of the Griffs’ net, allowing the sophomore winger to pop home a quick shot for a 2-0 lead only 45 seconds after the opening faceoff.
Just under two minutes later, junior center Zach Hervato pulled a puck out of traffic on the right-wing boards in the Canisius zone and cut to the slot, beating Capobianco low to the right pipe for a 3-0 Colonials’ advantage. Sophomore netminder Keegan Asmundsen replaced Capobianco after Hervato’s strike.
Junior defenseman Andrew Blazek completed the scoring at 10:25 of the second period, rattling a wrist shot from the left circle off the right post to up the lead to 4-0.
Blazek’s goal offered a nice bonus for a defensive corps embattled by injuries and spotty play. The Colonials have allowed 12 goals in their three losses, and an Oct. 25 win over the Rochester Institute of Technology came in a 6-4, come-from-behind effort.
“For Andrew Blazek’s first game of the year (after sitting with an injury), to get a goal and contribute — it’s something that you really look at,” Schooley said. “To get him back, and to get (sophomore defenseman) Tyson Wilson back, you got to be happy with that. Brendan Jamison rebounded from a rough game. Tyler Hinds played well. Evan Renwick played well, and Evan Moore played well. It was a good defensive effort.”
Heady as the shutout win may be for Robert Morris, life is about to get very tough for the hosts of the 2013 Frozen Four.
Schooley’s squad travels back to Western New York next weekend to face a Niagara team that suddenly looks like it may be the class of Atlantic Hockey after rattling off a 5-0 win over Army to improve to 4-0-0 in conference play. Then, after nearly a two-week break, the Colonials will face a tough Holy Cross squad that has notched four Atlantic Hockey wins.
After a weekend series with the Crusaders comes a challenging march through December that includes two games with Ohio State, two games with Penn State, and the inauguration of the Three Rivers Classic in their home city of Pittsburgh. Guests will include Miami, Ohio State, and Penn State.
“I think we just want to get better every day,” Schooley said. “We want to keep improving. We want to get an identity. I think we’re starting to find that identity. We have to play hard. We have to compete hard. We need to make sure we do things the right way and we’ll do very well.”
For Canisius, it’s already crunch time. Winless since a season-opening road trip to Alaska, the Griffs rekindle their fierce rivalry with RIT on the road on Saturday night and host their arch-nemesis Niagara on Friday. Canisius then launches into a series of conference tilts with American International, Connecticut, Mercyhurst, and Army to close the calendar year.
By the time 2013 arrives, Smith will know for certain where his team stands.
“The lesson that we will talk about is playing tenacious as a unit of five,” Smith said. “It’s a tough game to play individually. We got a little out of sync (tonight). It happens from time to time. But we have good leadership in the room — they’ll bring it back down together, and we’ll be back. We’ll play hard, and we’ll play well.”