BUFFALO, N.Y. — American International College senior Ben Meisner does not have the sexiest stat line among Atlantic Hockey goaltenders. His 3.29 goals-against average ranks 12th overall in the 12-team conference. His .915 save percentage is well below that of high-profile goalies like Niagara’s Carson Chubak and Jason Torf of Air Force. His win percentage — well, he hasn’t won an Atlantic Hockey game yet this season.
Meisner however, who set a conference record with 61 saves in an Oct. 12 win over Penn State, has consistently been — for the past three seasons — one of the few bright spots of a program that has finished its Atlantic Hockey slate in 10th place once and dead last twice since his arrival in 2009.
A bulwark who has endured at least 39 shots in the seven games that he has finished this season, Meisner put AIC on his back again on Saturday, stopping 43 of 44 shots as the Yellow Jackets (3-5-3, 1-2-2) earned a road draw with Canisius, 1-1, at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo.
“I thought he had a wonderful game,” AIC coach Gary Wright said. “Very composed. Clutch in big moments of the game, which he often is. I think when he is playing like that, he instills a lot of confidence in our team as well.”
The Golden Griffins (2-6-4, 0-3-3) did not make it easy. Canisius buzzed Meisner throughout the game, outshooting the Yellow Jackets, 44-22, and forcing the goaltender from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to make several difficult saves — including a Hasek-like swipe with his right arm while lying flat on his back to stop Griffs’ defenseman Ben Danford’s redirect at the right post at 11:33 of the second period.
“I feel like we had a lot of opportunities to score,” said Danford, a playmaking defenseman who played one of his most aggressive games of the season, consistently attacking Meisner’s crease. “He had a great game. He played really well. But it’s kind of on us to bury those opportunities and close out games.”
As offensively challenged as the Griffs may be — Canisius’ 1.5 goals per game ranks second-to-last in the nation — coach Dave Smith’s team had shown signs of life in the attacking zone recently, collecting 32 or more shots in four of the last five games. The Griffs have gone 1-2-2 in that stretch.
“We’re playing well; we’re doing good things, we’re happy with the process,” Smith said. “We’re going to break through. It’s almost like someone is saying, ‘Listen, Canisius, keep playing well, keep showing me, and then you’re going to go on a two-month run.’ That’s what it feels like. We’re getting our chances. We’re just waiting for that one break that sends you off on a confident note.”
Griffs forward Taylor Law had six shots in this contest alone, but Canisius could only beat Meisner once. Operating on a power play, senior winger Kyle Gibbons roofed a one-timer from the left circle past the AIC goaltender at 5:13 of the second period.
The tally marked the first Canisius goal with the man advantage since a 2-2 tie with Clarkson on Nov. 4. The Griffs’ power-play unit is ranked 50th in the country.
“We’re doing good things,” Smith said, although he also lamented a pair of missed special teams opportunities in the second and third period. “It’s a part of the game that we work at. We just want to get better results.”
The Yellow Jackets had initially taken the lead in the first period on a power play of their own when forward Jon Puskar unleashed a shoulder-high blast from the right point to beat Griffs’ netminder Tony Capobianco at the 18:53 mark. Capobianco finished with 21 saves.
“Our guys have been doing a really good job with it,” Wright said, referring to an AIC power play, which is clicking at a success rate of nearly 22 percent — the best in Atlantic Hockey. “We’ve worked with some different sets, and we have a senior, Jeff Ceccacci, who quarterbacks our first power play (unit), and Chris Markiewicz, who quarterbacks our second power play, and we’ve been really pleased. We work on it a lot. We hope we can sustain it.”
Canisius is 11-0-2 in its last 13 games against AIC, and the teams will face off again at 4 p.m. on Sunday. The Griffs will try to get the jump on the visiting Yellow Jackets, and for good reason — in addition to being the eighth-best defensive team in Division I hockey, Canisius is 13-0-6 in its last 19 games when scoring first. An early goal (or two) could give Smith’s young team a big boost toward its first home win of the 2012-13 campaign.
“Our game plan isn’t going to change,” Smith said. “You have to get points every weekend, no matter who you play. If you look back at the history of (Atlantic Hockey), the teams that have finished in the top three or four get points every weekend. That’s what we are trying to do.”
While the long-suffering AIC program has enjoyed some positive developments this season, including the impressive victory over the Nittany Lions and another shocking win against No. 18 Quinnipiac on Nov. 6, the Yellow Jackets need to string some wins together to prove that long-term change has truly come.
“We would have been happiest if we got two points,” Wright said. “That’s what we’re looking for. But it was a point on the road, a pretty well-played game on both sides. We’re right back at it in 24 hours, and we know it will be more difficult than it was tonight. We’re just going to have to come out, when the puck is dropped, and be prepared to play.”