BUFFALO, N.Y. — On the day that Buffalo received its first meaningful snowfall, Canisius collected its first home win of the 2012-13 season.
That’s probably not how the Golden Griffins (3-6-4, 2-2-2 AHA) envisioned the script, unless you accounted for one of those unpleasant October surprises from Mother Nature. Regardless, Canisius head coach Dave Smith was pleased with his team’s 4-1 win over visiting Atlantic Hockey rival American International at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Sunday afternoon.
“It doesn’t feel like relief because we’ve been playing well,” said Smith, whose team, including Saturday’s 1-1 tie, collected three of four Atlantic Hockey points from the Yellow Jackets (3-6-3, 0-4-3). “We’ve given ourselves a chance and tonight, we got rewarded.”
The Griffs – one of the nation’s top defensive teams, allowing, on average, just two goals per game – have a formula for success: score early and hold on tight. After Sunday’s victory, Canisius is 14-0-6 in the last 20 regular-season games in which the Griffs have scored first.
“If the power play can add a goal, or two goals, like it did tonight, that can change your statistics,” Smith said. “When you win the special teams game and play good five-on-five defense, you really give yourself a chance.”
Senior captain Torrey Lindsay opened the scoring for Canisius, cutting over the AIC crease and swiping a rebound on teammate Mitch McCrank’s shot off of goaltender Chandler Long’s pads and pocketing the puck inside the left post at 9:24 of the first period.
The Griffs upped the lead to 2-0 later in the opening frame when senior forward Kyle Gibbons took a cross-ice pass from McCrank in the lower left-wing circle and snapped a shot behind Long at the 14:39 mark.
The power-play goal was Gibbons’ second of the weekend and his third marker in his last four contests. The co-scoring leader of the 2011-12 squad, Gibbons started the season with nine consecutive scoreless games – including a benching against Clarkson on Nov. 4 – before rediscovering his finishing ability.
“Earlier in the year, I think I was thinking about it too much, thinking about not scoring,” Gibbons said. “The Clarkson weekend – I think I just needed some time to clear my head. Ever since, I think I have been able to push aside the frustration and play with simplicity. Obviously having two good linemates with [junior center Patrick] Sullivan and [sophomore winger Doug] Beck – it helps to have two guys out there with you who are good players. I just have to keep it simple and keep the ball rolling.”
The Yellow Jackets went down fighting. With 12:33 left in the game, senior winger Nick Grasso dropped a no-look pass from the red line to cutting center Brandon Fagerheim, finding the sophomore alone behind Canisius goalie Tony Capobianco for a backdoor goal, trimming the Griffs’ lead to 2-1.
Capobianco finished with 30 saves.
But for a team whose goal-scoring production often lives and dies by the power play, AIC was unable to find success with the man-advantage on Sunday. Overall, the Yellow Jackets were 0-for-3 with a Griff in the box and failed to convert on a crucial third-period opportunity when Canisius defenseman Chris Barrea took an interference call just over a minute after Fagerheim’s goal.
AIC currently has a top-20 power Division I power-play unit, connecting at a rate of 20 percent.
“It’s very impressive – their goals against is really phenomenal and against some very good teams, as well,” Yellow Jackets’ head coach Gary Wright said. “They’re very difficult to score on. That’s an impressive facet of their game.”
Beck added a power play goal at 14:31 of the third period and embattled center Matthew Grazen – reactived this weekend after completing the first five games of his seven-game Atlantic Hockey suspension for his controversial Oct. 25 hit on Air Force forward George Michalke – knocked in an empty-netter to complete the scoring for the Griffs.
Grazen will also miss Canisius’ two-game set with the Falcons in Colorado this spring.
“Matthew Grazen is not a bad guy,” Smith said. “He is a wonderful person. The suspension cast him in a negative light, which is 100 percent false in terms of the type of person he is. He gets rewarded with a goal because he made two good plays with the goalie out. We put him on the wing as a second centerman and he knew what to do. He’s prepared and he’s really developing into a terrific player.”