BUFFALO, N.Y. — For 62 minutes and 50 seconds, Atlantic Hockey rivals Army and Canisius battled to a standstill.
Buoyed by long stretches of suffocating defense, tight checking and impenetrable goaltending, neither of team blinked — and neither team scored.
And then, in an instant, it was over.
Black Knights winger Joe Kozlak one-timed a pass from linemate R.J. Burns over the outstretched leg of Golden Griffins’ goaltender Tony Capobianco at 2:51 of the overtime period to give Army a crucial 1-0 road victory at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Sunday night.
The Black Knights had not won in overtime since earning a 3-2 decision over Mercyhurst on Jan. 7, 2006.
“I think this is the first overtime game we’ve won in five years [and] it feels like 50 years,” Army coach Brian Riley said. “We have been in some close games. We pulled the goalie and tied it at Sacred Heart [on Oct. 20], so it’s good for these young guys. They do have a confidence level about them. And you know what? In games like this, they expect to win.”
The Black Knights (6-8-2, 6-3-2 AHA), already considered one of the bigger surprises in Division I hockey after posting a four-win campaign in 2011-12 and entering the season with a roster stocked with freshmen, avenged a 5-1 loss to Canisius (6-8-3, 5-4-2) on Saturday that featured Army’s shakiest effort since October.
“After the way we played last night, we needed to respond,” Riley said. “We needed to play our style of game. Last night was not our style.”
Although the Black Knights outshot the Griffs 34-20 in regulation, Army could not quite solve Capobianco — whose 1.79 goals-against average and .941 save percentage are both among the top 10 in D-I hockey — or the the fourth-ranked Canisius defense.
The Black Knights managed only 10 shots on seven power-play chances as the Griffs came unhinged over stretches of the second and third periods. Canisius took three two-minute penalties over a 6:49 stretch of the second period and three more minors in a 6:34 span of the third, but successfully killed each.
The Griffs have now killed 91.3 percent of their penalties, also good for fourth-best in D-I hockey.
“The penalty kill was great,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I thought we really had the opportunity to gain momentum from that. It was a good feeling on the bench. It wasn’t a feeling of fear or being afraid. The penalty killers really stepped up and did a nice job.”
When Griffs’ winger Kyle Gibbons snagged a home-run pass at the Army blue line 1:06 into the overtime period and skated in alone on Army goaltender Rob Tadazak, it looked like Canisius would make the visitors regret those missed opportunities.
Tadazak, however, made the most dramatic of his 25 saves, stoning Gibbons at the left post. Then 1:45 later, Kozlak ended the game.
The sophomore backup to senior goaltender Ryan Leets, Tadazak entered the game with a 1-11-4 career record with a goals-against average of 3.28. Sunday’s shutout was his first as a cadet.
“He was a very calming influence for us,” Riley said. “He steered pucks out of the rink, he got us whistles when we needed whistles, and that save — the breakaway in overtime — that changed it all, on our part. He was really good tonight.”
Army last blanked Canisius on Jan. 20, 2006.
The win vaults the Black Knights into a second-place tie in the AHA with Holy Cross and Mercyhurst.
Had the Griffs won, they would have moved into that same position. Instead, Canisius — dominant in their four-goal win on Saturday night — will remain in fifth place and an upcoming two-game tilt with CCHA visitors Bowling Green next weekend.
“[Bowling Green] plays really hard,” Smith said. “We learned that last year when we played there. It will be nice to get a non-conference opponent and a former national champ into the city of Buffalo. Their program has been trying to rebuild from a couple years ago and I think it’s a great opponent for us.”
Army is already on the AHA roller coaster, swinging into a pair of home games with conference foe Robert Morris beginning Jan. 4. The Colonials just knocked off fifth-ranked Miami to win the inaugural Three Rivers Classic in Pittsburgh.
“I think probably when some people heard that Army and Robert Morris were a TV game [CBS College Sports] at the start of the year, they were probably wondering, ‘Why the heck go with them?’” Riley said. “But I think you’ll have two pretty good teams who are off to pretty good starts that have a chance to showcase themselves on national TV. It will be a lot of fun.”