BUFFALO, N.Y. — An unfamiliar building. An unfamiliar opponent. A game riddled with momentum swings and missed opportunities. Some coaches are happy when their team collects a tie on a late third-period goal after dealing with that sort of unpleasant trifecta.
Not Bowling Green coach Chris Bergeron. Not at all.
“Where our program is right now, we’re trying to focus less on results and more on the way we play,” Bergeron said after the Falcons’ 2-2 tie in a nonconference match-up with Canisius on Saturday afternoon at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. “I don’t think we played very well. We’re not happy with the way we played. All the compliments go to Canisius on that. They put all kinds of pressure on us, and we struggled with the puck. Whether it was (defensive) exchanges or our forwards or whatever it was, it was poor. And again, that’s what we’re looking at, less than the result.”
Currently mired in a last-place tie in the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, Bowling Green (4-10-4 overall) preserved its five-year undefeated streak against Atlantic Hockey Association competition courtesy of a game-tying power-play goal from sophomore center Ryan Carpenter with 3:57 remaining in the third period.
With the Falcons down, 2-1, and time running short against a Golden Griffins (6-8-5 overall) defense ranked fourth in D-1 hockey, Bowling Green caught a break when Canisius defenseman Chris Barrea was whistled for hooking at the 15:50 mark. Just 13 seconds later, Carpenter collected a rebound off of winger Dajon Mingo’s laser from the right circle and swatted a point-blank shot past Griffs goaltender Keegan Asmundsen for the equalizer.
“I was just trying to get to the front of the net,” Carpenter said. “There were a couple minutes left, and I think they went d-to-d, and there was a lane — Mingo was nice and poised with it — he did a good job, and just got it through. I think I got a little deflection on it, and the rebound was there, and I just hammered it home.”
Despite the comeback, the Falcons were plagued by errors throughout the game. Two, in particular, cost the visitors dearly.
Bowling Green’s inability to clear its own zone in the waning seconds of the first period led to a turnover that gave Canisius defenseman Ben Danford an opportunity to calibrate a wide-open shot from the left point. Griffs winger Ryan Bohrer managed to tip the puck past Falcons’ goaltender Andrew Hammond with 4.3 seconds left on the clock, negating a 1-0 Falcons lead built earlier on the first goal of Ben Murphy’s collegiate career.
Canisius went ahead, 2-1, at 1:30 of the third period when sophomore center Matt Grazen forced a turnover by defenseman Connor Kucera at the Bowling Green blue line and cut in on Hammond before beating the Falcons netminder with a nifty move to his left.
“I was just trying to cut (between) the two (defensemen), and he ended up (trying to) pass it there, so I just took it in,” Grazen said. “Coming in on that side, the other defender was coming at me, so I kind of pulled it away from him and dragged it back. I thought that would work well.”
Hammond, who earned two wins over the Griffs in 2011-12, finished with 29 saves.
“He was good,” Bergeron said. “I thought he made some great saves. In the third period, when we broke down and left him on an island, he made some great saves. He gave us the opportunity to tie it. It actually could have been 3- or 4-1 in the third, the way we were playing. He made some real good saves.”
Canisius also lacked focus at times and was bailed out by its goaltender, Asmundsen, on several crucial saves. Bowling Green had near-misses on numerous second-period opportunities that could have changed the course of the game, including a mini-breakaway by winger Bryce Williamson with the score tied at one and 2:45 left in the second period.
The backup to junior goaltender Tony Capobianco, Asmundsen — making his second start of the season and seeing his first action since he was called on for relief duty in a 4-0 loss to Robert Morris on Nov. 9 — recorded 33 saves.
“I thought he played fine,” Griffs coach Dave Smith said. “I thought he gave us a chance. He played big. He stopped most of them, and I was happy. He hasn’t played in a while.”
Smith, like Bergeron, was not enthusiastic about the game’s result.
“We had a chance to put that game away,” he said. “But we — it really felt like an even game. There were a lot of momentum swings. They’d carry it for a bit, we’d carry it for a bit. We want to find a way to put that game away in the third when we had a couple chances.”
Although the Griffs are 4-2-2 in their last eight games, Saturday’s tie once again called attention to Canisius’ difficulty in closing out tight games. The Griffs are now 0-4-2 in overtime contests this season, and are 0-5 in one-goal games.
This struggle is due in no small part to Canisius’ inconsistent scoring. The Griffs are ranked 56th in the country in scoring offense and 50th on the power play after failing to convert on two opportunities on Saturday.
“I thought there were a lot of moments where we carried the play and had a lot of offensive opportunities,” Smith noted. “To the neutral spectator, that game probably should have ended up in a tie. Shots are even, power plays are almost even. We have a late lead, and were playing well with the lead, and they get that extra guy on the ice (with the late power play), and that’s the guy that scores.”
How much improvement can be made in 24 hours? The teams will find out when they meet again on Sunday at noon.
“I think it will be more of the same,” Bergeron said. “We have to find a way to shore up our exchanges from defense-to-defense or defense-to-forwards or whatever. There’s no way around that. And we’re going to have to find a way to score some goals on a team that doesn’t give up very many.”