BUFFALO, N.Y. — For the second consecutive night, Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco stopped 35 shots and winger Cody Freeman provided the game-winning goal as the Golden Griffins defeated Bentley, 2-1, on Saturday at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo.
Canisius swept the two-game Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinal playoff series, and will face second-seed Air Force next weekend.
Capobianco held Bentley’s potent offense scoreless for the first 115:20 minutes of the series until surrendering an even-strength tally to senior forward Dan Koudys with 4:40 remaining in Saturday’s game. The junior netminder had surrendered 10 goals over two games to the Falcons in a pair of losses in Waltham, Mass., in January.
Capobianco was helped by a defensive unit that held Bentley to seven shots on five power-play opportunities, all unsuccessful. For the second night in a row, the Griffs also killed an extended five-on-three situation.
“I’m not surprised by how well they played, how well our defensemen played,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “But I think that some of the sort of unsung guys, like Stephen Farrell and Logan Roe, and especially (Doug Jessey) and (Ben) Parker, they carried us this weekend. I thought they were really, really good, especially on the PK. It was our best weekend at getting pucks and going forward — let’s get it out of our zone as quick as we can, and I thought they did it well.”
Freeman earned the first star of the series-clinching win with a pair of second-period goals. The first came at 14:36 when linemate Kyle Gibbons took a cross-ice pass from Roe at the Bentley blue line, cut hard up the right wing, and labeled a point-blank shot off Falcons goaltender Branden Komm’s chest.
Freeman, who followed the play to the mouth of the goal, swatted the puck into an empty net for his fifth marker in four games.
“I remember breaking out of the end, and Kyle got a nice pass,” Freeman said. “He was streaking down the wing, and just put a nice shot on net on Komm. I was pushing to the net, and I just managed to hack it in.”
He scored his sixth goal since March 1 with 59 seconds remaining in the second period when he tipped a ferocious shot by Gibbons in the high slot over Komm’s outstretched right pad.
After scoring four goals in the first 34 games of the season — including 15 games in which he did not appear on the gameday roster – Freeman now has back-to-back three-goal weekends. He has collected 14 points in his last 14 games, and his pairing with Gibbons, a childhood friend from their summer league days in the Midwest, and junior center Patrick Sullivan has finally given Canisius a consistent scoring threat.
“I don’t want to call it luck,” Freeman laughed. “Hard work? Maybe a little bit of both. It certainly helps playing with Kyle and Patrick Sullivan. We click — (Kyle and I) have played together since we were kids, when we were growing up, so there’s some chemistry there, and we’re just having success. It’s going well for us.”
The Griffs had several opportunities to seal the game in the third period, but left the door open just enough for the Falcons to make a final lunge.
Gibbons — the reigning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week after a five-point weekend in Canisius’ two-game sweep of Rochester Institute of Technology — had a clean breakaway four minutes into the final stanza and lost control of the puck at Komm’s doorstep.
Fourth-line center Carl Larsson snuck behind the Bentley defense at the 7:43 mark and failed to convert on a one-on-one opportunity with the Falcons’ junior goaltender.
Thirty-four seconds later, senior winger Preston Shupe could not finish a two-on-one break with a shot that actually went over the prone Komm and fluttered harmlessly above the goal line before bouncing past the left post.
After Koudys scored to narrow the lead to 2-1 however, Bentley was unable to mount another attack. Sophomore center Alex Grieve took a charging call with 3:17 left in the game when he collided with Larsson near the Falcons’ blue line, blunting Bentley’s ability to pull Komm for an extra skater until less than a minute remained.
By then, it was too late.
“(Canisius) didn’t give us any easy ice,” Falcons coach Ryan Soderquist said. “I actually thought they did a much better job of that tonight, that they didn’t give us much easy ice. I thought last night, we had a little more scoring opportunities, and we didn’t put it home tonight … obviously, Capobianco had a great weekend. He’s a very fine goaltender, and he’s going to give them a great chance in the next round, whoever they play, with him goaltending like that.”
The loss was the final indignity in what has been a difficult five-week disintegration for the Falcons. Since defeating Holy Cross on Jan. 25, Bentley has posted a 1-10-2 record that included a 1-3-2 mark in the final three two-game series of the regular season. Those series were against Army, Sacred Heart, and American International — three of Atlantic Hockey’s most beleaguered programs in 2012-13.
“Unfortunately, we peaked at the wrong time,” said Soderquist, whose Falcons were 11-10-1 and winners of five out of six before their collapse. “Early on, we were flying. We were going on cylinders. We were scoring and doing all the things we needed to win. The last month has just been tough. We haven’t been able to find the scoring touch. But looking back on the season, I can definitely tell you we had some phenomenal games, and if we recruit properly, finish up our recruiting properly, I think we’re going to be a very dangerous team next year.”
Canisius will now prepare for a tough task: a trip to the thin air of Colorado Springs to face an Air Force squad that has cruised to an 11-3-3 record since Jan. 5, highlighted by a two-game sweep of conference-leading Niagara in the final weekend of the regular season. The Falcons are 7-1-2 in Cadet Ice Arena during that stretch, and beat the Griffs twice on Feb. 15-16.
“Every opponent is tough,” Smith said. “Every opponent is prepared. We’re going to go in there, and we’re going to be a confident team, and we’ll be prepared to battle. That’s what it takes to find success.”