PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It might have been easy to miss Quinnipiac forward Kevin Bui entering this year. That’s not the case anymore.
Bui scored his second clutch goal in the last two weeks, as his third-period strike capped off a late comeback and lifted Quinnipiac to a 4-3 win over Canisius in the opening game of the NCAA East Regional at the Dunkin Donuts Center Saturday night.
2013 NCAA East Regional
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“I’ve just been trying to work hard in practice and I guess it’s paying off right now,” said Bui, whose double-overtime goal sent Quinnipiac past Cornell in Game 3 of the ECAC semifinals on March 18. “Guys are competing in practice; we almost had a fight yesterday because we were competing with each other, and that’s what makes us better.”
Tony Capobianco made 36 saves for Canisius, while Eric Hartzell finished with 20 for the Bobcats, who won their first NCAA game in program history. Quinnipiac’s only other appearance came in 2002 a 6-1 loss to Cornell.
“What you saw tonight was not the best defensive hockey team in the country,” Bobcats coach Rand Pecknold said. “I didn’t think we did a very good job in front of ‘Hartzy.’”
But they did mount a comeback.
Matthew Peca slipped a shot over Capobianco’s blocker to make it 3-2 at 8:02 of the third, while Jordan Samuels-Thomas’ power-play blast from the right circle tied it at 10:42 and set up Bui’s game-winner at 14:28.
“It was definitely a tough situation, but I got better because of it,” Bui said of sitting out a year. “I sat down with coach and he said he wanted me back and I said I was going to do everything to get back. A few years later, here I am.”
Down 1-0 thanks to Connor Jones’ goal at 8:43 in the first, the Golden Griffins went ahead with two goals in 44 seconds early in the second period. Stephen Farrell tied it at 4:24, while Patrick Sullivan tipped Duncan McKellar’s shot past Hartzell at 5:08.
“We looked like a new team early,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith, whose team was making its first NCAA tournament appearance in program history. “I thought with every check, every shot, every first time that we went through something, we settled down, and I thought we came out in the second period and played the way we were playing.”
Kyle Gibbons put Canisius up 3-1 at 3:43 in the third, whacking away at the puck near the crease before eventually poking it past Hartzell.
“When we got behind, there wasn’t panic — I’m not saying we weren’t worried — but there wasn’t panic,” Pecknold said. “We believed we could come back. We made it 3-2 and I knew we were going to win. And then our bench knew we were going to win.”
The Bobcats dominated play in the first period, but Capobianco and the rest of the Canisius defense kept the deficit at one. Quinnipiac appeared to have a goal at 4:34, but it was overturned after the review showed the puck never crossed the goal line.
“We were trying to stay positive,” Jones said. “We needed to get more pucks to the net, get more rebounds, and get some more traffic.”
Despite the loss, the last few weeks have been a important stretch for Canisius, which won its first Atlantic Hockey league championship and entered Saturday on an eight-game winning streak.
“The things that have happened with our program in terms of people who didn’t know who to spell it, didn’t know how to pronounce it, didn’t know where were, it helps with recruiting and with alumni relations,” Smith said. “It helps the spirit on campus. It’s a leap forward. It’s not a step forward.”
Quinnipiac faces the winner of the Union and Boston College game Sunday at 6:30 p.m.