Canisius rides streak into NCAAs; ‘We knew we had it in us’

Defense has not been an issue for Canisius this season.

The Golden Griffins gave up a goal just 12 seconds into the first period at Minnesota on Oct. 28 and held the Gophers scoreless the rest of the game in a 1-0 loss.

2013 Atlantic Hockey Championship

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Canisius has the second-best penalty kill and the 14th-best defense in the nation. Goaltender Tony Capobianco has been a brick wall.

Defense definitely has not been an issue. But at times, scoring goals has been.

“At the beginning of the year it was kind of frustrating with low-scoring games,” Capobianco said. “We couldn’t find the net.”

Until now, that is.

Canisius has the longest winning streak in the nation at eight games, a stretch in which they’ve averaged 4.5 goals per game.

Coach Dave Smith’s Griffins hit a low point on Feb. 23 when they suffered their fifth straight loss before starting the current streak.

But Canisius was not disheartened.

“We knew we had it in us,” Atlantic Hockey tournament most valuable player Kyle Gibbons said. “Even at the end of that five-game streak, coach [Smith] kind of reeled us in. He said, ‘Guys, look at the film. Look how we played against Minnesota. Look how we played in our first game against Air Force. Look how we played against Niagara.’ You could tell that we had the game. You could tell that we had all the right pieces.

“It was just a matter of time for us. We had to just come together as a team and as a group,” Gibbons said. “We’ve done that lately and obviously we’ve gotten some very good results.”

Neither Smith nor his players could point to any one thing that changed. To the contrary, they just kept doing the things they had been doing.

“Our work ethic hasn’t changed the entire year,” defenseman Ben Danford said.

The winning ways began with a sweep of rival Rochester Institute of Technology on the last weekend of the season.

“We had to win to get home ice,” Danford said. “So, it started there. We realized after those two wins that we had it in us and we’ve just been rolling since.”

“I guess if I had to identify one thing that took us to another level, it was looking the end of the season in the face and saying, ‘We don’t want to play on the road. We don’t want our season to end,'” Smith said. “And since that point, we’ve played the best hockey of the season.”

Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin said that he’s seen the change in confidence in his longtime rival.

“I think that what’s happened from my perspective is that they’re playing incredibly confident,” Gotkin said. “They clearly have some magic going. I think they believe and I think they’re confident.”

“To finally get some bounces going your way, it’s awesome,” Gibbons said. “It gives you more confidence, for sure.”

As the 16th seed, Canisius likely will face Quinnipiac, a team that has losses to AHA rivals Robert Morris and American International. They’ll be joined by Niagara, which should receive an at-large bid.

And it seems that the Griffins are ready.

“I’d say for the most part the guys are feeling pretty good. They’re confident. They’ve kind of settled into a routine,” Capobianco said. “I’m not going to reveal any secrets here with you.

“It feels good to just keep winning.”


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