College hockey’s postseason kicks off this weekend across four conferences.
The “second season,” the real push for the Frozen Four, is officially here, meaning fans and observers can expect nightly dramatic doses. A weekend is no longer just a series, shifting instead into survival mode.
By the time the weekend ends, advancing teams will readily for video and practice, while losing teams face long offseasons without hardware.
Atlantic Hockey’s first round is never short on thrills, but the Bentley-Canisius series sticks out for its initial storyline.
Earlier this season, the Golden Griffins played two games against the Falcons in Massachusetts, rallying from a three-goal deficit in both contests to edge their hosts for conference points after sending the game to overtime.
“There’s really no magic to it,” Canisius coach Trevor Large said. “Some people that are ‘hockey romantics’ want to understand how it happens, but there isn’t really an answer for them. The reality is that you just have to play. You need things to happen. You need belief from your team. In those scenarios, everyone looks at each other and asks a question if they’re okay. Once they get the answer, they just go play. It’s an absolute prerequisite to have that confidence.”
Canisius forward Grant Meyer certainly had that confidence.
The Golden Griffins trailed 3-0 in the second period but drew back within two before intermission of the first game. After Lee Lapid scored early in the third, Meyer recorded a secondary assist on Nick Hutchison’s game-tying goal. It spurred his team into Atlantic Hockey’s new overtime format, and Canisius added a second league point after drawing through the 5-on-5 overtime with a shootout victory.
He quarterbacked another comeback the next night when Canisius trailed 4-1 with 10 minutes remaining in the third period. Meyer bookended Lapid’s goal, scoring the tying strike with just over 40 seconds remaining as part of a 6-on-4, empty-net, power-play attack. It once again aided Canisius to a second league point, this time with the win coming in the 3-on-3 overtime period.
He finished the season with only four goals, but half of them came in arguably the biggest spot of a weekend series.
“Grant has an extremely high compete level,” Large said. “You don’t understand it unless you’re around him, but he doesn’t think about accepting challenges in front of him; he already does it. He’s just attacking whatever’s in front of him. You need people like that when you’re down in a game, and he’s the kind of player that tells teammates to follow him. Then he goes and does something, and it gets everyone else going. He’s not the only guy we have that’s like that, but he has the natural ability to immediately accept a challenge.
“As a coach, I know when guys turn to look to ask if it’s okay, they look to guys like Grant.”
Meyer’s two goals are one of the biggest examples of never quitting, and they equally stand as a reason why the Golden Griffins return to Bentley this weekend, playing Friday and Saturday at 7:05 p.m. and then 4:05 p.m. Sunday if a deciding Game 3 is needed.
The team springboarded from that weekend into a five-point weekend at Sacred Heart, then kept itself in contention for home ice until the final weekend.
Even then, it took Bentley winning its way into home ice because the Golden Griffins, who started the weekend in tenth, swept Mercyhurst to finish ninth.
“Standings feel like they have more views at the end of the season,” Large said. “You try to figure out first-round matchups, home-ice situations and possible byes. We had so many tiebreakers (in Atlantic Hockey) that made (the math) more challenging, so I just talked to our guys about not caring who we play, when we play, or where we play.
“We just focused on ourselves and talked about needing to do what it takes to win. That’s what the playoffs are all about. We talked about growth this year, but now it’s about winning. You need to win two games, period. That’s the focus. It just so happens we have to drive back out to Bentley to play on the road.”
It’s the product of how the teams played, but the coincidence isn’t lost on anyone readying for playoff drama.
The two teams competitively matched up in unique fashion last time, with both teams’ strengths producing two instant classics. Now it’s time for another in a series almost destined to provide the biggest spine-chills of the college hockey postseason in its first round.
“If you’re in the playoffs and relying on good feelings as a direct reason as to why you have success, you don’t have the right mindset,” Large said. “We’re not looking for momentum or talking about two games we played a couple of months ago. Every team does different things (by this point in the year).
“Our mindset is just to plan to go to (Bentley) and attack. We need to know we’re trying to end someone’s season, and there’s nothing easy about that. We’re all trying to do the same thing now.”