Griffs draw defending champs in home opener

Junior forward Taylor Law scored his first goal of the year as the Canisius College hockey team tied defending Atlantic Hockey champion Air Force 1-1 Thursday night at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.

The Falcons, who won the Atlantic Hockey championship last March drew first blood 11 minutes into the first period after a turnover by freshman defenseman Matthew Backhouse led to a quick centering pass and shot that sailed past junior goaltender Tony Capobianco. Even though the Griffs outshot the visitors by a 12-9 margin, head coach Dave Smith said that the team “was a little tentative” in its breakouts in the period.

Canisius’ passing and skating became more crisp as the game went on and often times dominated the Falcons in the offensive zone. Eventually, the Griffs broke through.

Eighteen seconds after a Canisius power play expired, Law scored on a rebound off of sophomore Braeden Rigney’s shot from the top of the face-off circle to tie the game.

“It was a great play by Rigs,” Law said. “He made sure to get the puck through to the net. I was just fortunate to grab the rebound.”

With the tally and the way Canisius was skating, the momentum of the game was clearly in the Griffs favor, as they held Air Force to only three shots. However, less than two minutes after Law scored, sophomore Matt Grazen checked George Michalke III hard into the glass in the Griffs zone. Michalke immediately went limp and dropped to the ice and began to writhe in pain.

“It was rough,” Law said of Michalke’s situation. “It’s the second time in two home games something like that has happened. It’s never good to see.”

In Canisius’ exhibition game against Ottawa University on Oct. 7, junior Patrick Sullivan was carted off the ice in a precautionary measure after taking a hit. However, he returned to action six days later in Alaska.

As the medical staffs from both teams immediately rushed to Michalke’s aid, Falcons head coach Frank Serratore walked to the Canisius bench, and yelled at the Griffs players and coaches.

After being immobilized, Michalke was carted off ice on a stretcher to the applause of the crowd. Serratore and the Canisius bench were both given offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties. Grazen was given a five-minute penalty for checking from behind and a game disqualification. Coming into the game, Air Force was clicking at a 16.7 percent rate on the power play and had a chance to take back momentum. However, the long break in play because of the injury didn’t shake the Griffs’ focus.

“[During the delay] we looked over at [Michalke] to see if he was alright, but we were talking about the upcoming kill,” Law said.

The Falcons mustered only mustered three shots on Capobianco on the five-minute man-advantage and there were key blocks by the Canisius penalty-killers.

The fact that the kill was split over two periods also allowed the Griffs to maintain their composure and stick to their system, a situation head coach Dave Smith called “fortunate.”

Canisius continued to skate hard and play physical, giving the Falcons all they could handle, however, the Griffs could not break through. Sophomore Mitch McCrank had a very good chance to score the go-ahead goal on a one-timer with less than five minutes left in regulation, however, Air Force goaltender Jason Torf denied him with his pads.

The game headed to overtime, with Canisius registering the only two shots in the frame, including a very good opportunity by Sullivan off a rebound. Despite not being able to get the extra point in the standings, the Griffs made a statement.

“I thought our guys were ready and prepared,” Smith said. “I liked our game a lot.”

The Griffs also proved that they are able to dictate the pace of the game with their physical play, even against one of the bigger lineups in Atlantic Hockey.

The road for the team doesn’t get any easier, as it is set to face the University of Minnesota, who is the No. 2-ranked team in the nation on Sunday.

“It’s a big game for a lot of us, especially for the Minnesota guys,” Law said.

Juniors Ryan Bohrer and Ben Danford, as well as sophomore Keegan Asmundson are all Minnesota natives. Senior Preston Shupe is also going to be welcoming family members from his nearby hometown of Weyburn, Saskatchewan. The team will also be attending Minnesota’s football tilt against Purdue no Saturday.

Despite the players looking forward to being in a big-time atmosphere and being with friends and family, Smith says his team needs to take care of business.

“There’s a lot of fun, pretty neat distractions, but we’re there to play hockey,” Smith said. “[The distractions] don’t get you shots on net or wins.”

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