Melvin Blair's eyes got really, really big.
A lofted ball forward met the chest of Canisius striker Filippo Tamburini, with Blair lurking a few paces behind, eager to have a try at goal.
Tamburini's layoff was exceptional, and the Jamaican midfielder sizzled a right-footed volley under the crossbar for a 1-0 Griffs lead in the first minute, and Canisius never looked back for a 3-0 shutout of Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference foe Monmouth on Wednesday at Demske Sports Complex.
"I was into it, I was into it," said Blair, in regard to the volley. "I was really begging Filippo to give me the ball that he gave me, and I thought, 'This is my thing, you know?' and I just scored."
Canisius improves to 4-1-1 in conference play - good for third in the MAAC - and set a program record for wins in a season, with 10.
"I thought that was our best performance of the year, our most complete," said chipper head coach Dermot McGrane after the game. "Defensively, we were organized and worked hard, but the quality was great today, some of the passing and movement. A couple of little give-and-gos didn't come off, but we've been dangerous. Second half I thought we played smart."
*1-0, Canisius, 1': Blair's scorcher was the next step in a season that's trending in the right direction for him personally. With high expectations in tow - to the tune of a preseason All-MAAC selection - the junior was left off the team early in the season due to fitness concerns, but at the behest of McGrane, took his role more seriously.
Now, with four goals and five assists on the campaign, Blair is the threatening, aggressive midfielder Canisius envisioned; the Jamaican even worked back to win a few loose balls defensively, too.
"I just focus on the positive instead of the negative," responded Blair to how his season has improved following a tough preseason. "I know that this is my junior year, and I have to perform, so I'm just sticking with being positive always."
*2-0, Canisius, 43': After Tamburini went down with an injury, Canisius turned to substitutes Eric Strauchen and Hunter Walsh to ignite the offense.
The two combined on a vital goal just before halftime: A quick feint by the Rochester native duped Hawks defender Andy Martinez, who tumbled to the ground, then Strauchen hammered the ball high toward goal - the ball caromed off the crossbar and fell to a well-positioned Walsh, who tapped the ball into the gaping net for his fifth of the season.
"I was pleased to see [Hunter] get on the score sheet again, and that's just a typical Hunter Walsh goal," explained McGrane. "The kid is just always around. It's a great shot by Rico, but as the ball dropped down, [Monmouth] all froze - Hunter didn't. He was straight in and onto it, and that's him in a nutshell. He brings a ton of energy to our team."
*3-0, Canisius, 86': The Griffs may consider themselves fortunate for their third, but the build up was pretty. Troy Brady, Canisius' leading scorer, veered away from pressure in the midfield before finding Strauchen, whose first-touch pass to meet Blair's run fell into a dangerous area.
Blair's left-footed strike from close range was stopped nicely by Monmouth goalkeeper Bobby Edwards, but the rebound clanged off defender Michael Luke and rolled slowly across the Hawks' goal line.
*TERRIFIC TAMBURINI: Among the trio of Italian freshmen recruited by McGrane, center back Alessio Atzori - ruled as a partial qualifier and forced to sit out this season - was considered the gem. But, for 2017 at least, it's been the 6'4 Tamburini who's vaulted the Griffs' attack to an unprecedented level; Canisius is tied for fourth in the country with 34 goals, good for 2.62 per game.
"We're a different team when he's on the field," McGrane said of Tamburini. "It's so funny - you can have forwards up there who rarely touch the ball - a lot of the time they'll make an excuse for it - but it's because their movement isn't very good. But we can always find Filippo. He's always available and so smart, he plays other people into the game. He's a big, strong kid, he's quick, his touch is very good, and then he can finish given the chance."
The freshman striker's impact isn't lost on his teammates, either, especially midfielders like Blair who reap the rewards of his hold-up play.
"He's a good forward; he's always giving players behind him options," said Blair. "It's always good to have that characteristic as a forward, and as a midfielder, you just have to go into spaces to get the ball, so it's good."
While recruiting foreign talent can raise eyebrows locally - "are our local products inferior?" - the Canisius head coach sees identifying imports a bit differently.
"I can go to Italy and get players that I can't get over here," McGrane said. "If Filippo is playing on the Empire Academy, he's going to an ACC school. This way I can now get players at the level we want to be at."
*CLEANING UP THE DEFENSE: The Canisius back line had conceded six goals over its last two games, so a clean sheet for goalkeeper Marco Trivellato was a welcomed sight. All three goals allowed against St. Peter's - still a 4-3 win for the Griffs - came off set pieces, an area in which Canisius is typically strong at both ends.
Wednesday, McGrane's side did well to limit fouls in dangerous positions, and Canisius' swarming defense in the midfield and relentless pressure from their front six kept Monmouth hemmed in its own third or, at best, the middle third.
"Teams haven't been creating much in the run of play," McGrane explained. "I don't think Monmouth managed to trouble us at all there - a few free kicks at the end, but in the first half, I don't think they had a shot."
*FINAL WORD: "[Monmouth] is a good team - it's not like they're a bad team. I'm just really pleased with how we're playing right now." - Dermot McGrane, Canisius head coach
*Canisius: Marco Trivellato; Hakeem Milson, Bjarki Benediktsson, Alex Grattarola, Lucian Preis; Evan Walsh, Will Pauls, Manuelle Cavazzoli, Melvin Blair, Troy Brady; Filippo Tamburini. Subs used: Hunter Walsh, Eric Strauchen, Mitch Cancilla, Vinny Cancilla.
*Monmouth: Bobby Edwards; Michael Luke, Ryan Wells, Joey Gudzak, Andy Martinez; Jake Areman, John Antunes, Colin Stripling, George Akampeke, Zach Pereira; Anres Mrkulic. Subs used: Donovan Pollock, Andrew Gee, Santo Arena, Geoffrey Schaefer.