Canisius’ hockey program reached a milestone in mid-December by being nationally ranked during the season for the first time ever.
The Griffs haven’t won since.
Friday night’s 3-0 loss to American International stretched their winless streak to five games and marked their first home shutout since November 2014. AIC scored once in each period and freshman goalie Stefano Durante recorded his first career shutout to drop the Griffs to 10-9-2 overall and 10-5 in Atlantic Hockey, though Niagara’s 3-2 loss to Mercyhurst helped Canisius hold onto a share of the conference lead.
“We just have to find what makes us great,” senior forward Ryan Schmelzer said. “We know that’s outworking teams, just being hard to play against. And it seems we’ve kind of gotten away from that, gotten a little bit soft here. But it’s an easy fix, we just got to do it.”
What constitutes soft play under first-year coach Trevor Large?
“A lot of perimeter play from us,” Schmelzer said. “I think Coach showed us a chart of shots that they had, and all their shots were right in front of our net and all ours were outside the dots and high-circle.
“We focus more on quality chances instead of getting pucks to the net,” the captain added. “We think we're a skilled-enough team that when we do have those chances, we’ll be able to bury them. But obviously we don’t have the effort to get to those high[-danger] areas and we’re not going to get those chances. That’s kind of what’s happening right now.”
The Griffs were flying high at this time last month after sweeping a home-and-home series with Niagara, which was then ranked 20th in the country. When the following week’s USCHO.com poll came out, it was Canisius ranked 20th instead. Prior to then, Canisius had only entered the national rankings twice before in its history, with both instances coming after strong showings in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. (The USCHO rankings date back to 2006-07.)
But Canisius had the two toughest opponents on its schedule immediately after the Niagara game, and suffered losses at No. 5 Cornell and at No. 3 Clarkson before tying and losing at St. Lawrence last weekend.
“It feels like an opportunity lost,” Large said. “I looked – obviously – internally: we needed to play better against those opponents to win. Cornell and Clarkson were both great opponents. I think it would’ve given us a little extra boost coming after the break if we were able to get one or two wins against the No. 3 or No. 4 teams in the country. So I guess it can be a little frustrating since we were ranked 20th at the time, but our guys have a good focus. They know that the next game, the next fight is right in front of their face and as a staff we’re trying to keep it there.”
Friday’s game was just Canisius’ third loss to AIC in their last 27 meetings and the first home loss to the Yellow Jackets since March 2007. Canisius has beaten AIC more times than any opponent in program history, but AIC isn’t the conference pushover anymore. The win lifted them to fourth in the standings, just two points back of Canisius.
Game puck: Durante, a freshman from Brampton, Ontario, stopped 26 shots to earn his first career shutout. He was solid throughout, making four saves on the penalty kill and denying Canisius' Nick Hutchison on a breakaway in the third period. He earned his third straight victory.
Special teams: Canisius entered the game with the country’s ninth-ranked power play (24.7 percent) while AIC’s penalty kill ranked ninth-worst (76.8 percent). The Griffs failed to capitalize, though, going 0 for 3 with the man advantage.
Possession: AIC had a 24-13 shot advantage after two periods and led on shot attempts, 39-27. The final numbers were 32-26 AIC on shots and 55-47 on attempts.
AIC takes first-period lead: The Yellow Jackets got on the board late in the opening period when Dominik Florian snuck a quick shot underneath the blocker of Daniel Urbani, who was caught off-guard. Canisius had two prime chances in the period but Durante was equal to the task both times. He got just enough of Grant Meyer’s shot midway through the first to deflect it off the post and out. Later, Ryan Schmelzer got free in the low slot during a power play but shot into Durante’s glove.
Lead extended: AIC went up 2-0 in the second period on Johno May’s one-timer that was set up by a perfect pass across the slot from freshman defenseman Brennan Kapcheck, who entered the game with a team-high 17 points and 11 assists. Urbani had no chance. The Griffs were also bailed out by the iron earlier in the period when Blake Christensen had a wide-open net but rang his shot off the post.
Yellow Jackets put it away: AIC's Nicholas Luca lifted a close-range shot over Urbani midway through the third to all-but-seal the victory. Hutchison took a long stretch pass and went in all alone on a power play earlier in the third, but couldn’t fool the goalie as he tried to open up the five-hole on a deke.
McLaughlin blanked: Canisius’ Dylan McLaughlin entered the weekend tied for third nationally in points with 29 (12-17) and had gotten on the scoresheet in 14 of his last 15 games.
All in the family: AIC's Andrew DeBrincat is the ... older brother of Alex DeBrincat, who has 27 points for the Blackhawks this season. That's weird to think about. He finished plus-2.
In the house: Severe winter weather combined with students on break led to under 200 spectators in the arena at puck drop. Announced attendance was 337.
Up next: The same teams do battle again at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at HarborCenter. Canisius has two games at RIT next weekend.
— Nick Veronica (@NickVeronica) January 13, 2018