by Amy Moritz
They were 20 minutes from dead.
Already down a game in the best-of-three series at Bentley, the Canisius Golden Griffins were trailing, 4-1, after two periods. Facing one of the most talented scoring lines in the conference, the Griffs were a period away from the end of their season.
But Canisius rallied. They won the game in double overtime. They won game three. Double overtime in the conference semifinals against the No. 1 seed? Sure, why not. As disappointing as the 7-4 loss to Robert Morris in the championship game was, getting back to the Atlantic Hockey title game was almost as improbable as the Griffs winning the whole thing last year.
Final record: 17-21-3
Playoff run: After sweeping Sacred Heart in the opening round, the Griffs had come-from-behind wins over Bentley to knock off the No. 2 seed and advance to Atlantic Hockey semifinals for the third time under coach Dave Smith. It took double overtime to upset Mercyhurst but then the Griffs ran into a hot Robert Morris team. And the Colonials have had the Griffs' number. The Canisius senior class went just 4-9 against Robert Morris, including a five-game losing streak. Not helping the cause were a pair of injuries in the Bentley series as defensman Geoff Fortman (shoulder) and Cody Freeman (head) were both out for the final three games. Illness also ran through the team with Logan Roe and Chris Rumble missing playoff games.
What we learned: Resiliency may be the foundational word of the Canisius program. The ability of the Griffs to respond positively to adversity is what helped them return to the championship game. Count Canisius down and out at your own peril. As injuries and illness occurred, the team's depth came into play. But when talking about depth, it wasn't just about having talent to step into the lineup. It was about players who often found themselves on the outside looking in understanding their importance to the team. It was about those scratches staying ready, focused and passionate to play and it was about the team trusting those players to do their jobs when their number was called.
Losses: This is a tough senior class to say goodbye to. Seven seniors will leave the Griffs -- forwards Patrick Sullivan, Kyle Gibbons, Taylor Law and Ryan Bohrer, defensmen Ben Danford and Duncan McKellar and goaltender Tony Capobianco. While Gibbons, Danford and Capobianco went out with some down performances, they leave their mark all over the program. Among the statistical notables:
Capobianco holds the career record for saves and shutouts.
Danford played in all 158 games of his Canisius career and holds the program record for assists by a defensman.
Gibbons finished with 131 career points, ranking fourth all-time in program history. HIs 57 goals is second only to Cory Conacher's record of 62.
Cory Conacher may be the most famous alum of the program, but he never made it to a championship game. This senior class created its own legacy, one that not only produced results but crafted a culture and helped bring college hockey to a new level of relevancy in the cluttered Western New York sports landscape.
Who's back: There's nothing quite as motivating as being on the ice when the other team is celebrating a championship. The bad taste that leaves in the mouths of the returning players could be motivational fuel for another run next year. And there's plenty of good news on the roster. The line of Mitch McCrank-Ralph Cuddemi-Shane Conacher was one of the best in the postseason scoring 11 of the team's 17 goals in the last four games. Cody Freeman, who notched program's first post-season hat trick, was playing well until he suffered a head injury in Game 2 in Bentley. Defensemen Chris Rumble and Doug Jessey were both on the Atlantic Hockey All-Tournament team and junior goalie Keegan Asmundson had a 2.51 goals against average and a .926 save percentage in 13 games for the Griffs this year.