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Canisius, Freeman poised for Atlantic Hockey title run

After the game, when Canisius had secured its third straight trip to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, Cody Freeman joked about his goal.

The first tally in the 2-1 win over Sacred Heart on Saturday night at HarborCenter was his 10th career postseason goal, pulling him away from a tie with good buddy Kyle Gibbons, who graduated last year.

“I’m going to mail him the puck,” Freeman said. “Care package.”

The smiles are free flowing this time of year, when Freeman tends to play his best, although his senior season has been a different kind of journey.

As a junior Freeman’s role was easily defined. For the majority of the season he played left wing with Patrick Sullivan and Gibbons, notching 24 points before being sidelined after a head injury in the quarterfinals.

But Sullivan and Gibbons graduated and Freeman found himself all over the line chart, playing on 11 different combinations this season.

The nose for the net hadn’t left, though. With two points against Sacred Heart, Freeman has a career-best 26 points while his team is poised for another Atlantic Hockey title run.

“I had just a small chat with Cody before and he’s bounced around lines a little bit this year,” coach Dave Smith said Saturday night. “He’s the type of player, when he’s going whoever is with him has the ability to win a game. He made a ridiculously good shot on the first goal and a great pass on the second goal. When he’s playing like that I just throw him out with anybody. I think he played with everybody tonight and played extremely well.”

Freeman is one of 10 seniors making their third trip to Rochester and the conference final four. Canisius will play RIT in the second semifinal at Blue Cross Arena on Friday. The game is scheduled to begin at 8:35, but will begin one hour after the completion of the first semifinal, which features top seed and defending champion Robert Morris against Mercyhurst, the 3-2 winner of Sunday’s quarterfinal against Bentley.

“Having 10 guys out there and however many juniors we have, it’s nice to have that kind of veteran team with guys who are poised and can offer it to the freshmen,” Freeman said. “They can look and see how to model their game.”

Their game will need some fine tuning for the semifinal with RIT. In their last five meetings, the Tigers have a 3-1-1 advantage, including taking three of four points from Canisius at HarborCenter in November.

RIT dominated the shots on goal in both those and the Tigers have been firing tons of pucks at the net on their run to the semifinals.

On the flip side, Canisius averaged just 13.6 shots on goal over their last three games. The power play was a particular problem for the Griffs against Sacred Heart as Canisius went 0 for 7 over the two games with no shots.

“We did so many good things on the power play but we didn’t attack the net,” Smith said. “Sacred Heart’s kill, they’re in the lane so you don’t see things there and sometimes you’ve just got to trust it. And the guys who are on the power play are skill guys. They want to pick a spot and get after it. We just need to get a little more smash-mouth and get it to the net and get some greasy goals. I thought Sacred Heart killed very, very well.”

“They play a different kill than we’re used to seeing,” said junior defenseman Chris Rumble, who plays the point on the first unit. “They kind of play a man-on-man and leave a guy open for us. We couldn’t find an answer to that, but good for the rest of our team. We’re not the whole team, you know. We’re relying on other guys, too, and they stepped up and finished the game for us when we couldn’t.”