ROCHESTER – There will be no third trip to the Atlantic Hockey championship game for the Canisius.
The Golden Griffins ran into a confident RIT team Friday night, falling to the Tigers, 2-1, in the conference semifinal at Blue Cross Arena.
RIT will meet Mercyhurst in Saturday night’s title game. The winner gets the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers won their ninth straight to advance to the Atlantic Hockey title game. RIT won the championship in 2010 and advanced to the Frozen Four that year – the best showing by an Atlantic Hockey team in the NCAA Tournament.
The Tigers’ top line of Matt Garbowksy, Josh Mitchell and Brad McGowan entered the game as the second-highest scoring line in the country. The trio combined for 138 points heading into Friday’s semifinal, accounting for 53.6 percent of RIT’s goals.
That line struck first, late in the first period to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.
The Tigers had the better offensive opportunities in the first period with lots of pressure around Griffs goalie Keegan Asmundson. The senior made several key saves, and the Griffs defense blocked shots and got in lanes. But a turnover by the Griffs at their defensive blue line proved costly at the end of the first period.
RIT’s top line has been opportunistic all season and capitalized on the miscue, with McGowan firing and beating Asmundson with 23.1 seconds left in the first.
The Tigers outshot Canisius, 12-6, in that opening period, but the Griffs started to find their game in the second after David Bennett was called for interference.
“All we needed was a little bit of a spark,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “Our bench didn’t agree with the call on David Bennett early in the second. That was the spark that got us going. … I thought from that moment on we were really good.”
The Griffs tied the game at 10:07 when Shane Conacher finished a shot by Doug Jessey. That started a more aggressive offensive game from Canisius, which outshot RIT, 22-15, over the final two periods.
“I think we were just trying to get more pucks to the net and keep it simple,” Conacher said. “They’re good at protecting the net and it’s tough to get around the net with them so we were just trying to get pucks and bodies to the net. We were starting to get a few bounces there, but it was just tough to get the equalizer.”
The Griffs searched for a tying goal after Danny Smith gave RIT its lead back at 15:15 of the second. The rebound against Asmundson was a good shot, but the play was clearly offside.
“The league, the commissioner they came to us before the game and said offsides are not going to be reviewable because there was a camera malfunction in the building,” Smith said. “So as soon as that happens you think, well I hope it doesn’t happen in the game. At least the communication was good. The referees knew it. Both coaches knew it, so there’s nothing you can do about it. … you don’t fault anybody. I wish we could have it back. I wish the camera was working.”
Canisius ends its season 18-12-7.
In the first semifinal, Mercyhurst knocked out defending champion Robert Morris, 4-3, in overtime. Chris Bodo tied the game with 34 seconds left in regulation, then Zac Frischmon scored off a pass from Nardo Nagtzaam at 3:04 of OT to give the Lakers the win.
It was freshman Brandon Wildung who gave the Lakers the opportunity to find offense late. The freshman made a semifinal record 59 saves as Robert Morris dominated shots on goal, 62-29.
“They would throw a lot to the net and had their players there, but I tried to just focus and make that first save,” Wildung said. “Sometimes I didn’t always have the rebound that I wanted, but my defensemen, the guys in front of me, did a great job of clearing the puck and helped me out by not giving them second opportunities and third shots.”