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Cuddemi’s late goal helps Griffs make a point

Ralph Cuddemi crashed the net. It’s what he does. The senior has a nose for gritty goals and, with a bit of desperation in his game, he put home a big tally.

Cuddemi scored with 3:04 left in regulation to help the Canisius College Golden Griffins pull out a 1-1 tie with Air Force at HarborCenter Saturday night.

It was the 58th goal of his career, moving him past Kyle Gibbons into sole possession of second place on the Griffs’ career goal list. It also brings him within four goals of the career record set by Cory Conacher.

All of that the senior captain quickly brushes aside.

“It’s just a goal amount,” Cuddemi said. “Stats are the stats. Whatever happens, happens. I’m just here for one more kick at the can and one shot at a ring. That’s my goal right now. That’s what we’re going to try to do until the fat lady sings I guess.”

Cuddemi’s goal came at the tail end of the Griffs power play, which had been 0 for 4 on the night.

Dylan McLaughlin chipped the puck into the Air Force zone and Ryan Schmelzer picked it up, driving toward the net.

“I was going to cut to the net,” Schmelzer said. “As soon as I went to the net the goalie bit and went down. I just figured I’d move to the other side and try to jam it in and Ralph cleaned it up for us.”

With the puck sitting on the goal line, Cuddemi crashed the net and scored.

“We all attacked the net,” Cuddemi said. “It was right there sitting for me and I just said I hope this is the one that goes in and it was.

“It’d be nice to win but I’m happy with all the guys in the room. We played really well and started the game off strong and ended stronger so that’s good to see.”

Cuddemi also ended the game playing with Schmelzer and Shane Conacher. That’s been the Griffs top line for the better part of the last two seasons.

Only that’s not how Saturday’s game started.

Canisius coach Dave Smith broke up the top line. By the second period Schmelzer and Cuddemi were back together. By the end of the third all three were back on the same shift.

So what was it like for Cuddemi not to be playing with Conacher?

“That is the golden question,” Cuddemi joked after the game.

But it also was a bold move. Cuddemi and Conacher had played on the same line for 88 straight games. The last game when they did not start on the same line was Jan. 3, 2013. In that span, the duo had combined for 179 points, including 48 goals for Cuddemi and 31 goals for Conacher.

“We’re just trying to get more guys to play better,” Smith said of the lineup shakeup. “I think it gives us more depth throughout. Those guys have great chemistry and they’ve shown they can play together but the whole team needs to be better.”

And to a point it worked. While there were no goals, there was energy, urgency and a ton of scoring chances from throughout the lineup.

“Yeah we have that chemistry but it’s good to see that we can throw other teams for a loop and change our lines up and bring something different the second night,” Cuddemi said. “And I think in a way it kind of worked. Everyone was more fired up and doing their job and just overall I think we played one of our better games this season. We put in a lot of effort and hard work and it felt good.”

Canisius has a bye week then travels to play Bentley for a two-games series Feb. 12-13. Air Force hosts RIT Feb. 5-6.