Coming off their best weekend of the season, the Canisius College Golden Griffins endured one of their most disappointing.
Fresh off a road sweep at Bentley, the Griffs returned to HarborCenter still in contention for a first-round playoff bye. That possibility is gone after they dropped two games to Sacred Heart, including a 4-3 decision on Saturday.
The loss combined with a Mercyhurst win means Canisius cannot finish higher than sixth in Atlantic Hockey. With one weekend left in the regular season, the Griffs can finish anywhere between sixth and ninth, meaning home ice for the first-round playoff series isn’t yet a guarantee.
“We want to learn from winning as much as possible,” coach Dave Smith said. “We as coaches tried everything this week to keep them prepared for this weekend and still what we find and what the young guys are learning is it’s in the room. It’s got to start and finish in the room and we’re here to guide and advise and hold accountable but when they decide on something as a group, it’s very powerful.”
There was little power in the Griffs’ game through the first two periods on Saturday. While freshman Felix Chamberland gave Canisius a 1-0 lead, Sacred Heart quickly answered back.
Then came the second period where the Pioneers continuously got behind the Canisius defense, used their speed and peppered goaltender Simon Hofley. Sacred Heart scored three times, taking a 4-1 lead and dominating play. The Pioneers outshot the Griffs, 20-8, in the second period.
“They’re very good at getting by us and getting to open spaces,” Canisius sophomore forward Ryan Schmelzer said. “But we’ve got to do a better job of sticking with them. It’s something we practiced all week. … All their goals were in front of our goalie with no one around him so that’s definitely our fault breaking down there.”
“I didn’t think we were committed to playing as hard as you need to be in all three zones,” Smith said. “We weren’t physical, we were guessing we were hoping way too much. I took the goalie out in the last 10 minutes to really get the defensive urgency up.”
Trailing, 4-1, Hofley spent much of the final 10 minutes of the game sprinting from his crease to the bench to give the Griffs the extra attacker.
With the goalie out of the net, the Griffs played with more urgency and purpose defensively and peppered Sacred Heart goalie Brett Magnus with 18 third-period shots.
Canisius finally broke through with 1:21 left in the game on a shot by Jimmy Mazza. Then with 31 seconds left, Schmelzer added another goal. But time ran out on the comeback bid.
“I thought the third period we played very well,” Smith said. “After the second we had to hit the pause button and reset our effort, reset our demeanor and our team mentality. We did that and then we reset the game plan that the goalie was coming out and we were in this game to win it. It’s encouraging to see that urgency and effort is there. It’s disappointing the result of the weekend.”