It was a gut check in the very first game of the season.
Through the first 40 minutes, Canisius couldn't stay out of the penalty box. It couldn't clear the puck out of its own zone on the power play. And when they got their own chances with the man-advantage, they gave up quality shorthanded scoring chances.
The Golden Griffins found themselves down 3-0 to Robert Morris, the team picked to finish second in Atlantic Hockey and a team that was relentlessly all over the Griffs early in Friday night's game in HarborCenter.
But Canisius found a new gear in the third period. The Griffs rallied to tie the game with cleaner, crisper play. And while they ultimately lost their opener, 4-3, the Griffs showed a resiliency which can be a building block for the rest of the season.
"I feel that our team, we showed a lot of grit," Canisius coach Trevor Large said. "So it helps going into the rest of the year. Just that belief our guys have that whatever the game throws at us, whatever the opponent throws at us, we're ready for it all. We'll go out and play the way we play."
Trailing, 3-0, the Griffs got on the board at 4:58 of the third when Nick Hutchison got his stick on a shot from Felix Chamberland.
That's when Canisius felt momentum shift.
Ryan Schmelzer picked up the puck and skated his way through Robert Morris defenders, faking out Colonials goaltender Francis Marotte to slip the puck into the net.
Less than three minutes later, Canisius tied the game. Matt McLeod chipped the puck into the zone and a shot from Matt Long rang off the post. A scramble around the goalmouth saw the puck go off a Robert Morris player and into the net.
Suddenly it was a hockey game.
But this was nothing new for the Griffs. They've been here before.
"We have a never-say-die attitude that goes throughout our whole room," Schmelzer said. "We were able to stay calm between periods. We knew we weren't out of this game at all. So just having that fight in us that we've been here before. We can crawl back. We liked the way we were playing. It was just a matter of getting one and keep going at it."
The comeback was silenced with four minutes to play when Spencer Dorowicz scored for Robert Morris. The Griffs battled in the last two minutes with the extra attacker, but could not find another equalizer.
Robert Morris made quick work of its power play chances in the first period, building a 2-0 lead with goals from Matthew Graham and Michael Louria.
The lead went to 3-0 in the second as Ian Edmondson's pass out of his own zone ended up right on the stick of Luke Lynch who beat Canisius goalie Simon Hofley at 15:48 of the second.
The Griffs found themselves fighting out of a hole thanks in part to penalties. They took two early roughing penalties, then David Bennett was called for checking from behind — a five-minute major and a game misconduct. In all, Canisius was called for nine penalties totally 29 minutes.
"It was definitely a weird couple of periods with all the penalties," Dylan McLaughlin said. "I thought we played a little sloppy, but it was nice to see us come back in the third period. We knew what we had in us."
"I think we had controlled emotion," Large said of the third period. "I think early, both ways, there were a lot of penalties. I just think early there was undisciplined energy and we were able to channel it and focus it in the third period into our game, not necessarily into being physical."
The teams meet again at 7:35 p.m. Saturday in HarborCenter.