Canisius hockey moved closer to clinching the top seed in the Atlantic Hockey tournament with a 3-1 win Friday over Army West Point that came without two-thirds of the Griffs' top line.
Sophomore winger Matt Hoover scored two goals while second-leading scorer Ryan Schmelzer (29 points) missed the game with an upper body injury and top-line winger Jeff Murray left with an apparent shoulder injury.
The win, paired with Holy Cross' loss to Mercyhurst, gave the Griffs sole possession of first place in the conference and showed they can overcome the loss of top players.
"Huge win for our team," Canisius coach Trevor Large said "... It’s a next-man-up mentality. Whenever anybody goes out, somebody has to step up, and when we have a couple injuries on our top line, those are big holes to fill. But I was very confident with the guys that filled in. Kind of had some guys playing together that haven’t spent time together, and they did great with that. It’s next man up."
All four of Canisius' goals came via special teams. Defenseman Ian Edmondson opened the scoring with a short-handed goal in the first period before Hoover followed with a power-play goal less than four minutes later to give the Griffs an important early cushion without Schmelzer in the lineup. Murray left with an injury during the second period, and Army scored just before intermission to make it a one-goal game entering the third. But that was the only shot that got past Daniel Urbani, who made 27 saves, including 10 while short-handed.
It took 7:57 of power-play time in the third period for Canisius to find an insurance goal as the team worked out the kinks on a new, wide setup it implemented in practice this week, but relief finally came when Hoover one-timed a pass from Cameron Heath past Army's Cole Bruns with five minutes to play.
Matt Long added a late empty-netter to seal the win while Army had a 6-on-4 advantage. The Griffs' penalty kill was dynamite, going 6 for 6 in the game in addition to scoring two goals.
Hoover said his takeaway from the game was that the team is great at fighting through adversity.
"We’ve seen that all year and we’ve talked about that all year in a bunch of games," he said. "Whether you’re down 3-1 or up 3-1 like we were at the end of that game, you always have to fight back or fight to stay ahead. I think we did well to stay together as a team and we believed in ourselves and believed in each other to keep it together for that last period and come out with the win."
Schmelzer out: Schmelzer, who ranks 10th in program history with 105 career points, was injured during the team's previous game against Holy Cross. He ranks second on the team in goals (13), assists (16) and points (29). Large expects he his captain to be OK.
"He’s very day-to-day," Large said. "He’ll be fine. He’ll be back in time, I’ll say, when we really need him. He’ll be 100 percent."
Murray down: Murray (3 goals, 14 assists) was hit into the boards in the second period and stayed down holding his shoulder. He went straight to the locker room and did not return. Army's Blake Box was given a boarding penalty on the play.
"We’ll know more (Saturday)," Large said. "It sounds like he could be fine; he needs a doc’s look at him. We’ll see what happens in terms of that upper-body injury. It definitely isn’t one of those where, ‘Oh yeah, he’s done, he’s not going to be back.’ It feels positive that he should be OK."
McLaughlin Watch: Dylan McLaughlin leads Canisius in all scoring categories (14-25-39) and is tied for second nationally in points. He was kept off the scoresheet while his linemates went down.
Shutdown wouldn't have shut Army down: Air Force had to postpone a game against Sacred Heart last month due to a government shutdown, and Niagara nearly missed games the following week before the government reopened. The government shut down again briefly Friday morning, but the Canisius-Army series wouldn't have been affected. An Army spokesperson said Army and Navy structure their athletic departments differently than schools like Air Force and the Coast Guard Academy, so they wouldn't have been affected by a shutdown.
Next: Canisius hosts Army again at 7:35 p.m. tonight. Next weekend it visits Air Force, which entered the weekend eighth in the 11-team conference. Then the Griffs conclude the regular season with a home-and-home series with Niagara on Feb. 23 and 24.