With its top line back together, the Canisius hockey team lit the lamp early and often in a convincing, 8-1 win against American International in Game 1 of the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals Friday at HarborCenter.
The return of top center Ryan Schmelzer and right wing Jeff Murray helped open the floodgates for an offense that struggled a bit while the linemates missed the last month with upper-body injuries. They got conference scoring champ Dylan McLaughlin back in his groove with two goals and an assist and allowed the rest of the forwards to prey on lower defensive pairings, setting the program record for goals scored in a playoff game.
Matt Hoover and Matt McLeod also scored twice for the Griffs, who were ahead 4-0 before conceding their lone goal. Nick Hutchison recorded three assists and Grant Meyer and Alex Jaeckle each logged two.
"Dylan playing with those guys is the perfect role for him," coach Trevor Large said. "What it does is it makes our lineup so much deeper when we have some tough matchups. ... I thought he had a special game tonight, had the puck a ton. Was really happy with how that line played. We’re better when he’s great."
Canisius' offense had been struggling somewhat since Schmelzer was injured in the Feb. 3 game against Holy Cross and Murray went down Feb. 9 against Army. The team went 2-3 with both players absent and scored just 2.6 goals per game after averaging 3.07 with them. McLaughlin's production, while still high, also took a dip, going from 1.44 points per game before their injuries to 0.83 without them. He finished tied for sixth nationally in scoring (14g, 28a).
But Canisius' offense left no doubt Friday, beating AIC goalie Sterfano Durante three times in the first period and twice more in the second before firing another three past backup Zackarias Skog in the third.
Second-seeded Canisius can sweep the best-of-three series in Game 2 Saturday night and get back to the semifinal round at Rochester's Blue Cross Arena for the fifth time in the last six seasons.
"Any time a team is in potentially their last game you know they’re going to be at their best," Large said. "I would say the same thing whether we won or lost: We need to flush it, we need to move on, we need to get ready for a new game. I don’t believe momentum exists game-to-game. We have to find a way to gain some momentum in (Saturday's) game."
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Stat check: Shot attempts are easier to acquire when trailing, and AIC held a massive margin in that stat, 75-43. But the Yellow Jackets put only 35 on net to Canisius' 25, and Daniel Urbani made 34 saves. Canisius went 2-for-5 on the power play and was a perfect 7-for-7 on the penalty kill.
"The D-zone was under pressure a little bit because they’re pressing and pushing, really trying to get everything on net," Large said. "I like that we kept a lot to the outside. … 75 shot attempts feels like a ton, but for (Urbani), I don’t think he felt a ton of pressure."
How they got here: Canisius had a bye into the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals by virtue of finishing second in the conference. AIC, the eighth seed, swept ninth-ranked Niagara last weekend.
Next: The teams meet in Game 2 at 8:05 p.m. Saturday at HarborCenter. Game 3, if necessary, would be at 7:05 p.m. Sunday.