Those who wanted to see one of college hockey’s all-time great programs up close before the Frozen Four in April got their wish Friday night as North Dakota paid a visit to Buffalo to face Canisius College for the first time on the Golden Griffins' home ice.
However, those who came to HarborCenter to witness a Fighting Hawks triumph left the facility feeling a bit blue.
Canisius, which has beaten nationally ranked teams and made the NCAA Tournament in its history, earned another feather for its cap as it took down No. 13-ranked North Dakota, 3-1, before a near sellout crowd.
Those expecting a blue blood with six NHL draft picks in its lineup to walk over the Golden Griffins witnessed Canisius (7-9-2) become the first Atlantic Hockey Association team to ever beat North Dakota, which has won eight NCAA Division I championships.
David Parrottino, Cameron Heath and Grant Meyer scored for the Griffs, and junior goaltender Blake Weyrick followed up a career-best 42-save effort against No. 14 Union by having another big-time performance against a nationally ranked foe as he made 32 stops. Weyrick led the penalty-killing unit, which held the Hawks to 0-for-5 with the man advantage.
The win over North Dakota is Canisius’ first in eight meetings against the team formerly known as the Fighting Sioux. The win over a nationally ranked foe is the first by the Griffs since beating No. 20 Niagara on Dec. 8, 2017.
“It’s obviously a big win for the program,” Canisius coach Trevor Large said. “It’s great for the Canisius community, was an electric night. Special moment for our guys. Loved how we played. I thought we played together and hard all night.”
“It’s good momentum for us,” Weyrick said. “We’re showing what we can do just not in Atlantic, but on the national stage. We have a lot of good hockey players here. It’s time to show what Canisius hockey can do.”
The second game of the weekend series with North Dakota (9-8-1) is at 7:35 p.m. Saturday at HarborCenter.
Canisius broke a 1-1 tie early in the third period on a play that caught Heath off guard. After North Dakota had a nice opening shift buzzing around the offensive zone, the Griffs turned a 3-on-1 break into the go-ahead goal just 1 minute, 40 seconds into the period. Heath had a near open net to shoot at when he deposited a drop pass from Nick Hutchison into the goal.
“He caught me off guard and threw it back to me. It was an unbelievable play and kind of a wide-open net there,” Heath said. “It was such a deceptive play. I thought Hutch was going to shoot it. ... Lucky, right place at the right time play.”
It was a bit of an odd game in that North Dakota finished with a 33-15 advantage in shots but Canisius had perhaps the best scoring chances. The Griffs failed to convert a couple chances early and two more after Heath’s go-ahead goal that could have given them a little breathing room as North Dakota finished the game firing 14 of the final 17 shots on net. Weyrick was more than up to the task as the defense rarely gave up Grade A chances and when the Hawks had a quality look, Weyrick made the stop.
“I felt really good,” Weyrick said, who dodged a bullet when Mark Senden rifled a hard shot off the post.
“I really felt like my role at that time for them was let’s calm down,” said Large on preventing his team from panicking. “Yes, a team is pushing, but we’re used to that. Maybe the stress level was high internally, but on the outside giving off that calm presence and trying to get us the win.”
The Fighting Hawks played in Buffalo in 2002. North Dakota defeated Canisius, 8-0, at the former HSBC Arena en route to winning the two-day Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase. North Dakota beat Michigan in overtime, 5-4, in the final of that tournament.
Both teams tried to assert their physical will in the first period. North Dakota’s speed was obvious from the outset, but the Griffs did a fine job negating it and limiting the Fighting Hawks to seven shots, with the best being a hard shot from the slot by Ludvig Hoff that Weyrick absorbed with his body.
Canisius earned a reward for a nice shift late in the period, drawing a hooking penalty. The Griffs wasted little time making North Dakota pay as they won the zone faceoff, and 10 seconds later, Parrottino redirected a low shot from Dylan McLaughlin between the pads of netminder Adam Scheel with 1:40 left in the first. It was the Griffs’ sixth and final shot of the period.
They went more than 10 minutes before recording another shot on goal and had just four in the second period. The Griffs still came close to doubling their advantage with the best chance belonging to Matt Hoover, but he fired a back-door feed off the side of an open net.
North Dakota tied it late in the second while short handed as Senden deposited a rebound chance after the Griffs coughed up the puck behind their net.
North Dakota came out buzzing to start the third period but it failed to get the tiebreaking goal on its first shift. Canisius didn’t fail when a 2-on-1 rush turned into a 3-on-1 with Heath giving the blue and gold a reason to stand and cheer.
They cheered loudly, permanently quieting those in the crowd rooting for North Dakota, when Meyer scored an empty-netter with 7 seconds left.
Though the series concludes Saturday, the win over a nationally ranked team is a nice start to a second half in which Canisius hopes to make a run at the conference championship and earn its second NCAA Tournament bid.
“Our goal is to win a championship this year,” Weyrick said. “This was just a step in the process.”