The Canisius College hockey team assigns a purpose to each day of their week, and as the Golden Griffins approach their most important game of the season, they are sticking to their plan.
The stakes this week, though, are higher than in previous weeks. A berth in the NCAA Tournament is on the line when the Griffs (19-18-3) host Holy Cross (17-20-3) in the Atlantic Hockey Association championship game at 6 p.m. Saturday at LECOM Harborcenter.
A win means the Griffs earn their first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013, and continue their season as one of 16 teams in the nation still playing hockey.
The urgency is there, Canisius coach Trevor Large said. But playing for a spot in the NCAA Tournament doesn’t mean the Griffs are going to overhaul everything, or much of anything about their team at this point.
“There’s a composure element that’s in this team,” Large said. “It’s not a team that you need to try to figure them out. The guys know who they are."
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Canisius' pattern this week began Tuesday, when the Griffs focused on personal recovery, and recharging from a weekend series or from the busyness that surrounds their lives. On-ice practices aren’t grueling.
On Wednesday, the team’s leaders gauged the pulse of the program and decide which area to prioritize their focus.
On Thursday, the Griffs dialed into details. How do we continue to hone the area where we are successful? What needs to be tweaked in an area where we might not be consistent or productive, so that there’s incremental improvement?
On Friday, the Griffs focued on their opponent. On Saturday, the Griffs will focus on their game-day routines, with the goal of channeling their energy into the opening faceoff.
That schedule has become a habit for the Griffs over at least the last two seasons, and it all culminates on game day.
“I don’t think a lot of programs have that,” forward J.D. Pogue said. “We’re big on mind, body, spirit here. (Tuesday), we were getting puck touches, and we’re doing the little things that are going to get us ready for the weekend. It’s not a battle drill day. We’re banged up, so we’re getting recharged and recovered for that, and it’s great that we are able to have that type of schedule, moving forward.”
The Griffs, the No. 4 seed, face a win-or-go-home scenario against No. 7 Holy Cross. After winning a pair of three-game series against Army and Niagara, the season comes down to one game.
The NCAA field is announced Sunday and opens with first-round games Thursday and Friday at four regional sites: Allentown, Pa.; Manchester, N.H.; Fargo, N.D., and Bridgeport, Conn.
“Sometimes, the mistake you make this time of year is trying to be something that you’re not," Large said. "We had a great conversation of, ‘If you’re a quiet guy, just bring your best version of you. If you’re a loud guy and you insert some fun, make sure you’re doing that.’ All of a sudden, if our quiet guys are bring all this energy, there’s no composure, no maturity there, and guys will be a little off-kilter. It won’t feel right.
"I know the buzz of our team, you get around them on a game day and you can feel it. Urgency is a part of it, but the composure’s there.”
Canisius makes its fourth trip to the Atlantic Hockey title game, including its second in the last three seasons. AIC defeated Canisius for the 2021 championship. Holy Cross will play for the Atlantic Hockey championship for the first time in 17 years; the Crusaders won titles in 2004 and 2006.
The Griffs also want to continue to ride a wave they have created, particularly on special teams. Canisius leads Atlantic Hockey and is 16th in the nation on the power play (23%, 31 of 135), and were 3 for 6 on the power play in a 4-2 win against Niagara in the decisive third game of their semifinal series.
The Griffs also have prioritized killing penalties in the second half of the season, having killed off 64 of 71 penalties.
“The biggest challenge we’re going to face is ourselves,” goalie Jacob Barczewski said. “Coach said it, we’re playing ourselves. We know what we’re capable of. Every guy in here is very capable of winning a championship, and doing the little things we need them to do. Every guy knows their role. Go over the boards, do your job. Coach constantly preaches that, and that’s what it’s going to be, Saturday night.
“We know what the prize will be, ultimately, and it’s a big game, but hone in on our details and playing our game, that’s what we need to focus on. If we do that, I like our chances to get the win.”