Rochester, N.Y. – The Canisius College hockey team won its first Atlantic Hockey Championship on Saturday night, taking the title with a 7-2 win over Mercyhurst at the Blue Cross Arena. The Griffs earned the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament and are set to make their first-ever appearance in the national bracket. Canisius improves to 19-18-5 with the win, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak to eight games.
Junior Kyle Gibbons (Westlake, Ohio) led the Canisius offense – which scored a season-high seven goals – to the win. The junior recorded a career-best four points on the night, scoring two goals and adding two assists to earn Tournament MVP honors.
Joining Gibbons on the All-Tournament Team is sophomore forward Tyler Wiseman (Burlington, Ontario), junior defender Ben Danford (Stillwater, Minn.) and junior goaltender Tony Capobianco (Mississauga, Ontario) along with Paul Chiasson and Nick Jones of Mercyhurst.
Freshman Ralph Cuddemi (Concord, Ontario) matched Gibbons with a career-best two goals in the winning effort with seniors Torrey Lindsay (Grosse Isle, Manitoba) and Ben Parker (Port Perry, Ontario) and sophomore Cody Freeman (Toronto, Ontario) each adding a tally.
Capobianco anchored the Griffs’ defensive effort with 34 saves in the winning effort. The junior netminder finished with a tournament-record 235 saves in six games, posting a 1.99 goals against average and .951 save percentage.
The Griffs waited until the final minute of the opening period to take the lead, one it would never give back. On a rush, sophomore Patrick Sullivan (Derby, N.Y.) skated past a Mercyhurst defender and fed Gibbons in front. The junior then knocked the puck in for his first goal of the day with just 41.2 seconds remaining in the first.
It was Gibbons who then added to the Canisius advantage, scoring his team-leading 20th goal of the season with 15:24 remaining in the second by scoring on a 4-on-3 power play. The junior took the puck at the blue line skated in and ripped a slapshot into the back of the net for the 2-0 lead. Both Danford and Freeman registered an assist on the power-play tally.
Cuddemi then extended the Griffs lead to three, scoring his first of two goals on the night with 7:29 remaining in the second. Senior captain Preston Shupe (Weyburn, Saskatchewan) dug the puck out from a scrum behind the net and found Cuddemi open in front. The rookie then buried his opportunity for the three-goal lead. Sophomore Matthew Grazen (East Amherst, N.Y.) also registered an assist on Cuddemi’s third goal of the season.
The Lakers (19-17-5) answered back less than a minute later when Matthew Zay scored off an offensive-zone faceoff victory, pulling Mercyhurst within two, 3-1, with 6:38 left in the second frame.
Like they did all weekend, however, Canisius answered back and scored its fourth goal in Rochester in the final minute of a period. Cuddemi netted his second goal of the game, scoring on the power play 57 seconds left in the second period. The freshman tapped in a pass from Wiseman for the 4-1 lead after 40 minutes of action. Shupe added an assist on Cuddemi’s fourth goal of his rookie campaign.
The Lakers did not go away quietly and cut the Canisius lead to two early in the third period when Jones scored on the power play. Mercyhurst’s tally just 58 seconds into the final frame pulled the team within two, 4-2.
Canisius, however, sealed the contest with the game’s final three goals for the 7-2 win. Freeman started the run with his 12th tally of the season, scoring with 12:57 remaining in the final period. The sophomore finished off a 2-on-1 rush as the Griffs reclaimed their three-goal advantage, 5-2. Gibbons and Parker both registered an assist on the score.
Just over a minute later, Lindsay added to the Canisius lead, scoring his third goal of the season. The senior captain sent a shot past the Mercyhurst netminder from the right boards with the assist going to sophomore Carl Larsson (Anderstorp, Sweden) at the 8:17 mark of the third period.
Parker then finished the scoring for the night, netting his third goal of the season with 5:18 left in regulation. While on the power play, the senior defender fired a shot into the net from the right face-off circle for the 7-2 final score. Gibbons and Danford both recorded assists as Canisius secured its first Atlantic Hockey Championship.
The Lakers finished the game with a 36-26 advantage in shots but Canisius won the special teams battle. The Griffs converted 3-of-6 power-play chances with Mercyhurst going 1-for-5 with the extra-man advantage.
Jordan Tibbett and Max Strang combined for 19 saves for the Lakers with Tibbett taking the loss in net.
Canisius now awaits its opponent in the NCAA Tournament. The selection show will air on Sunday night at 9 p.m., televised by ESPNU.
Game Notes: The five-goal margin of victory matches the championship record, while the seven tallies scored are the most in an Atlantic Hockey final … Gibbons now leads all players in the country with 17 points (5g, 12a) during the month of March (eight games played), while Freeman is tied for the national lead with eight tallies during the month … Gibbons now has 42 points on 20 goals and 22 assists this season. His 42 points are tied for the third most in a single season in the program’s Division I history, while his 20 tallies are tied for fourth … The Griffs have scored at least four goals in seven of the eight games during the winning streak. Canisius netted four goals in just six of their first 34 contests … Overall, the Griffs are averaging 4.50 goals per game during the eight-game streak after averaging just 2.18 tallies per in the first 34 contests … The eight-game winning streak extends the program’s Division I record and matches the school’s overall record set during the 1992-93 campaign.