Consistently close games marred by missed chances

By Dominic Chamberlain

Sports Editor

The Griffs 8-9-5 Atlantic Hockey record may not seem good on paper, but there may be more to those numbers than you realize.

Yes that record puts the Griffs sixth in the AHC standings, yes a first round bye in the AHC tournament seems unlikely at this point, and yes 8-9-5 is mediocre record overall but the Griffs seem to possess an ability that helps keep them competitive in the AHC.

That ability, quite simply, is the Griffs consistently play teams close. The Griffs did have some blowout losses earlier in the year, most notably a 6-0 loss that came at the hands of the conference leading Robert Morris Colonials. But thus far in 2016, the Griffs haven’t lost a game by more than two goals. Better yet after losing 6-0 to the Colonials the Griffs bounced back to score six goals of their own the very next night in a 6-2 win. The American International College Yellow Jackets are the only team to beat the Griffs by two goals in 2016 when they won 3-1 on Jan. 02.  

That game against the Yellow Jackets is also the last time that sophomore Reilly Turner started in goal for the Griffs. Since then it’s been the Simon Hofley show. The freshman keeper has shined thus far in 2016, and while he feels the added pressure of being Coach Dave Smith’s go-to-guy, he is certainly up for the challenge.

“Oh absolutely I feel the pressure,” said Hofley, “especially the fact that I’m also a freshman puts a lot of weight on my shoulders but I’ve always been up for a challenge so I love it.”

Hofley was nothing short of sensational when he got called upon to start both games against the AHC’s second ranked team, the Holy Cross Crusaders. Hofley set a career best in saves with 49 in the first match-up. The game ended in a 2-2 draw. Game two was the same story for Hofley when he stopped 42 shots en-route to a 2-1 overtime win.

“Simon has played really well” said Coach Smith, “he’s earned it with his hard work and his work ethic; his compete. He’s played very well.”

Hofley continued his strong play last weekend when the Air Force Falcons came to the HARBORCENTER for a two game series. Both games once again followed 2016s constant theme of keeping the games close. Game one saw a 3-2 Falcons win, with Hofley stopping 28 shots, but the whole game seemed to be decided over an 11 second span of in game time.

Down by a score of 0-1 and with 15:54 left in the second period, Griffs leading scorer and Hobey Baker Award nominee, Shane Conacher was taken down from behind while on a breakaway, resulting in a penalty shot for the Griffs. Conacher was tasked with beating all six feet and five inches of Falcons’ goaltender Shane Starrett. Starrett seemed to cover up the entire net on Conacher’s attempt, resulting in a miss. After the 11 seconds ticked off the game clock, the Griffs had allowed another goal and also found themselves on the penalty kill.

Instead of having a tied game following the penalty shot, the Griffs were now down by two and on the penalty kill with the momentum clearly in the favor of the Falcons. It’s a chance that Conacher wishes he had back.

“I felt crappy about it,” said Conacher, “the first shift (after the penalty shot) they came down on a breakaway and scored. Times like that you got to bear down and I didn’t; I felt like I let the team down a bit there. It’s tough though he’s a big goalie, I didn’t really see much net coming down on him.”

The Griffs never held the lead in this game and after the Falcons scored the opening goal, they maintained at least a one goal lead throughout that game. The chances for the Griffs to lead and win that game were defiantly there. Obviously the penalty shot was a huge chance but the constant drives to the net and set up passes resulted in the Griffs out chancing the Falcons in the loss.

“Friday night we didn’t have as many chances as we would have liked and we still out chanced them,” said Coach Smith, “but we lost. It was one turn of events, we get a penalty shot and don’t score then they come back the next shift, score, and get a power play; so that’s a big momentum boost for them.”

But the game that happened between the Griffs and Falcons 24 hours later was even closer than the first one. The result was a 1-1 tie and the Griffs managed to escape the weekend with a point. Senior Ralph Cuddemi got the game tying goal with just over three minutes left in the third period. Hofley continued his consistent play by allowing one goal on 25 shots.

The Falcons are third in the AHC standings, once again showing that the Griffs, although in the middle of the standings, are able to compete with any team in Atlantic Hockey.

If that doesn’t convince you, look at this. The Griffs have gone into overtime in four of their last five games. That includes the tie to the Falcons, the two games against the second ranked Crusaders and a tie to the rival Niagara Purple Eagles.  With only one overtime win on the season and multiple one goal losses, the Griffs are just as good as any other team, regardless of where they sit in the standings.

Perhaps Coach Smith says it best, “I think our guys expect to win, I think our guys want to win and we’re doing everything we can to try to win. Right now there’s still some areas we need to work on; special teams are one area. That could be the goal a game difference right now. That’s the final hurdle and if we fix it we win all those close games.”

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