By Adam Duke
With a .946 save percentage and a 15-6-4 overall record, Canisius goaltender Charles Williams has stepped up to lead the team to first place in the Atlantic Hockey Conference.
The Griffs, who are 14-4-5 in Atlantic Hockey, currently hold a one-point advantage over the Air Force Falcons, who possess a 15-5-2 record. The Griffs also have an advantage over the Falcons, as they went unbeaten in their January series in Denver.
Last weekend, the Griffs hosted the Army West Point Black Knights at HARBORCENTER. In their first meetings with the Black Knights, the Griffs dropped both games, losing 3-0 and 5-2. The second time around, the Griffs were better prepared. Williams recorded a shutout in a 4-0 win for the Griffs, stopping 29 shots.
Less than a minute into the second period, junior Ryan Schmelzer netted the game’s first goal to give the Griffs the lead, which they never surrendered. Halfway through the contest, freshman Casey Jerry scored Canisius’ second goal while on the power play. Junior Mike Sabatini put the game away, scoring his first goal in the middle of the third period before getting an empty netter in the closing minutes.
The Griffs put up a total of 34 shots offensively, while blocking 13 shots attempted by Army. Sophomore Jimmy Mazza blocked four shots by the Black Knights.
“It was huge. We’re more focused on what we have to do for the season in terms of getting two points over the weekend,” said Williams. “That’s our number one goal, and when we keep that goal and we stay steadfast toward that goal, it helps us a lot and we end up playing very well.”
Head coach Dave Smith commented on the team’s play, saying that it was noticeable how hard the offense went to the net. He acknowledged how tough of a team Army is and how the four goals the Griffs scored, including the empty net goal, were all through extreme effort.
“When you have that kind of effort going to the net against a good team, you get rewarded,” he said.
Smith also spoke on Williams’ effort in net and the extraordinary saves to keep the game tied at 0-0 early on, labeling Williams as “the difference maker”.
On Saturday, the Griffs attempted to repeat their Friday night success but after allowing goals late in the first period and early on in the second, the Griffs had to battle back in the latter portion of the game.
In the waning moments of the second period, sophomore Dylan McLaughlin put the Griffs on the board, narrowing the Army’s lead. Likewise, in the closing minutes of the third, sophomore Cameron Heath dished to junior Jeff Murray, who was able to put the puck behind Black Knights goaltender Parker Gahagen to knot the game at two, where the score would stay 2-2 through a scoreless overtime period. Once again, Williams stopped 29 shots.
In Saturday’s contest, the Griffs took 42 shots at Gahagen, as Heath led the team with five. The 42 shots mark the most the Griffs have taken in a single game this season.
With regards to the second matchup, Smith said that the Golden Griffins are a proud group and that after being challenged with the deficit after the Black Knights put in some tough goals, the team showed resiliency to fight back.
“We had to show a lot of pride and a lot of effort to come back. It’s nice to know you have that in you,” said Smith. “It’s not the way we had planned the game to go, but we had to respond, pick it up, and really work hard to get the tie.”
Williams said that going forward, the team must continue to put in work at practice every chance they get. He continued, saying that they look to get the most out of any situation they are put into and that as the Griffs near the playoffs, it gets increasingly important.
This weekend, the Griffs travel to Fairfield, Conn. to take on the Sacred Heart Pioneers in AHC action. The Griffs currently hold the nation’s longest undefeated streak, with their last loss coming 11 games ago in a 2-1 contest at home against the 16th ranked St. Lawrence University Saints.