By Sam Brouwere
On Senior Night (Feb. 23), the Griffs defeated the Mercyhurst Lakers, 4-0, to wrap up their regular season schedule.
The Griffs came into the game riding a 14-game unbeaten streak. Junior defenseman Jack Stander started the scoring for the Griffs, scoring 4:17 into the first period. Just over three minutes later, junior forward Ryan Schmelzer scored the game’s second goal on the power play. Sophomore defenseman Cameron Heath scored the team’s second power play goal of the game for the Griffs with 1:16 remaining in the first. The Griffs converted on two of their three power play opportunities. Freshman forward Jesse Pereira put the game away for Canisius scoring a with 7:40 remaining in the second period. The win extended the Griffs’ unbeaten streak to a nation-best 15 games.
Junior goaltender Brandon Wildung started the game in net for the Lakers, but was replaced after allowing the three goals in the first period. Colin Augustine, Wildung’s replacement, stopped 34 shots while coming in relief. Canisius’ Charles Williams started the game for the Griffs making 32 saves, earning yet another shutout. The win moved Williams’ record to 19-6-5.
“Our guys did a really good job of resetting after each period tonight,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith told gogriffs.com. “Mercyhurst has a lot of skill; they took a lot of pucks to the net tonight, but we didn’t give them any second-chance opportunities. We had to bear down tonight to get this win.
“Our power play looked really strong tonight. Those were two big power play goals for us in the first. I also thought our penalty kill set the tone tonight. We gained some confidence and then we reset. We came out in the second period and played really well. We threw 20 shots on net; we established the way we wanted to play a little bit bet in the second period. In the first period, Mercyhurst had an advantage statistically, and we had to refocus and reset, and we did that.”
Senior captain Geoff Fortman had an assist for the Griffs in his last regular season game at HARBORCENTER.
“The Mercyhurst win was definitely a good win for us,” stated Fortman. “It was our only game from that weekend, so it was easier for us by knowing that we could put everything into one game, but to see our team finish off the regular season the way we did was a good sign. Two weeks later, we have to create momentum over again, so we’re happy about it, but we’ve put it behind us and we are looking forward.”
The Griffs also clinched the Atlantic Hockey Title for the regular season when the Air Force Falcons were lost in overtime to the Sacred Heart Pioneers the following night. This is the first time Canisius has won the Atlantic Hockey title.
The Griffs were picked to finish ninth in the preseason Atlantic Hockey poll, giving many a surprise with how well they performed this season.
“I think it shows just how much maturity that we gained throughout the season, how much we grew as a young team,” Fortman said. “We never looked too far into the preseason polls because they’re always wrong, or almost always wrong. It’s not because the people that make the polls are dumb; it’s just because it is very unpredictable about what’s going to happen. Knowing that, we understood at the beginning of the year that what we were returning was very uncertain, but I think, as a team, we showed that we learned the lessons that we needed to learn and we exceeded expectations.”
The Griffs also had four players named to the All-Atlantic Hockey teams. Williams was named to the All-AHC first team; he led the league in goals against average (1.69), save percentage (.947), wins (18), and shutouts (5). Schmelzer and Heath were named to the All-AHC second team. Schmelzer ranked ninth in the league in points (27) and sixth in assists (17), scoring a league-high four game-winning goals. Heath was tied for fourth in goals amongst the league’s defensemen (7). Sophomore forward Dylan McLaughlin was named to the All-AHC third team after scoring 27 points this season.
The Griffs definitely had a lot of success during the regular season, which many did not see coming.