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Ice Griffs have eyes set on deep playoff run

By: Jay Ashdown

With only a few seconds left on the 5-minute major call on Mitchell Martan, it looked as if Canisius was going to take momentum back from the AIC Yellow Jackets and make a push to break the 2-2 tie and win the Atlantic Hockey Championship game.

A goal from Yellow Jacket’s forward Chris Theodore changed everything.

The Griffs looked gassed, and just didn’t have enough left in the tank, and their hopes of knocking off AIC and winning their second ever Atlantic Hockey title fell just short. It was an incredible run from the team, one that saw incredible memories from sweeping RIT to current team captain J.D. Pogue’s overtime winner against Army.

Unfortunately, the team left with a bad taste in their mouth.

As the Griffs prepare this weekend to take on the 7th seeded Mercyhurst Lakers, they

only have one thing on their mind. The goal is simple, take it one game at a time, and get back to the title game.

As the race to Utica where the 2022 Atlantic Hockey Association semi-finals and championship games will be played heats up, the Griffs begin their revenge tour by facing one of their rivals who beat them in three of their four matchups this season.

The Griffs have home-ice advantage for this series, as they finished in second place in the conference, only behind the aforementioned AIC Yellow Jackets, who ran away with the regular season title again. The Griffs possess a 9-7-0 record at home this season, but went 0-2 at HarborCenter against Mercyhurst.

The Lakers are the only team to clean sweep Canisius this season, taking all six points two weekends ago to position themselves in a place where they could take on last placed Holy Cross. The Lakers swept Holy Cross by beating them in games one and two by scores of 2-1 in each.

While the Lakers are the 7th seed in the conference, they’re a much more difficult opponent than one might expect. The Lakers with their sweep over Holy Cross have won five straight games. They’ve also won seven of their last eight games, with the one loss coming to the AIC Yellow Jackets. Dating back to January 28, 2022, they’ve won nine of their last twelve.

While this matchup is actually quite difficult to begin with for Canisius, there’s one positive way to look at this series: This is a very good opportunity for Canisius to prepare for a title run. If the Griffs want to hoist the Riley trophy by the end of the playoffs and punch their ticket to the NCAA tournament, they’re going to need to be ready to play against a red-hot Lakers team that has been playing playoff-style hockey for well over two months.

The Lakers are a very stout defensive team that stifles teams offensive attacks and forces them to take low danger scoring opportunities. The Griffs are very similar in that aspect, and that is a component that makes this matchup so interesting. Both teams are averaging 2.9 goals per game on the season, and are shooting slightly above 10% as well. Canisius is shooting at a slightly better 10.7% while Mercyhurst is shooting at 10.3%.

Both teams boast top of the league level goaltending, as Canisius will trot out Jacob Barczewski for his third career postseason run with the team, while Mercyhurst will turn to Kyle McClellan. In 22 starts for the Griffs in conference play, Barczewski went 11-10-1 with a .924% save percentage and a goals against average of 2.41. In 18 starts in conference play for McClellan, he went 8-8-2, boasting an incredible .930% percentage and a 2.67 goals against average.

Goals will be hard to come by in this series, and as a result, the importance of special teams will be amplified even more by both Trevor Large and Rick Gotkin. Whoever wins the special teams battle will have a great chance of winning this series, but the importance of 5-on-5 success will still be imminent.

Both teams possess strong players throughout the lineup, but as far as goals are concerned, both teams will need their top six guys to step up offensively. Up front for Canisius, they will rely yet again on offensive studs like Keaton Mastrodonato, Lee Lapid, Austin Alger, and Mitchell Martan. These four players have been consistent top end guys for the Griffs for the last two seasons. However, Canisius also boasts a young gun who can bring the offense in bunches and be an x-factor for the team in these playoffs.

Sophomore Max Kouznetsov has had an outstanding season, particularly in conference play for the Griffs, leading the team with 19 points on ten goals and nine assists through 23 Atlantic Hockey games played. He will be relied on as well for the team in this series, and his skill around the net will be necessary to beat a goaltender as hot as Kyle McClellan because of his ability to make plays down low.

It’ll be a tough hard-fought series this weekend, but if the Griffs can find a way to beat the Lakers, it could just be the first big step to their second ever Atlantic Hockey Title.

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