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Sweep Trick: Ice Griffs take all six from Sacred Heart

By: Jay Ashdown

Steady offense and brick-wall goaltending helped pace the Golden Griffins to a pair of 3-1 victories over the Sacred Heart Pioneers this weekend. On Friday night, it was John Hawthorne as head coach Trevor Large rewarded him for his incredible start at Niagara with another chance between the pipes. In return, Hawthorne rewarded Large with another impeccable start, as he turned aside a career-high 38 shots in the win.

"Deciding to go with Hawthorne tonight was one of the easier decisions that I've had this season,” Large said after the win. “He was really good at Niagara. We really made that decision after that weekend. There's not an evaluation that's required during the week. It was a pretty easy decision to go with Hawthorne again tonight and he proved me right.”

Hawthorne’s performance was unique, because the first shot he faced from Sacred Heart’s John Jaworski trickled under his blocker and into the back of the net not even two minutes into the contest. From there, he stopped the remaining 38 shots he saw.

“It’s funny, because that’s something we’ve worked on all week,” said Hawthorne. “We knew they’d be a really good team off the rush, we knew that they’d have some chances. Part of being a goalie is starting on time and maybe I didn’t do that tonight but also part of it is just being in the moment and being a part of the process.”

While the Pioneers did maintain a solid pace of play for the majority of the sixty minutes, it was the Griffs who came up victorious. Sacred Heart outshot Canisius 39-21 and had a large edge in offensive zone time, but the Griffs held their ground due to their strong goaltending as well as their discipline.

“I'm sure when we watch the game film back, we'll see what everybody in the rink saw, which was that Sacred Heart had the majority of the play,” Large said. “But we just talked about it as a staff; it was a credit to us for the fact that even though Sacred Heart had possession a lot, we were not reaching or taking penalties. They're trying to build momentum and they're gaining some from their play, but we didn't put them on the power play. Any power play that they got tonight, we did a really good job on the penalty kill. That has been a big focus of ours. But our discipline was needed tonight. Our guys were unbelievable in that area. In a game that Sacred Heart had the best of us in terms of the play, we didn't let the guys in black and white have to put us in the box and give Sacred Heart any additional momentum.”

After the Sacred Heart goal, Canisius tied it at one when Keaton Mastrodonato deflected a Mitchell Martan pass in the middle of the slot inside the post. It was a funky looking goal, as it surprised goaltender Justin Robbins, but it gave the Griffs some momentum and helped settle things down.

The Griffs grabbed a 2-1 lead with some good offensive zone time. David Melaragni took a drop pass at the blueline and walked to the top of the circle and fired a wrist shot that Max Kouznetsov deflected past Robbins, giving them the lead. Canisius took the lead into the locker room, and they held on the rest of the way.

The second and third period was much of the same for both sides, as Sacred Heart continued to control play, but could not solve Hawthorne. Their time ran out when Jake Witkowski forced a turnover in the Griffs defensive end and flipped the puck off the boards to an area where Ryan Miotto could grab it. Miotto went in with Alex Ambrosio on a 2-on-1 and he fired the puck past Robbins to put the game on ice.

“I had just hopped onto the ice and Witty made a great play to chip it off the wall and from there I just drove the net hard and had some space to shoot,” said Miotto. “I was looking to pass, I was looking at what the defense was doing and they had Ambro covered so I thought it would be a good idea to shoot.”

The win was huge for Canisius, but they still had some business to take care of on Saturday. With Army sweeping Holy Cross, both teams were tied at 40 points in the standings, but the Griffs had a game at hand, with Saturday’s game still looming. With potential home ice-advantage on the line, the Griffs put together a solid effort and took home the sweep with another 3-1 victory.

The win was huge for many reasons, but none bigger than the fact that the Griffs were able to clinch a first round bye and home ice advantage in the Atlantic Hockey Postseason quarterfinals.

In game two, the Griffs were able to turn to a well-rested Jacob Barczewski, and he was his typical self, stopping 29 of 30.

“It's really nice to have two quality goalies on our roster. Both of them showcased their play this weekend,” said Large. “Hawthorne was excellent last night and Barczewski was excellent tonight. It's definitely a confidence builder for everybody knowing that whoever's in net of those two we have a really good chance to win the hockey game.”

The Griffs once again used a balanced attack to find ways to beat Robbins, as Lee Lapid, Alex Ambrosio and Jake Witkowski scored the three goals for Canisius. While the Griffs were outshot again, this time the margin was much closer, and the team played a much better sixty minutes than the night before. Canisius registered 24 shots on goal and they showed the same discipline from the night prior, only taking two minor penalties again.

“Discipline is ultra-important, especially this time of year,” Large said. “We've been able to eliminate a lot of the hooking or slashing-type penalties when we really don't need to. Our guys are very committed to playing our way and that includes having really good discipline and not giving opponents opportunities to get on the power play. Looking forward to the playoffs, discipline is going to be a major component to our success.”

With one series remaining, the Griffs will play against the Mercyhurst Lakers, the second to last team in the Atlantic Hockey standings. If the Griffs can get four points in that series, they will lock up the second seed in the conference as third place Army sits three points behind them, and will take on the Pioneers next weekend. This series will also provide the Griffs with one final series to tune up their game, as they prepare for what will hopefully be another deep playoff run. One thing is for sure as the Griffs head into the playoffs they will have one thing on their minds: vengeance for last year's championship game defeat.

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