USAF Academy, Colo. - Junior defender Duncan McKellar scored 68 seconds into overtime to lead the seventh-seeded Canisius College hockey team to a two-game sweep at second-seeded and two-time defending champion Air Force on Saturday night. The Griffs posted the 4-3 overtime victory to win their sixth-straight game - the team's longest winning streak since the 1999-00 campaign - and improve to 17-18-5. The Falcons finish their season with a 17-13-7 mark.
Just over a minute into the extra session, Air Force attempted to clear the puck out of its zone. However, McKellar intercepted the pass at the blue line. The junior then faked a shot to get a defender on the ice, skated around him and fired a shot from the left boards. The puck deflected off another Falcon defender, going in the air and over the Falcons' Jason Torf in goal. The puck dropped six inches beyond the goal line, sending the Griffs to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals for the third time in school history.
"We showed a lot of grit and a lot of resiliency tonight in a game that Air Force played really well," said Canisius head coach Dave Smith. "Those characteristics are why we won the game and advanced to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals."
It marks just the second time in 32 all-time Atlantic Hockey series that the road team emerged victorious - the Griffs also won as a five seed at fourth-seeded Mercyhurst in 2010. Canisius also became the first team in league history to win two rounds to advance to the Atlantic Hockey Semifinals. All it took was winning at second-seeded Air Force, who won each of the last two league championships and five of the last six.
Senior Preston Shupe, junior Kyle Gibbons and sophomore Matthew Grazen all added goals for the Griffs as the team rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the second period.
Junior Tony Capobianco was once again outstanding in net. The junior netminder stopped a career-best 50 shots, establishing a new Division I postseason record for the Griffs.
The Griffs grabbed the early advantage in the game thanks to Shupe's 16th tally of the season. Freshman Ralph Cuddemi chipped the puck up to Shupe on the boards and the senior dodged an Air Force defender to set up a 2-on-1 break. The captain finished it himself for the early 1-0 lead. Sophomore defender Doug Jessey also recorded an assist on the goal 6:13 into the contest.
The Falcons, however, controlled possession during the first period with 22 shots on goal and eventually found the back of the net with 1:56 left in the opening stanza. On a 2-on-2 rush, Air Force crossed up the Canisius defenders and Ben Carey redirected a pass into the back of the net after getting a step past his defenseman.
Air Force then took its first lead of the series 2:21 into the second frame. A loose puck squirted out to the blue line and Adam McKenzie fired a shot in for the 2-1 advantage. McKenzie then extended the Falcons lead to two, scoring on the power play just after a two-man advantage expired with a blast that found the back of the net with 8:35 left in the period.
Gibbons pulled the Griffs within one with his team-leading 18th goal of the season with 3:27 remaining in the second. Junior Patrick Sullivan drew a power play in the corner and then found Gibbons open in the right face-off circle. The junior then roofed a shot into the net for the 3-2 score. Senior defender Ben Parker also recorded an assist on the tally.
The game remained a 3-2 score until late in the third period when Grazen tied the contest with his eighth goal of the season. From the left boards, senior Torrey Lindsay found freshman Stephen Miller with room in the slot. The rookie had his shot blocked but the puck found Grazen in the right face-off circle and the sophomore beat the Air Force netminder near post for the 3-3 tie, setting up McKellar's overtime heroics.
Air Force finished the game with a 53-25 advantage in shots but Canisius was able to score on its last two shots of the game and Capobianco stood strong to anchor the Griffs defense. The Falcons were also 1-for-6 on the power play, while killing all three Canisius extra-man chances.
Torf recorded 21 saves in the defeat for Air Force.
Canisius now turns its attention toward the league's semifinals. The Griffs will square off with top-seeded and local rival Niagara on Friday in Rochester with a trip to the Atlantic Hockey Championship on the line.
Game Notes: The Griffs have the longest winning streak in the country ... The last time that Canisius won six-straight games was from Dec. 4, 1999 to Jan. 15, 2000 ... The assist for Cuddemi was his first even-strength point of his career. He entered the game with six points (2g, 4a), all on the power play ... The Griffs entered the weekend winless in their last five games against Air Force (0-5-5) ... Canisius was 1-2-0 against Niagara during the 2012-13 campaign.