McKellar's OT winner completes sweep of Air Force; Canisius to Atlantic semis
USAF ACADEMY, Colo. -- Duncan McKellar scored 68 seconds into overtime to lead seventh-seeded Canisius 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 consecutive 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.
A little more than 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. He 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 Falcons 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 [Saturday night] in a game that Air Force played really well,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith said. “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, which had won five of the past six league championships.
Preston Shupe, Kyle Gibbons and Matthew Grazen all added goals for the Griffs as the team rallied from a two-goal deficit late in the second period.
Tony Capobianco was once again outstanding in net. He 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. Ralph Cuddemi chipped the puck to Shupe on the boards and he dodged an Air Force defender to set up a 2-on-1 break. Shupe finished it himself for the early 1-0 lead. 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 18:04 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. Patrick Sullivan drew a power play in the corner and then found Gibbons open in the right faceoff circle. He then roofed a shot into the net for the 3-2 score. 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, Torrey Lindsay found Stephen Miller with room in the slot. Miller had his shot blocked but the puck found Grazen in the right faceoff circle and Grazen beat Torf near-post for the 3-3 tie, setting up McKellar’s overtime winner.
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 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, N.Y., with a trip to the Atlantic Hockey championship on the line.