Springfield, MA- Eric Lang and Trevor Large developed as coaches together. Under the tutelage of Army Head Coach Brian Riley, the two developed a close friendship at West Point. On Saturday night, the two tight friends pushed and challenged each other for the 2021 Atlantic Hockey Tournament Championship in Springfield, with the host edging the guest.
AIC controlled the opening frame’s pace. The shots on net were only 8-6 but the attempted shots were 20-9 for the Yellow Jackets. Only the crossbar and several Jacob Barczewski ten-bell saves kept the Yellow Jackets from scoring first. Canisius maximized their chances to take the lead. Extra skater Kevin Obssuth cleaned a puck off the doorstep and potted his third goal of the season to break the ice 8:40 into the game.
The story was more of the similar in the second but with more hitting. AIC dictated the shots 10-4 and beat Barczewski twice. Justin Cole redirected a Chris Dodero shot into the twine 1:21 into the frame. The officials reviewed for a kicked puck, but the goal stood. Golden Griffin Captain Grant Meyer answered with a goal less than two minutes later to restore Canisius lead. But then, everything changed when penalties piled up.
First, Logan Gestro took a hooking minor. Former UNLV player Elijah Barriga wired his second goal of the weekend to tie the game at 2-2. Then in the dying minutes of the frame, Ryan Miotto and Brennan Kapcheck went to the box for two minute matching roughing minors. AIC believed there was an uncalled major against Mitchell Martan for contact to the head. Chris Dodero told his coaches that he was cross checked in the head and Head Coach Eric Lang challenged the call and the officials agreed with the he Yellow Jackets’ assessment. The junior was served with five minutes and a misconduct penalty.
The score didn’t change before intermission, but the penalty carried into the third and AIC capitalized. In the final seconds of the major, Chris Theodore cleaned up a rebound on the doorstep and scored his 4th goal of the season to stake AIC to the lead for good.
The Yellow Jackets outshot Canisius 20-4 in the final frame and out attempted the Griffins 27-7 for the duration of the frame. Stefano Durante stopped all the shots in the frame and 12 of the 14 he faced in the game. The sophomore from Brampton, Ontario drew rave reviews from his coach.
“There’s not a kid I believe in more than that kid,” said Lang. “He’s religious, he’s very spiritual. If we had played two weeks ago, he wouldn’t have played. He was coming off a knee injury. But he won the scrimmages we had, and pitched a shutout in the second scrimmage. He gave me that look of ‘I’m good coach.’”
Chris Dodero and Zack Galambos punched in empty-net goals to put the final score at 5-2. AIC secured their second consecutive Riley Trophy and second straight NCAA Tournament trip.
The All Tournament Team consisted of AIC’s Elijah Barriga, Stefano Durante, Justin Cole, and Brennan Kapcheck, and Canisius’ JD Pogue and Logan Gestro.
Justin Cole, a redshirt junior from Bryn Athyn, PA, was named the Tournament MVP for his two goal weekend, one of which was the Semi-Final winner against Niagara.
“Justin’s picked it up here,” commented Brennan Kapcheck. “He wasn’t always played a skill role. He knows his role and he’s played it well. He’s been one of our most clutch players this season.”
Canisius completes their season with a 11-6-0 record. The Golden Griffins began the season as the 11th ranked team in the preseason polls and completed the season 20 minutes away from winning the Conference Tournament.
“Tough loss to a great team,” observed Canisius Head Coach Trevor Large. “All my energy and thoughts go to our seniors. What I have in me is to thank those guys. I heard them talking to their, I guess now ex, teammates saying to let this one sting and use it as motivation for next season.”
Blake Wareham, Logan Gestro, Matt Long, Austin Alger, and Grant Meyer complete their collegiate careers with Canisius’ first trip to the Atlantic Hockey Championship Game since 2014.
Sophomore goaltender Jacob Barczewski stopped 30 of 33 shots faced.
AIC improves to 15-3-0 on the year.
Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year and Yellow Jacket Captain Brennan Kapcheck recorded three assists for a weekend total of four points.
“We grinded it out and found a way. That’s AIC hockey,” said the captain.