Springfield, MA- Playoff hockey leads to the most emotional contests. In this heavily altered, almost miraculous to have happened at all season, Canisius College and the United States Military Academy combined for possibly the most emotionally charged game of the entire season. The Golden Griffins and Black Knights met in the Atlantic Hockey Semi-Finals and etched a memorable chapter into the tournament’s lore.
Canisius controlled the offensive pace of the opening period, with an 11-8 margin in the shots column. However, Army netted the frame’s only tally. That goal came 15:06 into the opening stanza when freshman Jake Felker netted his third goal of the season.
The Golden Griffins cranked up the offense in the second period. Boucherville, Quebec, native Simon Gravel struck first at the 6:02 mark of the frame. Then, following a John Laurito cross checking minor, Mitchell Martan potted a power play goal to put Canisius ahead 2-1.
Both teams stepped up their intensity in the third period. Army took the first crack with two goals. Thomas Farrell potted his fifth goal this season 1:51 into the frame. Then, with 10:04 left in regulation, Matt Berkowitz scored to put Army ahead with one step to go before Saturday’s Championship game. The Black Knights never took that last step.
Ricky Lyle Jr. took a boarding minor and Canisius capitalized. Freshman Max Kouznetsov found space and landed his fourth goal of the season with 5:53 left in regulation. Neither team found the net again in regular time. So the game needed overtime.
Both teams had chances in the extra session. Both had 11 attempted shots. Army had slightly more shots on net, 6-4. But the Golden Griffins had final say.
With 6:37 left in regulation, Cooper Haar forced a turnover at Army’s blue line. The freshman gained the zone and sent the puck to a fresh off the bench JD Pogue. The junior from Montreal, Quebec, glided to the circle and fired the game winner past Army goalie Trevin Kozlowski; his fifth and biggest goal of the season for a 4-3 Canisius win in classic fashion.
Army drops to 15-6-1 and ends their 13 game unbeaten streak.
Colin Bilek recorded an assist but snapped his eight game goal streak.
Trevin Kozlowski stopped 27 of 31 shots.
The Knights entered the weekend ranked 19th nationally and knocking on the door of the program’s first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. A win on Friday could have secured a bid. A loss, however, coupled with upset runs like UMass Lowell’s in Hockey East and Northern Michigan in the WCHA put that chance in serious jeopardy.
Combined with Army’s reality of post hockey life and Canisius Head Coach Trevor Large having coached at West Point under Head Coach Brian Riley, the postgame handshake line was a respectful and almost somber affair. Canisius returned to celebrate in the locker room after while the entire Army team stayed on the ice for 15 minutes after. Some players stayed in uniform and sat on the bench after the postgame team gathering in the locker room.
See how much this means for these @ArmyWP_Hockey players. For these seniors, it’s not just the end of hockey. It’s the end of a more normal life. Tucker DeYoung, John Laurito, Trevin Kozlowski, John Zimmerman, Cody Fleckensetein, and Kevin Dinesen are going to service in the Army pic.twitter.com/9neGnc7osw
“Sports can be pretty cruel,” mused Brian Riley. “A week ago we were on top of the world with the triple OT win. And today I think we hit rock bottom.”
“The seniors don’t want to take off the uniform. For our guys, this is it. They don’t get to come back for a fifth year. There is no pro hockey for them. This sport that they played all their lives is what got them to West Point. And they’re officers after this.”
If indeed this is the end for Army, Trevin Kozlowski, John Laurito, Mason Kreuger, and Captains Matt Berkovitz, John Zimmerman, and Cody Fleckenstein have played their last hockey games. They will graduate and be commissioned as Second Lieutenants in the United States Army.
“There is so much more than the game of hockey in this conference,” commented Canisius Head Coach Trevor Large after the game. “Getting to play Army is one of those things.”
Canisius improves to 11-5-0 with the win.
Jacob Barczewski stopped 26 of 29 shots.
“It took everything we had to beat a very good Army team tonight,” noted Large. They came out unbelievable. A ton of respect for the Army hockey team. It just so happened that it was a great play by Cooper Haar and JD Pogue came off the bench to score the goal we all want to score.”
It’s been a tough season for everyone” commented JD Pogue.” We put a lot of blood sweat and tears in order to get here. And we wanted to leave it all on the ice tonight. Anyone could’ve won tonight.”
Canisius advances to the program’s first Atlantic Hockey Championship game since 2014 and looks for the program’s first Conference Tournament Title since 2013. They’ll face American International College on Saturday night in Springfield.
“We need to relish the win,” said Large. “We absolutely need to celebrate it now. I talked to the team and said ‘what time are we going to stop celebrating and then lock in on the next game?’. We’ve chosen a time. I won’t tell you the time but when that comes, we will lock all of our attention on AIC.”
Puck drops at 7 pm at the MassMutual Center. The winner secured the Atlantic’s automatic NCAA Tournament bid.