It certainly appeared that Air Force and Canisius were headed to overtime in their Atlantic Hockey quarterfinal series opening game at Cadet Ice Arena. After all, that's what these two teams do. Five of the past ten meetings between the schools had ended in ties. So when Air Force's Tony Thomas redirected a Dan Weissenhofer slap shot past Canisius goalie Tony Capobianco with 1:08 remaining, it looked like extra hockey was in the offing.
Thomas's goal was short-handed, but came with an extra attacker, as Falcon goalie Jason Torf had been pulled, already for the second time. Unfortunately for the Falcons, Canisius still had plenty of time on their power play, and Kyle Gibbons found an open net from low in the left circle with ten seconds left for the winner, giving the Golden Griffins a 4-3 victory and a leg up in the series. Gibbons goal came after Mitch McCrank's shot was tipped by Cody Freeman. The puck went right to Gibbons, and Torf had no chance at moving to his right in time to make a save.
"In the playoffs, if you chase scoreboards, especially against a good defensive team, it's usually not a good recipe," said Falcon head coach Frank Serratore, referring to the fact that Air Force never had a lead in the game. Canisius took a one-goal lead three times, but Air Force fought back to tie the score each time.
"He's not gonna let the first shot in, most times," Falcon winner Ryan Timar said of Capobianco, who is one of the better goalies in the conference. "So the key is to get rebounds." Which is how Kyle DeLaurell got the Falcons' first goal, scoring off a rebound of a Cole Gunner shot at 6:36 of the second period. Stephen Carew tied the game again later in the period by sweeping around the Canisius defense and beating Capobianco between the pads.
In the third, Patrick Sullivan score his second goal of the night, and the first power play goal for the Griffins, in a scramble in front of the net. Sullivan was credited with an unassisted goal when it was determined that the Falcons' Thomas actually tipped the puck into the net. That set the stage for the mental roller coaster of the last two minutes.
"We can't really describe it in words. So high, so low," said Timar. "We have to tighten some things up, especially in the defensive end. They got two power play goals, so we gotta figure that out, too."
Game two of the best-of-three series is tonight at 7 pm. Since joining Atlantic Hockey in 2006, Air Force has lost just one elimination game in the playoffs. That came in a semifinal loss to Sacred Heart in 2010. The Falcons will now need to win two straight to earn a seventh consecutive trip to the conference final four.
Colorado College also fell behind one game to none in their first round WCHA playoff series. The Tigers dropped a 5-3 decision in Denver. Game two of that series will be a 7 pm at Magness Arena in Denver.