By Budd Bailey, Buffalo Sports Page Columnist
Canisius College goaltender Jacob Barczewski had a big problem after leading his team to a 1-0 victory over Air Force on Saturday in the LECOM Harborcenter.
How do you split a puck 19 different ways?
It was the freshman’s first career shutout, but to be fair everyone who touched the ice deserved a bit of a reward after the game.
“I got the game puck,” Barczewski said. “It’s definitely special, but I think we share this shutout with the guys. It’s not just me. They battled for the full 60, and it arguably was one of the best 60s we’ve put together this year. I’m so proud of these guys.”
Barczewski finished with 21 saves as Canisius played perhaps its best defensive game of the season in earning a much-needed victory over the Falcons.
“They’ve been good for me all year,” the goalie said about his team. “They keep guys on the perimeter. Tonight was a little bit of a special moment with the shutout, but nothing changes. We keep guys on the outside and let me see the shot. If we play like that, the things we can do are unbelievable.”
“It felt strong,” coach Trevor Large said. “Structure was strong. Effort was great. When I think about how we played, we definitely played together. It felt like Air Force wasn’t able to get momentum or any scoring chances. When I think about defensive game for us, that’s what it is going to take. At that time the offense was good, so it’s a nice complete game for us.”
Hard work’s reward
The shutout was a nice reward for the O’Fallon, Missouri, native. Saturday’s game was his 16th start of the season. Barczewski had some growing pains early in the season, when the Golden Griffins (now 8-15-5, 7-10-5 Atlantic Hockey) were playing some top-notch out of conference opponents. This can only encourage him that he’s on the right track.
“It’s honestly felt like he’s played really well in the New Year,” Large said. “I thought about it afterwards, and I was a little surprised it was his first shutout because he’s played so strong. For him and everybody, it’s a confidence builder. You can go in and play against a quality opponent and absolutely shut him down. … There are games where he’s been our rock. Tonight he didn’t have to be outstanding, but he deserved the shutout because he was solid in net.”
The teams played the usual back-to-back schedule over the weekend, and it took little time for Canisius to show that this was going to be a different game than the one on Friday that resulted in a shootout loss to Air Force. The Griffins started slowly in the first game, but were airtight in their approach Saturday in outshooting their opponents, 11-4, in the opening 20 minutes.
Even better, one of those 11 shots went in. Lee Lapid took a pass from Austin Alger on the right side, sped by an Air Force defenseman, and had time to consider his next move. It was a good one as Lapid scored his ninth of the season less than 12 minutes into the game.
If you showed up late, you missed all of the scoring – because the teams were done putting names on the scoresheet. That’s not to say that there weren’t some good chances along the way. There were a few goalposts in both directions, and at one point Air Force goalie Alex Schilling carried the puck only the goal line a split second after the official had blown the whistle to stop play.
By the middle of the third period, it became a question of whether the Griffins could hold for the win. Large knows that it doesn’t take too much to turn a one-goal lead into a no-goal lead.
“It felt like we were ahead by more than 1-0, but it was reality that it was 1-0,” he said. “There were some moments late in the second when emotions started to get high. You could feel a little bit of frustration creeping in, but it subsided very quickly. I was very happy that we were able to calm that down, and go out and play.”
A good weekend’s work
The win meant that Canisius earned four points for the weekend in the Atlantic Hockey standings – three on Saturday for the win and one on Friday for the extra-time loss. With the calendar flipping to February a week ago, the attention of coaches and players starts to turn to March – and the conference tournament.
“We start counting down games and looking at the standings,” Large said. “Are the matchups there? Are you on the road or are you home? We obviously want to climb. We’ve been able to win a lot of hockey games recently. We’re absolutely playing a lot better as the playoffs approach. That’s the point of the regular season. You’re naïve if you don’t admit it – you start watching the standings now.”
Canisius is tied for eighth with Holy Cross, but it is only six points behind fifth-place Bentley. There are six games left on the conference schedule, and all the teams hope to improve their seeding for the Atlantic hockey postseason event that will end in Buffalo on March 20-21.
It won’t be easy for Canisius to improve its position. American International, the conference leader at 15-5-1, comes to town next weekend for two games. But Barczewski at least has demonstrated what the Golden Griffins need to do. If you don’t give up any goals, it’s really difficult to lose.
(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)