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by Joe Ray / Buffalo Sabres
Canisius vs. Ohio State @ HARBORCENTER - October 31, 2014 (Photo: Bill Wippert)

Only 22 seconds into the game, Nolan Sheeran zipped a pass between two defenders to Shane Conacher, who sped down the left wing and buried a shot five-hole. The 2,000 fans in attendance at the first official event in the brand-new HARBORCENTER had not even quieted down from the opening faceoff, and the building continued to shake with excitement after the goal.

“I said, ‘If I’m getting the first goal, I’m jumping right into the ‘C-Block’ [fan section],’” explained Conacher. “I had to dangle a few of my teammates to jump into the boards there.”

Goals by Doug Beck and Jack Stander helped power Canisius’ effort in front of the sold-out crowd, but Ohio State generated just enough offense to force a 3-3 tie on Friday.

Conacher’s early goal was followed up 1:27 later to double the Canisius lead. Beck caught Ohio State goaltender Christian Frey out of position and converted on a wraparound attempt.

Matt Johnson and Luke Stork scored for Ohio State to even the score at 2-2 in the second period. Freshman defenseman Stander scored his first goal as a Griffin during an extended four-on-four in the third period to make it 3-2, with a spin-o-rama move from Conacher creating the space to set up the assist.

After having one goal overturned on replay, Derek Gust found the equalizer for Ohio State with four minutes to play.

Goaltender Keegan Asmundson stood his ground in overtime as Ohio State peppered the Griffs with numerous chances late, but neither team could break through in the extra period.

It was amazing, you couldn’t ask for a better start. It was pretty insane when Conacher got that goal.Nolan Sheeran

From the pre-game warmups all the way to the final whistle, the atmosphere was electric inside Rink 1 at HARBORCENTER. Canisius students packed the rink to capacity on Halloween night and made sure the Griffs established home-ice advantage early and often.

“The crowd was great,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith said. “The energy in the building was noticeable to the point that before the first puck drop, the referee came over and said, ‘There’s so much energy in here, we don’t want to take it away.’”

“It was amazing, you couldn’t ask for a better start,” said Sheeran. “It was pretty insane when Conacher got that goal.”

The Buffalo Jr. Sabres, one of Canisius’ co-tenants at HARBORCENTER, are well-represented on the Griffs roster. Sheeran’s two assists on Friday give him seven points in six games. He’s off to a red-hot start to this season after moving to center between Conacher and Ralph Cuddemi.

Former Jr. Sabres Ryan Schmelzer and Josh Kielich set up Beck’s wraparound goal that gave Canisius a 2-0 lead just 1:49 into the game. For Schmelzer, it was his first point with Canisius.

With Sheeran and Schmelzer fresh off stellar campaigns with the Buffalo Jr. Sabres, the early contributions from them and the rest of Canisius’ freshman class have added a significant dimension to this lineup.

“All of those guys really did a wonderful job,” Smith said of freshman like Sheeran, Schmelzer, and Stander. “You see the contributions of a guy like (Ryan) Schmelzer who’s asked to do so much. You really need those contributions from your freshman. You need freshman to contribute. When you have that, you have depth.”

With Canisius and the Jr. Sabres now sharing a home, a relationship is set up where players can have the chance to develop as hockey players from youth levels all the way through college.

“Because we have such nice facilities, that will help the Jr. Sabres bring in players, help them have a better team, and it will be better for people to come and watch the Jr. Sabres,” Sheeran said. “It’s beneficial for both teams.”

The Griffs and Buckeyes will return to HARBORCENTER on Saturday for a 7:35 p.m. showdown. Based on Friday’s atmosphere, it should be easy for Canisius to carry the momentum from an action-packed opening night.

“Nothing was really decided tonight, so the race just gets extended a little bit,” Smith said. “We need to play with the same passion and intensity to continue to have the demeanor to win through the ups-and-downs of a game. Now we’ve got to be the hungrier dogs.”

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