PROVIDENCE, R.I. — It was early in the season and while Canisius College was playing some pretty good hockey, it didn’t have a whole lot to show for it in the win column.
That’s when Golden Griffins coach Dave Smith sat down to have a talk with junior goaltender Tony Capobianco.
And that’s when the Griffs’ season started to slowly, and quietly, turn the corner.
At the Dunkin’ Donuts Center on the eve of the first NCAA Tournament appearance for the Griffs against top-seeded Quinnipiac, Capobianco recalled that November meeting.
At that time, Canisius had just two wins and three ties. He went into Smith’s office and was surprised to find a cadre of assistant coaches who talked to him about taking his game from good to great.
“It was definitely a positive meeting,” Capobianco said. “Coach Smith gave me a healthy challenge and I liked the challenge. He challenged me to be a better goalie. After that, we took seven of eight points over the next four games and the confidence just grew from there, from the confidence he showed in me.”
Capobianco worked specifically with assistant coach John Daigneau, who went to the NCAA Tournament four times as a goaltender with Harvard. The two watched tape but more importantly they talked about the mental aspect of the game.
“I think it was more mental,” Capobianco said of his adjustments. “We looked back at the goals. There was one goal against Niagara, the first goal, where I was kind of upright instead of being focused and ready. Just little things like that.
“I asked John Daigneau, ‘what would you think about during the course of a game,’ and he just said, ‘you know what, don’t think about anything. Just go out there and play your game. You have the skill. You have the size. Just go out there. Read the play. Just react to it.’
“Ever since he told me that, it’s really helped me.”
Capobianco responded with one of the best seasons for a goaltender in program history.
This season, he set two school records – most saves in a season (1,220) and most shutouts in a season (four).
He also set the Atlantic Hockey Tournament record with 235 saves, averaging 39.2 saves over the six-game playoff stretch.
He is on pace to set the school record for two more marks – goals-against average for a season (2.35) and save percentage for a season (.930).
And while his level of play gives the rest of the team confidence, so too does his demeanor on and off the ice.
“Goalies are weird,” junior forward Kyle Gibbons said. “You either get one that’s a little crazy or one that’s in the middle or one that’s eh, whatever. I think Capo’s got a good mix of all three.
“He’s not afraid to get on someone for being out of position or telling a guy, ‘hey if you’ve got to step in that lane you’ve got to block that shot.’ But at the same time, if he gives up a weak one, he knows. He’s like ‘My bad there fellas.’ He is very calm and I think that helps us out, especially our defense. ... He keeps us at a level of comfort out there. He’s a good one.”
While Capobianco has been consistently good, and then even great, as the season wore on, it hasn’t been until this last eight-game winning streak that he’s enjoyed consistent goal support.
Canisius averaged just 2.18 goals per game for the majority of the season. Over the last eight games, they’re averaging 4.5.
But for Capobianco, nothing has really changed.
“I think it’s the same. I just know that I’ve got to keep playing my game,” Capobianco said. “If we get down a goal, I have to keep playing my game and make some saves. On this winning streak, we’ve had timely goals. ... It doesn’t really change anything for me. The guys are going to score. I just need to hold [the other team] off and they’ll get it done for me.”