BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – The Griffins are Golden once again.

Nick Bowman’s second period goal ended up being the game-winner, as Canisius defeated Holy Cross 3-0 to claim their second ever Atlantic Hockey championship and NCAA Tournament berth in front of a packed Harborcenter on Saturday night.

It marks the Griffs’ first conference title and NCAA Tournament appearance since 2013.

“It was an unbelievable hockey game, it took everybody, it took everything we had,” Canisius head coach Trevor Large said. “It’s special to share with all players, staff, alumni, administration, all of the above. It’s a great day to be a Griff.”

The game-winning goal came just under 18 minutes into a second period that saw Holy Cross on the front foot for the majority of it.

After the Crusaders had multiple dangerous chances throughout the second, the Griffs came the other way and made something out of what had been a fairly dull period offensively. Defenseman Jackson Decker laid off a pass for Bowman, whose one-timer from the left faceoff dot rocketed past Holy Cross goalie Jason Grande to put Canisius ahead. David Melaragni picked up the secondary assist on the tally.

“Head down, just shoot it as hard as I could,” Bowman said of his eventual game-winning goal. “I’ve taken a lot [of those shots] but it never hits the net. I don’t know what my shooting percentage is on that, but it’s the one that counts.”

Bowman was named to the All-Tournament team, alongside fellow Griffs Barczewski, Decker and Keaton Mastrodonato.

While the Griffs exited the second with the lead thanks to Bowman’s goal, Barczewski’s integral saves in key moments throughout the game played just as important of a role.

The senior goalie was phenomenal all night, posting his second shutout of the postseason on Atlantic Hockey’s biggest stage. His 24 saves on the game put him over 200 total in this year’s Atlantic Hockey tournament, making him the fifth goalie in conference history to achieve that feat.

Arguably his most impressive set of saves came in the second period just prior to the Griffs’ opening goal, when a flurry of three shots in a matter of seconds all came his way – but the Missouri native was up for the challenge on all of them, making strong reaction stops on each.

His stellar play throughout the tournament, that included a remarkable 1.14 goals against average and .963 save percentage in seven games, earned him the competition’s most outstanding player award.

“I know my job every night: to give these guys a chance,” Barczewski said. “I just go in there and whenever the guys are blocking shots and giving me clear lanes it makes my job a lot easier … It’s just an unbelievable feeling, and I just couldn’t be more proud of all of our guys.”

It was not always smooth sailing for Canisius this season, who at one point had a record of 5-12-2 in January. However, the group persevered, going 7-2-0 over the final nine regular season games to secure the No. 4 seed in the conference tournament and, eventually, a championship.

“I think we were sitting in eighth place [in February],” Large said. “I think our guys felt it, there was a buzz around our team that we felt like we were better than what that record was. We had some games in hand that we got back to even and all of a sudden we started jumping teams. Really our guys built a lot of confidence with winning hockey games, but when you look back to the beginning of February, it was much different. But I do feel like our team has been ready for this.”

Despite some nervy moments throughout Saturday’s game, the theme of the Griffs’ perseverance and resilience held true.

“It takes everybody to get here,” Large said. “You’re going to get adversity, but our guys definitely smiled in the face and were ready.”

Barczewski and the Griffs were able to see out the rest of Holy Cross’ chances throughout the third period, and unassisted empty net goals from Markus Boguslavsky and Mastrodonato sealed the Canisius victory. Their sound defensive effort was a reflection of their entire tournament run, as they didn’t allow more than two goals against in any of their seven tournament games.

For the Crusaders, who hit two posts on the night and missed on multiple quality looks from the slot, their valiant playoff run as a No. 7 seed that included an upset of top-seeded RIT in the semifinals came to a tough end.

“It was a great hockey game,” Holy Cross coach Bill Riga said. “Could’ve gone either way. They got that one and we just hit a few posts and couldn’t find a way to get one past Barczewski. He was the MVP.”

On Sunday, Canisius officially found out their NCAA Tournament opponent and destination: they’ll be the No. 16 seed and face off with the nation’s top team, the Minnesota Golden Gophers, in the Fargo, N.D. regional semifinal. The best-of-one, single elimination matchup is scheduled for 9 p.m. EST on March 23, and the victor will take on the winner of Minnesota State and St. Cloud State in the regional final.

The Golden Gophers (26-9-1) present quite the formidable foe for the Griffs, and have been led all season by two first-round selections in this past NHL Draft: Logan Cooley (Arizona) and Jimmy Snuggerud (St. Louis).

However, despite how talented Minnesota appears on paper, the red hot Griffs are confident they’ll be ready.

“We have a special group, there’s no doubt about it,” Bowman said. “We’re just going to go in, prepare like we always do, believe in our abilities.”

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.