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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres
Ralph Cuddemi (Photo:

CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (12-8-6 overall; 11-4-5 Atlantic Hockey)
Ralph Cuddemi and Ryan Schmelzer combined for nine points in Canisius’ two-game sweep over archrival Niagara, a series that featured two very different games that ended with the same result. On Thursday, Canisius pulled away from a third period tie with three goals in the last frame and won 4-1. On Saturday, they staved off a three-goal third period from Niagara to win 6-4.

“There’s a lot of different ways to lose a game, and with our seniors leading the way, we found a couple different ways to win games this weekend,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said Monday. “It’s a nice thing, to be able to find different ways to win when you don’t have certain things going your way and I think that’s a sign of experience and maturity.”

Cuddemi scored two for Canisius on Thursday and was the only Griff on the board when they went into the third period tied at one. He scored again less than two minutes into that frame to swing momentum in the Griffs’ favor. Jeff Murray and Mitch McCrank sealed the victory with a pair of insurance goals later on.

Cuddemi scored first again on Saturday and helped build a lead for the Griffs with assists on their next two goals, both in the second period from Chris Rumble and McCrank. Schmelzer scored later in that frame and the Griffs rode into the third period with a 4-1 lead. But Niagara had life. The Purple Eagles scored two unanswered to climb within one. Schmelzer scored again late to add to the Griffs’ lead and Niagara answered yet again, scoring with 38 seconds to play. That was as close as Niagara would come, however, with Cuddemi scoring an empty-netter to seal the deal seconds later.

Linemates Cuddemi and Shane Conacher both tallied a career-high four points in Saturday’s contest. For his efforts, Cuddemi was named Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week and the NCAA’s Third Star of the Week. The junior now leads Canisius with 29 points and 16 goals this season, the culmination of progress that Smith has seen since Cuddemi went scoreless in the first half of his freshman season.

“He just continues to be hungry,” Smith said. “You give him a little bit, he wants more. You give him a little more, he wants more. And that is fun to be around. And he does continue to get better all the time.”

Schmelzer, the third member of the Griffs’ top line alongside Cuddemi and Conacher, was also honored as he was named Atlantic Hockey’s Co-Rookie of the Week. Niagara freshman Robert Angiolella also received the honor.

“I think it’s great,” Smith said. “Battle of Western New York, a Western New York kid is plus-five and scores the big game-winner and really steps up to the plate. That’s stuff that he can talk about for a lifetime. That’s a recruiting story, a story that we’re going to tell other kids.”

Upcoming Games

  • Friday, February 6 @ Robert Morris (7:05 p.m.)
  • Saturday, February 7 @ Robert Morris (7:05 p.m.)

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY PURPLE EAGLES (3-19-2 overall; 3-13-2 Atlantic Hockey)
For as close as Niagara came to beating Canisius in both of their contests at Dwyer Arena, their song remained very much the same -- the Purple Eagles’ winless streak extended to 12 games since sweeping Army in early November. Knowing that they outplayed the No. 2 team in Atlantic Hockey at various points in both games, however, gave them reason to believe that they’re headed in the right direction.

Head coach Dave Burkholder was quick to point out following Thursday’s loss, for example, that at one point in the first period Niagara was outshooting Canisius 14-1. They outshot the Griffs 28-24 in the totality of Saturday’s comeback effort, in which they received goals from TJ Sarcona, Kevin Patterson, and two from Angiolella.

“With the season that we had, the only thing we can hope for is that we get another shot at them in the playoffs,” Burkholder said on Tuesday.

Perhaps the most promising aspect of Niagara’s weekend was the performance of Angiolella, who came into the weekend having not played in eight games due to injury. He scored Niagara’s first and last goals on Saturday, and added a third point with an assist on Patterson’s goal in the third period.

“I was as surprised as anyone,” Burkholder said. “To come back and have the type of game that he did; he’s a player that we need. He’s an impact player for us and I think he’ll stay hot.”

Niagara will next face a team that has suffered similar fortunes, with a pair of games against a Holy Cross team that is winless in its last six games. The Purple Eagles dropped a pair to the Crusaders in early December, but Burkholder has reason to believe their re-match might be coming at the right time: Matt Ginn, Holy Cross’ starting goaltender and one of the best in Atlantic Hockey, may have to miss the games due to injury.

“We have 10 games left,” Burkholder said. “We have a third of our season left to turn this thing around.”

Upcoming Games

  • January 30 @ Holy Cross (7 p.m.)
  • January 31 @ Holy Cross (7 p.m.)

RIT TIGERS (9-11-4 overall, 8-6-4 Atlantic Hockey)
RIT had its four-game unbeaten streak snapped in a 2-1 loss at Bentley on Friday. They responded by getting back on track right away, beating Bentley 5-2 the following day in a game that featured a pair of goals each from senior Matt Garbowsky and junior Josh Mitchell.

The Tigers outshot Bentley 33-17 in the loss on Friday night. But despite their shot advantage, they found themselves in a 2-0 hole entering the third period. RIT poured on 15 shots in that final frame in an effort to come back, but only one found the back of the net – a rebound attempt from Andrew Miller five minutes into the period.

“The good thing again – and I said this after our Minnesota loss – we were truly disappointed. Not happy we hung in there, but disappointed we lost,” Tigers coach Wayne Wilson said regarding Friday’s loss. “We just felt we were the better team Friday night. We didn’t win.”

RIT did a good job channeling that frustration into something positive the next night. Trailing 1-0 after the first period, Garbowsky and Miller each scored a goal to take back momentum in the second. Bentley tied it again at two early in the third period, but the Tigers responded with three unanswered to run away with the victory.

For as good as his top-line offensive players faired on Saturday, Wilson credited his defense with making the difference in the series – particularly on the penalty kill. The Tigers killed off all six of Bentley’s power plays on Saturday and all four on Friday; that fact is made even more impressive when taking into account that the Falcons lead Atlantic Hockey in power-play conversion.

Their next opponent – Army – hasn’t had near the offensive success that Bentley has. If the Tigers play like they did Saturday, finishing offensively and strong on the penalty kill, their loss Friday could turn out to be a mere blip on the radar.

Upcoming Games

  • January 30 vs. Army (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
  • January 31 vs. Army (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)

BUFFALO STATE BENGALS (7-10-2 overall; 3-5-2 SUNYAC)
The Bengals returned to SUNYAC play with a lopsided loss to nationally-ranked Oswego on Friday night, falling 6-0 against the same team they had taken to overtime in their season opener. They responded with a victory the next night, however, beating Cortland 7-3 on the road.

Buffalo State’s contest with Oswego was over shortly after it began. The Lakers took complete control in the first period, scoring three times to take a commanding lead. Oswego scored on the power play in the second period and twice more late in the third for good measure. The Bengals, meanwhile, couldn’t take advantage of their own opportunities, going 0-4 on the power play. In his first game since Nov. 14, Bengals goaltender Mike DeLaVergne stopped 39 of 45 shots.

Things looked bleak yet again the following night at Cortland. The Bengals allowed a power play goal in the first period and found themselves trailing 1-0 heading into the first intermission.

“We had a lot of chances in the first period,” Bengals coach Nick Carriere said. “I thought we had some really good looks, we outshot them by a significant number, and the one chance that they had they scored on. So you come back into the room after the first period and you’re kind of shaking your head saying ‘jeez, this is going to be another one of those games.’”

But it wasn’t another one of those games. The Bengals quickly re-established their confidence in the second period, scoring twice in the first three minutes. Cortland responded with a goal, but Buffalo State padded their lead with three unanswered thereafter. Captain Brett Hope recorded his first career hat-trick with three goals in the win.

The Bengals will have a week off before returning home to play Plattsburgh on Feb. 6.

Upcoming Games

  • February 6 vs. Plattsburgh (7 p.m., Buffalo State Ice Arena)
  • February 7 vs. Plattsburgh (7 p.m., Buffalo State Ice Arena)
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