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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (12-8-6 overall; 11-4-5 Atlantic Hockey)

For the first time in over a month, the Griffs went a weekend without winning a game. That’s okay, considering they didn’t play in any games either, taking their first week off since their holiday break ended on Jan. 2. While the opportunity for physical rest was welcomed, head coach Dave Smith said that the break allowed his team a chance to focus on fundamentals rather than their next opponent.

“It was helpful,” he said. “It was helpful because one of the biggest challenges in a long season is staying mentally sharp, and the physical part is one thing -- we were able to rest out bodies -- but to have a full weekend off from action really recharges the mind and that’s where I think we’re going to see the biggest gain.”

Now, Canisius returns to play against the only team ahead of them in the Atlantic Hockey standings, Robert Morris, in a rematch of last year’s conference Championship Game. The Colonels won that game and have ridden their success into this season: they’re positioned at No. 19 nationally in the latest USCHO rankings and are currently in the midst of a six-game winning streak. They’re second in the country, to Michigan, with 3.82 goals per game and have the reigning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week in junior Zac Lynch.

But the longest unbeaten streak in the nation belongs to Canisius, winners of their last three games and without a loss in their last seven. Last time the Griffs were in action, it was they who were racking up the awards: Ralph Cuddemi and Ryan Schmelzer were named Atlantic Hockey Player and Co-Rookie of the Week, respectively, for their performances in a pair of wins against Niagara.

Despite the game being not only a championship rematch but also a battle between the best teams in the conference, Smith hopes his players stay grounded as they head into Pittsburgh.

“What’s important for our guys is, it’s a big game, it’s the first place team vs the second place team, but to make sure we recognize that this is one game, its two points, it’s the most important two points of the year because that’s all we can get,” he said. “We’ve got to make sure we keep the fight realistic and close, and that we don’t get too far ahead of ourselves. We’ve got to believe in our routine, believe in our preparation, and believe in the things that got us to this point.”

Upcoming Games

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

RIT TIGERS (10-12-4 overall; 9-7-4 Atlantic Hockey)
The Tigers had a win streak of their own snapped over the weekend, losing to Army for the first time in 15 games in a 4-2 contest Friday night. Led by their veterans, they rebounded the next night with a convincing 4-1 win that saw senior Matt Garbowsky tally three points, including a pair of goals. Mike Rotolo was named Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week for his efforts, stopping 33 of the 34 shot he faced on the weekend.

Head Coach Wayne Wilson came out of Friday’s loss more upset than in many of the team’s previous defeats. That night, the Tigers allowed Army to jump to a 3-0 lead, all on even strength goals. Rotolo gave them a chance to come back, stopping all of the 11 shots he faced after replacing Jordan Ruby in net, and Ale Perron-Fontaine made the game close with a pair of goals within one minute of each other in the latter half of the second period. Army stifled the comeback attempt with an empty-net goal with 26 seconds to play.

“I thought that was our first stinker in a while and I said before, we lost a couple other games where I thought we played very well,” Wilson said. “As long as we’re playing well and with good effort and we’re focused, then I can handle the losses. But I thought Friday night we didn’t check any boxes, we just weren’t ready to play and we didn’t play very hard and we didn’t play very smart.”

Wilson’s senior leadership received his message. The Tigers’ top line of seniors Garbowsky and Brad McGowan and junior Josh Mitchell combined for eight points in the team’s victory on Saturday. Garbowsky opened the scoring with a power play goal in the first period, and then added another in the second. Army got on the board later in the period, but a pair of Tigers goals – from Todd Skirving on the power play and McGowan at even strength – buried the Black Knights.

Rotolo stopped 22 shots in the win for his fourth-straight victory; he’s stopped 176 of 187 shots faced in his last seven games – a product, Wilson says, partially of the great play from the defenders in front of him. Danny Smith was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Week, blocking 10 shots and helping lead the way as RIT’s success on the penalty kill shined again, allowing only one power play goal to Army on 12 opportunities.

Upcoming Games

  • February 6 @ Niagara (7:05 p.m., Gallagher Center)
  • February 7 vs. Niagara (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY PURPLE EAGLES (3-21-2 overall; 3-15-2 Atlantic Hockey)
Niagara’s two-month long winless streak extended to 14 games over the weekend with a pair of losses on the road against Holy Cross. The Purple Eagles fought late in a 6-3 loss on Friday night and were outshot heavily in a 5-1 loss on Saturday.

All three of Niagara’s goals came via special teams on Friday night, and all three also came while trailing. After a scoreless – and fairly even – first period, Niagara trailed 2-0 early in the third when Lawrence Smith put them on the board with a power play goal. Holy Cross responded with a pair of goals – both on the power play as well -- but Niagara didn’t quit: Kevin Patterson scored shorthanded and freshman Derian Plouffe scored on a power play with just over two minutes remaining. Holy Cross ended the game on an empty-netter 20 seconds later; they outshot Niagara 44-27 on the night.

The Purple Eagles got on the board first on Saturday as Dan Kolenda scored his fifth goal of the season early in the first period, but the positives ended there. Five unanswered goals followed for Holy Cross, one in the first period and two each in the second and third. Niagara was outshot 47-24; goaltender Adrian Ignani made 42 saves.

The schedule doesn’t get any easier for the Purple Eagles in the remainder of the regular season. After a home-and-home this weekend with RIT, their remaining opponents are Mercyhurst, Air Force and Robert Morris.

Upcoming Games

  • February 6 vs. RIT (7:05 p.m., Gallagher Center)
  • February 7 @ RIT (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)

BUFFALO STATE BENGALS (7-10-2 overall; 3-5-2 SUNYAC)
Buffalo State was also given a weekend off from their grueling schedule, which head coach Nick Carriere said was a time for the players to re-focus and recuperate. Now, the Bengals return to SUNYAC play with the chance to do something they haven’t done since Dec. 13: play at home.

“Absolutely, we’re excited about it,” Carriere said of playing in Buffalo. “It’s very exciting for our guys to get back into the environment here and then get excited about playing in front of hopefully a good home crowd.”

The Bengals will welcome two opponents into Buffalo State Ice Arena that they struggled against earlier in the season. When Buffalo State faced Plattsburgh and Potsdam in back-to-back road games in November, the results were 6-1 and 5-2 losses, respectively. They face them again starting on Friday with Plattsburgh, currently ranked nationally at No. 10 and atop the SUNYAC standings with 20 points.

While the team’s sights are set on that game, Carriere acknowledged they will be looking to right some wrongs against Potsdam on Saturday. The two teams are tied with eight points apiece in the SUNYAC standings, and the Bengals see their first contest as one that got away.

“We’ve had a bad taste in our mouth since the last time we’ve played Potsdam,” Carriere said. “I thought we had a lot of scoring chances in that game and I remember hitting crossbars and posts and just not being able to get the puck past their netminder.”

Meanwhile, Buffalo State comes into Friday having lost one-sidedly the last time they faced a ranked opponent, dropping a 6-0 contest at Oswego on Jan. 23. But Carriere’s message isn’t one of redemption – he says that if the Bengals do what they need to do, the rest will take care of itself.

“I think anytime we have an opportunity to play against one of our conference opponents, we get excited about it,” he said. “Especially when it’s a team like Plattsburgh, that comes in and brings in the national rankings and they’ve had a pretty successful run this year. But then you look and see that a team like Geneseo beat them last weekend and we beat Geneseo, so there’s a lot of parity in our league and we just look at it as another SUNYAC contest. And we’ve got to be ready to play our game.”

Upcoming Games

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