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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

Niagara may have gotten hot at the perfect time. After earning their first win since November against Air Force last weekend, the Purple Eagles ended their regular season with a home-and-home split against No. 20 Robert Morris, edging the Colonials 2-1 on Friday and then falling 2-1 on Saturday. Niagara will begin its postseason as the bottom seed in Atlantic Hockey with a best-of-three series at Holy Cross beginning on March 6.

Senior Isaac Kohls scored both of Niagara’s goals in Friday’s victory, one in the first period then again to break a 1-1 tie in the third. The Purple Eagles benefitted from an excellent performance in net by sophomore Jackson Teichroeb, who made 35 saves against one of the NCAA’s highest scoring offenses. Niagara won despite being outshot 36-20.

“I think Jackson’s last two weekends have been good,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said. “I’m excited about him getting hot at the right time, that’s for sure.”

Teichroeb had another strong outing on Saturday, this time allowing only two goals – both on the power play – on 38 shots. Niagara came up short this time, however. Phillip Nasca tied the game at one for the Purple Eagles in the second period, but Robert Morris pulled ahead in the third and never relinquished the lead.

Despite the loss, the weekend generated optimism for a Niagara team looking to make an unlikely run in the postseason.

“It just shows that we can play with anyone in the league,” Burkholder said. “It was a very exciting college hockey game. We were happy to beat a nationally-ranked team on our own ice; it was exactly the medicine we needed as a team.”

Niagara dropped four games to Holy Cross during an 18-game losing streak that stretched from November to February, allowing at least four goals in each contest. That normally won’t cut it against the Crusaders, who boast one of the best goaltenders in the league in Matt Ginn. But Niagara has gotten healthier since the last time they met, and Burkholder thinks that his team is ready to put the regular season behind them.

“We’ve got a couple players they haven’t seen yet,” he said. “We’re going to forget about the regular season. Everyone makes the playoffs and we’re excited about the matchup.”

Upcoming Games:
  • March 6 @ Holy Cross (8 p.m.)
  • March 7 @ Holy Cross (8 p.m.)
  • March 8 @ Holy Cross (8 p.m., if necessary)

RIT TIGERS (15-14-5 overall, 14-9-5 Atlantic Hockey)
The Tigers had a chance to lock up home ice for the playoffs in their regular season finale against Mercyhurst, and they took full advantage of the opportunity. The Tigers swept the weekend, first with an 8-0 blowout on Friday and then a 2-1 victory to close out the regular season on Saturday. Senior Matt Garbowsky and sophomore Mike Rotolo were honored as Atlantic Hockey Player and Goaltender of the Week, respectively.

As he has all season long, Garbowsky lit a fire under the Tigers offense on Friday night. He scored three times – once to open the scoring in the first period and twice more in the second – for his second hat trick of the season and added an assist to Brad McGowan, who scored two goals himself. Matt Abt, Andrew Miller and Caleb Cameron also scored for RIT and Rotolo made 25 saves to earn his first shutout of the season.

Garbowsky’s 24 goals this season ranked second in the NCAA and first in Atlantic Hockey, and he tied for fourth in the country with 46 points. He won 20 of his 24 faceoffs on Friday, finishing the season with an NCAA-best 594 faceoff wins. Garbowsky’s linemates – McGowan and Josh Mitchell – finished second and sixth in Atlantic Hockey with 42 and 26 points, respectively.

“That’s been obviously a very, very dominating line for us, and it’s a veteran line too with two seniors and a junior,” RIT head coach Wayne Wilson said. “But they’ve led the way for us and they led the way all weekend.”

Home ice was still on the line when the Tigers and Lakers met on Saturday; a win for either team would have automatically clinched hosting duties for the Atlantic Hockey Quarterfinals. But when the contest went into overtime with the two teams tied at one, the Tigers were given an advantage – if they forced a tie, they would hold on to the fourth seed and host fifth-seed Mercyhurst in the playoffs. Knowing this, Mercyhurst went for the win with under a minute to play in overtime and pulled their goaltender for an extra attacker. The Tigers claimed possession after a wide shot by the Lakers and freshman Myles Powell netted the empty-netter to clinch the No. 3 seed for the Tigers.

RIT enters the postseason on a three-game winning streak and have earned a point in seven of their last nine games. They’ll have a bye week while the opponent is determined for their quarterfinal series.

“I think we’ve been playing well since Christmas, to be honest with you,” Wilson said. “I’m happy where we’re at and where we’re going, it’s nice to get a little breather and we’ll rest up here a little bit this week, we’ll start practicing Thursday and Friday then get after it Monday to start preparing for whoever we’re going to have to play.”

Upcoming Games:
  • March 13 vs. TBD (Gene Polisseni Center)
  • March 14 vs. TBD (Gene Polisseni Center)
  • March 15 vs. TBD (Gene Polisseni Center, if necessary)

CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (16-11-7 overall, 15-7-6 Atlantic Hockey)
Canisius only needed one win in its weekend series with Air Force to clinch the No. 2 seed in Atlantic Hockey, and they got it. The Griffs beat Air Force 4-1 on Friday night before dropping Saturday’s contest 4-1 to end their regular season.

Cody Freeman led the way offensively for Canisius on Friday, scoring a pair of goals in the victory. Tyler Wiseman also tallied two points, opening the scoring with his seventh goal of the season in the first period and then assisting on Freeman’s goal in the second. Mitch McCrank added an insurance goal for the Griffs in the third.

Canisius was outshot 11-5 in the first period, but came out with a 1-0 lead thanks to stellar play by senior goaltender Keegan Asmundson. The Griffs outshot Air Force 21-10 the rest of the way, and Asmundson stopped 20 of the 21 shots he faced on the night.

With no playoff implications on the line the next night, the Griffs came out flat. They recorded only nine shots and their lone goal, scored by Wiseman, didn’t come until the game’s final minute.

“Overall, you’re never happy with a loss. You try and win every game, but to go on the road and get a win in tough environment on a night where everything on the line was important, it felt really good,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith said.

Canisius enters the postseason in different manner than their last two campaigns, both of which took them to the Atlantic Hockey Championship game. The Griffs were the seventh seed in both 2013 and 2014, meaning their first-round bye – and status as one of the favorites in the conference – is a new experience.

“The bye is a little bit different. It feels a little bit different because of that. I think that we want to capitalize on this bye and it starts with the long trip coming back from Air Force,” Smith said. “Now we need to rejuvenate and replenish our bodies and get them ready for what we know is going to be a battle. The thing that feels the same is, no matter where we finished in the standings in the past, we looked and said ‘Hey, we’re going in here to win.’ And that is exactly the same.”

Upcoming Games:
  • March 13 vs. TBD (HARBORCENTER, 7:35 p.m.)
  • March 14 vs. TBD (HARBORCENTER, 7:35 p.m.)
  • March 15 vs. TBD (HARBORCENTER, 5:05 p.m. if necessary)

BUFFALO STATE BENGALS (12-12-3 overall, 7-6-3 SUNYAC)
Buffalo State earned a 6-2 playoff win on the road against Potsdam on Feb. 25, but ultimately came up shy of their goal of a SUNYAC Championship with a 2-0 loss to nationally ranked No. 4 Oswego in the conference semifinals.

The semifinal contest was a rematch between two teams that had met just over a month prior, on Jan. 23, when Oswego ran away with a 6-0 blowout victory. The Bengals were firmer this time around, especially in net, where sophomore Mike DeLaVergne allowed only two goals on 43 shots. Oswego’s Brandon Adams was the only skater who could solve the Buffalo State netminder, scoring once in the first period and again in the second.

But for the second time this season, the Bengals could not generate offense against the Lakers. Buffalo State was outshot 28-9 in the first two periods; they were able to generate 12 shots in the final frame but all of them were turned away by Oswego goaltender Matt Zawadzki.

Offensively, it was a far cry from the Bengals quarterfinal performance against Potsdam. Six different players scored for Buffalo State in that win: Garrett Chardon, Jake Rosen, Ryan Salkeld, Anthony Beaumont, Brett Hope and Jason Zaleski. DeLaVergne was strong in net, making 43 saves.

While they fell short of their ultimate goal, the good news for the Bengals is that at they will graduate no seniors this offseason. With another year of experience under their belt, they’ll take another shot in 2016. It’ll also be the senior campaign for team captain Hope and his linemate Salkeld, along with five other Bengals players.

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