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COLLEGE HOCKEY REPORT

by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

CANISIUS COLLEGE GOLDEN GRIFFINS (16-11-7 overall, 15-7-6 Atlantic Hockey)
Canisius, as the No. 2 seed in Atlantic Hockey, was awarded a first-round bye in the conference playoffs. But that doesn’t mean that their minds were taken off the game.

“The bye week was good, we gave them Monday off after the travel. We went hard for four days then we gave them the weekend off,” Canisius head coach Dave Smith said. “We were very focused, I know that even though we didn’t play in any playoff games I think everybody was watching the scores and watching the games all the way into Sunday night.”

The Griffs will face Sacred Heart in a three-game series beginning on Friday night at HARBORCENTER, the first postseason action for the team on their new home ice. After finishing in eighth place in the regular season, Sacred Heart swept Army in the first round with 2-0 and 5-2 wins.

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It’s been some time since the Griffs and Pioneers last faced; the two teams met for a two-game series at Sacred Heart in early November and haven’t played each other since. But Canisius was given a handful, losing the first game 3-2 and then having to comeback to force a 4-4 tie in their second match-up.

Despite the months that have passed since those games, Smith stressed the importance of learning from their outcomes.

“I think you learn a lot,” he said. You learn that they can beat us, you learn that they’re organized, they’re well-prepared; we watched those games, we learned from those and I think we’re a different team but I think they’re also a different team. So we prepare the same way in terms of looking at what the opponent has done recently and we’re aware of the past.”

Smith looks at the pressure applied by the forwards as Sacred Heart’s greatest strength. The Pioneers ranked fifth in Atlantic Hockey in both shots attempted and goals scored, ahead of Canisius in both categories. They also brought it defensively in their series with Army, allowing just two goals in the two games combined.

Canisius begins its playoff run with high aspirations, looking to make a third-consecutive appearance in the conference championship game. And while the result wasn’t what they wanted last year, the experience of their deep runs gives them a distinct advantage.

“Well I think it really helps because what you have to do is you have to live in the moment,” Smith said. “You can’t put yourself in Rochester before you win this series and our guys have done a really good job of that in the past, and we’re going to want to call upon those positive memories and how hard it is.”

Upcoming Games
  • Friday, March 13 vs. Sacred Heart (7:35 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
  • Saturday, March 14 vs. Sacred Heart (7:35 p.m., HARBORCENTER)
  • Sunday, March 15 vs. Sacred Heart (5:05 p.m., HARBORCENTER, if necessary)

NIAGARA UNIVERSITY PURPLE EAGLES (5-19-4 overall, 7-26-4 Atlantic Hockey)
Niagara will have to build its postseason run on upsets if it’s to win an Atlantic Hockey Championship this season, and last weekend was a good start. The bottom-seeded Purple Eagles won their three-game series against Holy Cross in dramatic fashion. Niagara rallied to take Game 1 by a score of 2-1, falling by the same score in triple overtime in Game 2, and clinching with a 5-3 victory in Game 3. Niagara will face top-seeded Robert Morris, the No. 20 team in the country, in a three-game quarterfinal series beginning on Friday, March 13.

It would have been easy for Niagara to break down in the third period of the deciding Game 3 on Sunday night. They were the underdogs in the series, the bottom seed in Atlantic Hockey facing a team that had beaten them four times in the regular season. The overtime thriller the night before had been exhausting and on this night, just as quickly as they had jumped out to a 3-1 second period lead, they watched that lead disappear.

“The first two nights, Holy Cross was on spring break and the building was empty and there really wasn’t much of an atmosphere,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder recalled. “But Sunday night a lot of the students came back early with spring break ending. When they tied it at 3-3, the momentum swing really went their way. To persevere and stick with it, we just kept preaching, ‘we’re playing great and you know what, they scored a couple nice goals; let’s just move on.’ The guys just did a great job of playing and staying in the moment.”

Against one of the top goaltenders in Atlantic Hockey, Niagara came out in that third period and snatched the momentum right back. Senior Chris Lochner scored on the power play two minutes into the frame to reclaim the lead for the Purple Eagles and Hugo Turcotte scored the empty-netter in the game’s final minute to send Niagara to the next round. Lawrence Smith, Kevin Patterson and Keegan Harper each scored for the Purple Eagles earlier in the game.

But the biggest strength in the series for Niagara was sophomore goaltender Jackson Teichroeb, who went toe-to-toe with Holy Cross goalie Matt Ginn all weekend long and claimed Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week honors for his play. Niagara was able to win Game 3 despite being outshot 50-26 thanks to Teichroeb, who made 47 saves.

“I think it’s an amazing story,” Burkholder said. “He’s been under the microscope; he’s had an enormous amount of pressure on him. A team that’s injured, a team that doesn’t score a lot of goals in the regular season, every mistake he made was magnified. Just to see him respond … when it’s all said and done, he outplayed Matt Ginn who I voted for three times as best goalie in the league.”

Teichroeb made 31 saves in Game 1, making a third-period comeback possible for the Purple Eagles after entering the final frame down 1-0. Patterson scored roughly five minutes into that period to even the score and freshman Luke Edwards netted the game-winner just past the period’s halfway point. Freshman Rob Angiolella, playing in his first game since Jan. 24, assisted on both goals.

In Game 2 on Saturday, Teichroeb shined even brighter. The sophomore made a career-high 58 saves in the loss, 29 in regulation and 29 in the three overtime periods. That game began with a power-play goal for Holy Cross, to which Stanislav Dzakhov responded with a Niagara goal one minute into the second period. From that point on, the game became a duel between the two goaltenders, with Teichroeb getting beat on a rebound midway through the third overtime.

Next up for the Niagara are the Colonials, not only the best team in Atlantic Hockey but one of the best in Division I. But despite the difference in seeding, Niagara has reason to be confident – when they closed out the season against Robert Morris just two weeks ago, they won 2-1 at home and then lost 2-1 on the road to split a series that helped change the team’s mindset heading into the playoffs.

“It’s just a different team to be around,” Burkholder said. “The banter around the locker room all last week is that these guys believe they can win this league, and we’ve been trying to preach that all year as a coaching staff, that when we’re playing the tougher game we can beat anyone in the league.”

Upcoming Games

  • Friday, March 13 @ Robert Morris (7:00 p.m.)
  • Saturday, March 14 @ Robert Morris (7:00 p.m.)
  • Sunday, March 15 @ Robert Morris (7:00 p.m. if necessary)

RIT TIGERS (15-14-5 overall, 14-9-5 Atlantic Hockey)
Like Canisius, No. 3 seed RIT also got to enjoy a first-round bye in the Atlantic Hockey postseason. The week off was much needed after their grueling regular season schedule, according to head coach Wayne Wilson.

“For us, we’re one of the teams that did not have off weekends or one-game weekends or non-conference weekends starting with the first week in January on,” he said. “It was a grind for us and it was nice for us to take a step back, regroup, and I guess reload so-to-speak and get ready for our next, hopefully, stretch run.”

The Tigers’ quarterfinal opponent will be Air Force, whom they will host for a three-game series at the Gene Polisseni Center beginning Friday night. RIT hasn’t faced the Falcons since opening their conference schedule against them in late October, a two-game series at Air Force which they won 5-1 and then lost 4-3 in overtime.

Air Force put forth an impressive offensive performance in their first-round sweep of American International, winning Game 1 by a score of 6-1, and then dominating 10-3 in Game 2. Senior Cole Gunner scored four goals and tallied an assist in the Game 2 blowout, earning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Week Honors. Much like RIT, it’s Air Force’s top line, led by Gunner, that dictates their offensive output.

“The one line, [Chad] Demers, Gunner and [Scott] Holm are very strong, they get the bulk of their offense from them. They’re very well-coached, very systematic, good penalty kill,” Wilson said. “Air Force has a habit of not beating themselves. We’ve got a long rivalry, we both came in the league together and we seem to play each other often in the playoffs somewhere along the line.”

Gunner scored the last time these teams met in the playoffs, a 4-0 Air Force victory in the 2012 championship game. He was a freshman back then, as were two of the anchors of RIT’s current top line – seniors Matt Garbowsky and Brad McGowan. That was the closest they’ve been to a championship, falling in the quarterfinals in 2013 and then in the first round last season. Wilson hopes that his seniors’ effort this year finally leads to their ultimate goal.

“I think they’ve done a great job, I think we’re very fortunate with the guys we have,” he said. “I think they’ve done a really good hob with turning our ship around, we we’re really disappointed with last year’s play and I think that they’ve allowed us to grow as a team.”

Upcoming Games
  • Friday, March13 vs. Air Force (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
  • Saturday, March 14 vs. Air Force (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center)
  • Sunday, March 15 vs Air Force (7:05 p.m., Gene Polisseni Center, if necessary)
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