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by Joe Ray / Buffalo Sabres

Entering the four-team “Blizzard in Buffalo” tournament at the Northtown Center, the defending-champion University at Buffalo Bulls wanted to assert their dominance over the competition. Ranked 22nd nationally in the American Collegiate Hockey Association (ACHA), Buffalo looked to improve upon their stellar 13-4-2 record to open the season. Buffalo did that and more, defeating John Carroll University 4-3 on Saturday to win the tournament championship for the second straight year.

On Friday, the Bulls faced off against the Drexel Dragons in the preliminary round. The early part of the game was filled with penalties both ways, and both teams struggled to develop any sort of offensive flow. Buffalo opened the scoring with a 4-on-4 goal by defenseman Dimitri Koutsomitis off a cross-ice feed from Bryan Bergstol. Shortly after Drexel gained the man advantage, Buffalo forward Chris Marsack snuck behind the Drexel defenders on the penalty kill and gave the Bulls a two goal advantage.

Despite the sloppy play early, the Bulls found themselves on top. Head coach Sal Valvo said the early lead seemed to work against his team.

“I think it made us a little complacent, to be honest with you,” explained Valvo. “We had the 2-0 lead and we weren’t playing our best hockey.”

That complacency led to Drexel catching up to Buffalo and tying the game at two goals apiece. Before the first concluded, Drexel capitalized on their second power play of the period, as Andrew Macbride beat Buffalo goaltender Steven Palmer with a snap shot from the high slot. Just 18 seconds into the second period, Drexel’s John Quigley capitalized on some sloppy puck possession by Buffalo, bringing the score to 2-2.

Buffalo wasted no time responding as John Andhor scored 53 seconds into the second period to give the Bulls a one-goal lead. Drexel struggled to avoid the penalty box throughout the second period, giving the Bulls three power-play opportunities. Buffalo would cash in on two of those chances, as Sean Dungan and Marsack gave Buffalo a 5-2 lead heading into the final period. Buffalo’s inconsistencies were troubling to Valvo, but he gave a large amount of credit to his team’s resiliency.

“I think the second period was our worst period of the year, and we scored three goals. We worked through our problems. We were sloppy; a little too cute at the blue lines.”

With two goals on the power play and one in a shorthanded situation through two periods, Buffalo’s special teams were huge in building the lead against Drexel.

“We did well on the power play and we killed penalties well, so I think both goals [in the second period] put us over the top,” said Valvo. “It was a very good game. I thought [Drexel] had a lot of speed, but we matched them very well.”

The third period was characterized by strong team defense from Buffalo, but both teams were undisciplined after the whistle and the penalty minutes rang up faster than the score. At the end of the night, the two teams combined for 174 penalty minutes, and three Drexel skaters were ejected from the game. Drexel was able to cut the Bulls’ lead to two with eight minutes remaining as Tyler Hoffman beat Palmer, but Buffalo would maintain the 5-3 lead the rest of the way, keeping the Drexel offense at bay for the majority of the period.

Buffalo also honored members of the military from around the area for their Military Appreciation Night during this game. The national anthem was presented before the game by Canisius College ROTC, and camouflage University at Buffalo Ice Hockey t-shirts were sold, with proceeds contributing to the Wounded Warrior Project.

Buffalo was faced with a new challenge in the championship game, as John Carroll University entered the final showdown coming off a 7-0 victory over Erie Community College in the preliminary round. In last year’s tournament, John Carroll was relegated to the consolation game after a disappointing 7-3 loss to Canisius, so the Blue Streaks were hungry to win the title this time around.

The championship game proved to begin in similar fashion for Buffalo. Just as they did in the Drexel contest, Buffalo was able to jump out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first 10 minutes of the game. Nick Carey beat John Carroll goaltender Justin Camuto at the 6:13 mark of the first period to open the scoring, and two minutes later Marsack put his third goal of the tournament to the back of the net.

The fire of the game began to rise in the second period. John Carroll closed the gap with two goals from Alex Barilec, but Buffalo maintained the lead as Matt Notaro kept the Bulls’ lead at one. Both teams had a skater ejected in the period as well. John Carroll’s Kevin Vinyard received a minor penalty for slashing, and after igniting the situation further, Vinyard was issued a 10-minute misconduct and game misconduct. On the Buffalo side, they lost one of their more consistent defensemen in Koutsomitis after he drew a major penalty and ejection for spearing.

Valvo spoke of the need for his players to avoid getting too involved in the heat of the moment following the whistle, but penalties seemed to be a problem for Buffalo and their opponents all weekend.

“We talked about it all week. It’s something we’ve been concentrating on, trying to stay focused, trying to do the smart things. We are talking about college kids, and they like to protect their area and themselves.”

Buffalo carried a 3-2 lead into the third period of the championship game, and their power play was able to provide the eventual game winning goal. After John Carroll’s Matt Curry received a major penalty and game misconduct for head contact, Buffalo’s leading scorer Mike Schalberg found the back of the net on the power play to extend Buffalo’s lead to 4-2.

Buffalo held off John Carroll for the majority of the third period, killing off a minor penalty for too many men on the ice. But the Blue Streaks narrowed the lead to 4-3 as Barilec completed his hat trick with under two minutes to play. John Carroll pulled the goaltender to have the man advantage, but the Bulls held strong in front of goaltender Michael Musialowski to take home the championship.

After finishing fourth in the Blizzard in Buffalo tournament in 2011, the Bulls have now won two consecutive championships. Last season, the Bulls defeated local rival Canisius by a score of 8-2 in the championship game.

Buffalo has one more weekend of games before beginning a five-week hiatus for winter break. After taking to the road to face Robert Morris (Pa.) on December 6 at 9:30 pm, the Bulls will return to the Northtown Center to take on Mercyhurst on December 7 at 7:30 pm for their final game of the semester.

Click here for the University at Buffalo Bulls full schedule.

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