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Niagara rides Chubak (again) to a 2-1 victory over Canisius

The hype is building for Carsen Chubak. The Niagara University goaltender once again showed why. Teammate Mike Benedict, meanwhile, again showed why people might have talk about his knack for scoring rather than just his work ethic.

Combine their performances with yet another victory, and it’s easy to see why the Purple Eagles are in the national college hockey conversation.

Chubak shined with 31 saves tonight to lead Niagara to a 2-1 victory over rival Canisius. The goaltender continued his run as the team’s unquestioned star, exiting Buffalo State Ice Arena with a goals-against average of 1.08 and save percentage of .966.

“They probably had four Grade A’s in the first eight minutes of the game, and he kept us in it,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He’s been doing that all season. It’s a national story.”

Niagara won its fifth straight and ran its unbeaten streak to eight (6-0-2). The Purple Eagles’ 7-2-3 start includes a 6-0 record in the Atlantic Hockey Association.

“At the start of the year, a lot of the hype that we got, which was positive, was on last year’s team,” Burkholder said. “We had to tell the guys, “Hey, we need people to start talking about this year’s team,’ and they’ve done that. To be where we are in our league at this point in the season is unreal.”

The Griffs continued to play well, outshooting Niagara, 32-23, but they again fell in a close one. They slipped to 2-6-3, 1-2-1 and have lost three games by one goal.

“We gave ourselves a chance,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We generated opportunities. We did everything right except find the back of the net.”

Chubak was at his best while short-handed, keeping the Griffs off the board in the opening minutes and late after Niagara took back-to-back penalties in the final 8:18. His best stop came with just four minutes gone. Shortly after taking a blast off the mask, Chuba robbed Doug Beck. The left winger was all alone in front, but Chubak slid across to get his glove on the blast.

Niagara rode his saves to a 1-0 lead after alleviating the pressure and collecting a turnover in the Canisius zone. Niagara left wing Ryan Murphy’s high shot from the slot eluded goalie Tony Capobianco, who looked into the cage in disbelief with 5:09 gone.

Niagara built its lead to 2-0 with 6:59 left in the second, again getting the best of Capobianco. The goalie couldn’t control a shot from the left side by defenseman Dan Weiss, giving Benedict a chance to compete for the rebound. The sophomore from Eden scored his fifth of the year while falling at the side of the crease. He had just two goals in 37 games as a freshman.

“A lot of people don’t know this, but actually in juniors I put up a lot of points,” said Benedict, who played at St. Francis before leaving for the North American Hockey League and recording 24 goals for Corpus Christi. “I’ll take any goal I can get. [Burkholder] calls it the ‘men’s club’ anytime you’re in the crease and you can get the puck in the net. I’m just happy to be out there and have an opportunity to score those goals.”

The Griffs answered 2:37 later, ending Chubak’s bid for his fourth shutout in five games. Three sounds followed Stephen Farrell’s slap shot from the left point. The first was the puck deflecting off the stick of Beck, which led to the goal horn and cheers from the home fans in the crowd of 1,200.

The Purple Eagles hit the ice again Saturday to start of stretch of four straight at home. They host Robert Morris at 7 p.m. in Dwyer Arena.

The Griffs get a week to rest. They don’t play again until next Saturday when they host American International in the second of three straight home games.

“Success is winning, but excellence is the process,” Smith said. “I thought our process was excellent. We want to be inspired by how we played.”

---John Vogl

Niagara-St. Francis Game Wrap

Niagara 86, St. Francis (Pa.) 69

How Niagara Won: Inside domination throughout the first half. That's right. Joe Thomas and T.J. Cline led the way on the interior, accounting for 18 points and 11 rebounds, as the hosts bolted to a 45-24 cushion by intermission. It got a little ragged in the second half, and a little tense too, as the Red Flash drew within eight before Niagara settled.

Players of the Game: True freshman T.J. Cline and sophomore guard Juan'ya Green. Cline had 12 of his 15 in the first half and Green of 15 of his 17 in the second half. Green also handed out five assists.

Steady Antoine: Antoine Mason went 5 for 8 from the field in both halves in scoring 25 points.

Stat Check: Niagara won the boards, 45-34. It was 29-11 at halftime.

Stat Check II: The Purple Eagles made 32 of 62 field goal attempts (51.6 percent).

Keep an Eye On: The development of Niagara freshman guard Tahjere McCall. There's so much natural ability there it's scary.

What It Means: Niagara improved to 1-1.

Next Up: Bucknell, an NCAA Tournament contender, visits the Gallagher Center at 7 Friday night.

-- Bob DiCesare

Niagara 45, St. Francis 24 (H)

What do we have here? A formidable low-post presence for the Purple Eagles. And not just one, but two? Goodness.

Freshman T.J. Cline and sophomore Joe Thomas have combined for 19 points and 11 rebounds in helping Niagara open a 21-point halftime lead. What's more, they were a combined 8 of 8 from the field. I'm guessing Niagara hasn't gotten 19 points in a half out of its front line since Juan Mendez graduated in '05.

Antoine Mason tops all scorers at half with 13 points.

Niagara shot 50 percent in the half despite hitting just 4 of 16 threes.

-- Bob DiCesare

Niagara Opener

Here we go with the opener of the 63rd season of basketball at The Taps. Niagara (0-1) against St. Francis (Pa.) (0-1). Niagara's coming off a 102-83 loss at Oregon State in which the Purple Eagles sank 16 threes, the most since 2008. They're 13th in the nation in three-point percentage (47 percent), a drastic turnaround from the early part of last season, when they hovered at or near the bottom of the national rankings in the category.

St. Francis suffered a six-point loss at Penn State in the opener.

This has always been one of my favorite places to cover a college game. The crowd's tight to the floor, the students are usually vocal and it makes for a crazy atmosphere that feeds into Niagara's frenetic style.

Can't do a live game feed because the two apps I need are refusing to recognize each other. So I'll try to get something up at halftime and follow with the game wrap shortly afterward.

-- Bob DiCesare

Niagara Opener

Licata will start vs. UMass

Former Williamsville South quarterback Joe Licata will start on Saturday when the Bulls play at UMass.

The Bulls victories over Miami (Ohio) and Western Michigan coincide with Licata’s two starts under center. Licata is 34 of 57 for 412 yards, three touchdowns and one interception in the two wins. Licata was the backup to junior Alex Zordich for the first eight games until Zordich went down with a rib injury in the loss to Toledo.

“What I’ve seen in Joe these last two weeks is certain proven to show that he’s been prepared and he’s ready to go,’’ UB coach Jeff Quinn said. “He’s managed it, he’s very accurate with his throws, he’s got a lot of clarity of thinking and that just shows his mature and that’s what you love to see.’’

---Rodney McKissic

Live chat: UB & college football plus Big 4 hoops with Bob DiCesare at 2 p.m.

Boston U. vs. Canisius live blog

Canisius 83, BU 75, Final: Washington led Canisius with 22, Baron 21 and Hymes 15 off the bench.

Canisius 79, BU 73, 37.9: Lots of action toward the end of this one and it looks like Canisius is going to get out of here with a victory. Jordan Heath followed a Baron miss with an basket and foul but missed the free throw. D. J. Irving then missed an open three he couldn't believe didn't fall. Heath was fouled and made one of two FTs. Nathan Dieudonne missed a runner before Baron was fouled. Baron made both FTs then Travis Robinson banked in a three.

Canisius 73, BU 70, 2:45: Papale hit another three from the right corner.

Canisius 73, BU 66, 3:54: John Papale pops another three and Hymes stepped on the baseline for a turnover.

Canisius 69, BU 58, 6:44: Alshwan Hymes just pulled up from downtown Syracuse for three. He has 15 points, 12 in the second half alone.

Canisius 66, BU 58, 7:41: BU is climbing back into the game with its three-point shooting and are now 8 of 16. If the Griffs lose, it will be because they didn't close out on BU's shooters and free throws (4 of 11).

Canisius 57, BU 44, 11:46: Billy Baron just converted a layup as he was fouled. The Griffs are currently on an 8-2 run. Washington has 20 points and Baron 14.

Canisius 47, BU 37, 15:40 left in the second half: The Griffs have five blocks on the night, including two by Josiah Heath off the bench.

Canisius 38, BU 28, halftime: Washington is now a blistering 6 of 7 from the field, including 3 for 3 from three-point range. Billy Baron has seven assists. Washington, Baron and Manhertz each have four rebounds as the Canisius has a 17-10 advantage on the glass. The Griffs led would be larger if not for poor shooting from the line (2 of 9).

Canisius 33, BU 21, 3:32: BU was looking to close the gap before Washington drilled a three and followed with a steal and layup as part of an 8-0 run. The Griffs are 2 of 6 from the free-throw line.

Canisius 23, BU 17, 7:36: Looks like the Griffs will go about nine deep once Asprilla returns.

Canisius 21, BU 12, 10:41: Washington (seven points) and Baron (five points) lead the way for the Griffs. Baron's presence and leadership are apparent early.

Canisius 11, BU 4, 15:54 left in the first half: Griffs start with a 9-2 run before BU called timeout. Harold Washington has five points and Billy Baron has two assists.

Pregame: It's the season opener for Canisius and Jim Baron's debut as coach after spending 11 seasons at Rhode Island. ... BU lost its opener on the road at Northeastern last Friday, 65-64. ... Senior big man Freddy Asprilla, the Kansas State transfer, is sitting out the first of three games because of a suspension. ... Looks like sophomore center Kevin Bleeker will redshirt this season.

---Rodney McKissic

Buffalo to host games during Big Dance in '14

Buffalo last hosted the NCAA Tournament in 2010, when the First Niagara Center was still known as HSBC Arena. (John Hickey/Buffalo News file photo)

The First Niagara Center will host some early-round games during the 2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, the NCAA has announced.

The games will take place in Buffalo on March 20 and 22, 2014.

Other cities hosting the early rounds for that tournament include San Diego, St. Louis, Orlando and San Antonio.

Syracuse will host the East Regional in March 2015.

UB-WMU Game Wrap

GAME ANALYSIS: Give credit where it's due. Bulls would have been at a loss without a pass attack once Western Michigan clamped down on the run after intermission. UB ran for just 19 yards in the second half. And that's where Joe Licata came in, completing 11 of 14 for 136 yards and a TD over the last two quarters. The simple truth is that UB doesn't win this one without a competent passing game.

TURNING POINT: UB freshman LB Jake Stockman forced a fumble on a sack of Alex Carder that Colby Way recovered with 3:28 remaining. It came one play after WMU's Eric Monette dropped a pass in the end zone.

PLAYER OF THE GAME: Cortney Lester's third interception of the day snuffed out Western Michigan's final opportunity with 1:12 remaining. He was also in on three tackles and broke up a pass.

STAT CHECK: The Bulls five takeaways were one fewer than they had in the first nine games of the season.

STAT CHECK II: There were 18 penalties called in the game, 11 of them against UB.

WHAT IT MEANS: UB has Back-to-back victories for the first time since 2009. The Bulls improved to 3-7 overall and 2-4 in the MAC. Western Michigan lost its chance to become bowl-eligible, falling to 4-7, 2-5.

THEY SAID IT: "It feels great. My heart, my soul, and my blood and tears are on this field. .. . I want to thank this team, this coaching staff, all you guys for allowing me to be on this field." -- Senior defensive end Steven Means after his final home game.

IN THE HOUSE: The crowd was announced at 11,012, the second largest of the four-game home stand.

NEXT UP: UB meets MAC newcomer UMass at 3 p.m. Saturday in Gillette Stadium. The Minutemen are coming off their first win, over Akron.

-- Bob DiCesare

MAC Power Rankings

Bob DiCesare's MAC Power Rankings:

1. Northern Illinois -- Have home field for Wednesday's showdown with Toledo.

2. Kent State -- Dri Archer averaging 9.8 a rush.

3. Bowling Green -- Classic battle of great defenses with Kent on tap Saturday.

4. Ball State -- No one in MAC's played NIU tougher.

5. Toledo -- Fluellen's running wild but what happened to passing game?

6. Ohio -- Reeling and finish at Ball State and Kent.

7. Buffalo -- Did not allowed more than 25 points in last 5 home games.

8. Miami -- Gave up 400 on ground at home to Kent.

9. Western Michigan -- Carder rusty Saturday after 6 weeks out.

10. Central Michigan -- Jr. RB Zurlon Tipton over 100 in 4 straight.

11. UMass -- Romney envious of win in state of Ohio.

12. Eastern Michigan -- Eagles are like a box of chocolates ....

13. Akron -- Dalton Williams experiment set program back another year.

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare |

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz |