by Amy Moritz
The Basics: Canisius upset top-seeded and nationally-ranked Niagara, 5-3, in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey Championships at Blue Cross Arena. The Golden Griffins will play the winner of the second semifinal (UConn-Mercyhurst) in Saturday's championship. The winner gets the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Niagara goes back to Lewiston and watches the scoreboard and computer rankings to see if they will get an at-large bid.
How Canisius Won: Timely goal scoring. The Griffs big three players -- forwards Kyle Gibbons and Cody Freeman and goaltender Tony Capobianco -- get the headlines. But the Griffs are deep and on their seven-game win streak all 18 players have registered a point. The other key? The Griffs are confident, composed and having fun. Never underestimate the importance of playing loose. Especially in March.
How Niagara Lost: The Purple Eagles went 0-for-4 on the power play and while they held a 44-29 advantage in shots, couldn't connect. Niagara was also missing senior defenseman Dan Weiss who suffered a lower body injury against RIT. The Purple Eagles missed his leadership and his ability to block shots, clear pucks and tie up sticks in front of Carsen Chubak.
Player of the Game: Tyler Wiseman. The sophomore forward came into the game with just nine points. In the semifinal, he scored twice and setup the game-winning goal.
Fun Fact: Wiseman is from Burlington, Ontario and played for the Burlington Cougars of the OJHL, just like Canisius alum and Lightning player Cory Conacher. And both Wiseman and Conacher missed significant time at the start of their freshman years with broken wrists.
Player of the Game II: Tony Capobianco. He made 41 saves and was key in keeping Niagara 0-for-4 on the power play. It was another steady, consistent game from the sophomore, who embodies cool, calm, collected. He never panics. He never gets too high or too low. He is like "whatevs." And it wins big games.
What this Means - Canisius: The Griffs will be in second conference championship, but their first where an NCAA bid is on the line. In 1999 they reached the MAAC final, losing to Holy Cross, but the league did not have an automatic bid. This is the closest the Griffs have been to the NCAA tournament in program history.
What this Means - Niagara: The next two days will feature lots of scoreboard and computer ranking watching. The Purple Eagles have an excellent chance at an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The hockey field is determined by conference tournament champions (auto bids) then filled in based on PairWise rankings. Niagara needs no wonky upsets in the other conference tournaments and to stay in the top 16 of the PairWise to make the field.
They Said It:
"We’re really disappointed. I apologize to the school for our effort today. I didn’t think that was the way it was going to turn out.” Niagara goaltender and Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year Carsen Chubak.
“They were the better team tonight. They had a little more grit, showed a little more passion. We’re going home. Their goal [Capobianco] is the first star again. They’re on a heck of a run. You’ve got to tip your hat. That’s been the story of the year in Atlantic Hockey, good goaltending.” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder
"In my opinion ... our emotional levels have been just rock solid steady and to me that’s where the timely scoring starts. We play with a lot of passion. We play with a lot emotion. But the passion is kept at a nice level. It’s been a long year but really I think those timely goals come from just trying your hardest in practice, trying your hardest the next shift. And it hasn’t come easily all year. But right now, when it comes together it’s the strength of our team. It won the game for us today." Canisius coach Dave Smith