by Amy Moritz
Thank goodness for series sweeps. Because we need some time to digest all this.
Canisius and Niagara will meet at 4 p.m. Friday in Blue Cross Arena in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey Tournament. There's going to be plenty of hype for this game. And rightfully so. The only way this matchup could be any more of a Western New York hockey lover's dream come true would be if they were meeting in the championship for an NCAA bid.
The biggest surprise are the Golden Griffins, who upset second-seeded Air Force in Colorado. On Friday, the won on a goal by Kyle Gibbons with 9.1 seconds left in regulation.
Saturday, the Falcons had a 3-1 lead before the Griffs came back. A goal from Matthew Grazen with 1:58 left in the game forced overtime. Duncan McKellar, a junior defenseman, scored his second goal of the season 1:08 into the extra period to give the Griffs the win and the series sweep.
Canisius has won its last six games, the longest current win streak in the country.
Niagara meanwhile did what it was expected to do as the top seed, regular season champion ranked 14th in the country -- advance to the semis. But the Purple Eagles had to hold off an RIT team that is used to winning in the postseason and shake off the cobwebs after stumbling into the postseason with a pair of losses at Air Force.
After winning on Friday, the Purple Eagles played some of their worst hockey of the season in the first period on Saturday. They regrouped, tied the game and then battled through overtime before Marc Zanette scored with 6:48 left in the first extra frame for the win.
What has both teams in this position is a combination of poise and resiliency. Both teams are gritty and physical and have developed a sense of poise to manage the ebb and flow of the game, including times when they were down on the scoreboard or on their heels defensively.
Scoring has come from the usual suspects (Gibbons for Canisius, Iuorio and Zanette for Niagara) but also from some unlikely places. Defensemen are getting involved in the offense which helps to create opportunities.
Defensively, this may be the showdown between the two best goalies in the conference. Carsen Chubak of Niagara has made some incredible stops and done a fantastic job of game management from the crease. The defense in front of him has been key in blocking shots and covering up for the times when Chubak flops himself out of position. However, Dan Weiss suffered a "lower body injury" on Saturday and that would be a huge blow for the Purps if he's not ready to go on Friday.
Canisius, meanwhile, has one of the best penalty killing units in the country, anchored by Tony Capobianco. Consider that Air Force outshot the Griffs by a zillion and you see how valuable Capobinaco is to the Griffs success. He also inhabits the definition of cool confidence, which has kept a young Canisius team from hitting panic buttons late in the season.
Video from www.gogriffs.com of the game-changing goals from this weekend:
The first video is of Kyle Gibbons' game-winner on Friday. The second video is of the game-tying and game-winner on Saturday: