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Game Recap: Canisius 5, Niagara 3

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

 

Niagara wins three major Atlantic Hockey awards

by Amy Moritz

ROCHESTER -- Niagara won three of the major indiviudal conference awards at the pre-tournament reception for Atlantic Hockey held at Blue Cross Arena Thursday night.

Dave Burkholder won Coach of the Year. Goaltender Carsen Chubak won Player ofthe Year and Marc Zanette won the Best Defensive Forward award.

"Carsen has been the best player on the ice for us all year," Burkholder said. "Marc Zanette, he's been the guy who makes things go for us. It's really hard to be a two-way player and he's consistently done that for us."

Chubak also was named a Top 10 Finalist for the for the Hobey Baker Award. He is the third Niagara player to be a Top 10 finalist along with Joe Tallari and Paul Zanette. 

Atlantic Hockey also announced its 10th Annivesary teams. Paul Zanette was a third-team selection while Canisius alum Cory Conacher was a first-team selection.

Canisius and Niagara square off in the conference semifinals at 4 p.m. Friday at Blue Cross Arena.

www.twitter.com/amymoritz

Canisius-Elon Game Wrap

CIT
First Round
Canisius 69, Elon 53

How Canisius Won: The Griffs are the more seasoned team and it played out that way. The Griffs forced 19 turnovers and came up with 11 steals and more than doubled the Phoenix in points scored off turnovers, 20-8. Elon placed third in the SoCon, the 27th-ranked conference in the country. They can be dangerous if they're hitting from three. But they weren't.

Player of the Game: Senior guard Harold Washington had that gleam in his eye from the opening tip. He went for 19 points, hitting 7 of 10 from the field.

Best Supporting Role: The Phoenix have some versatile big men but 6-10 Jordan Heath put them in their place. He scored 13 points, stepped outside for a pair of threes and swatted away five shots.

Best Player (Losing Effort): Elon has a nice player in 6-7 junior Ryley Beaumont, one of those versatile bigs. He had a 20 points and 12 boards -- both game highs. He also commited a game-high six turnovers, a reflection of how much he handles the ball.

What It Means: A postseason win for Canisius, its first since 1995. Elon finished 21-12.

Stat Check: Canisius was outrebounded 48-37 but it wasn't to fret about. When the opponent goes 9 of 34 from behind the arc there's going to be long rebounds difficult to chase down.

Stat Check II: Elon's 29.4 shooting percentage was the worst of the season by a Canisius opponent.

They Said It

Canisius coach Jim Baron on the effectiveness of the Griffs press: "We wanted to make them turn it over and I thought we did a great job forcing 19 turnovers. Again, I've always been a big believer of up-tempo, and we really stepped it up and I think it really got us going."

Baron on Washington: "It's amazing when you continue to play, guys that love to play the game, it doesn't matter, you know what I mean? You're still playing. You're career's still going. I told them, this is what, the first time in 18 years. You're part of Canisius history."

Washington on the press: "Just switching it up defensively threw them off guard. I think that's something we should do a lot more of, just throwing different things at teams, make them change up their strategy."

Jordan Heath on Baron's birthday: "We sang to him in the locker room."

Washington: "Where was I?"

-- Bob DiCesare

Live chat: College hockey with Amy Moritz at 10 a.m.

Oracle of Omaha Warren Buffett picks Gonzaga to win

   Buffett NCAA bracket Lisa

Executive Sports Editor Lisa Wilson transcribes the Oracle of Omaha’s picks for the NCAA Tournament. Warren Buffett, who is chairman of Berkshire Hathaway (which owns The Buffalo News), was in town to celebrate Publisher Emeritus Stanford Lipsey’s career. For the record, Buffett chose Gonzaga to win it all. Click the image below to see his complete bracket.

Buffettbracket

Live chat: College basketball with Bob DiCesare at 1 p.m.

Video: Ex-UB men's basketball coach shocked over his firing

Reggie Witherspoon held a press conference at his home to discuss his firing after almost 14 seasons.

Interactive NCAA brackets

Canisius-Niagara Hockey: The Playoff Edition

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:

 

 

UB cut bait with Reggie when it had the chance, just like Niagara did with Armstrong

By Mike Harrington

It's Selection Sunday and "Buffalo" won't be popping up on your CBS screens tonight for the 22nd straight year since UB went Division I in basketball and for the 14th time in Reggie Witherspoon's 14 seasons as coach. And that, more than any other reason, is why Witherspoon doesn't have a job anymore. (Click here to read Rodney McKissic's Selection Sunday preview)

From the ashes of what Tim Cohane left behind in 1999, Witherspoon built a program that won a lot of games some years and lost a lot of games too -- especially in his first four years. He did it in a culture of respect and UB emerged from being an outcast in the MAC to a respected opponent on the court.

But Witherspoon never got over the top on Saturday night at the MAC Tournament in Cleveland, losing his only two chances at the final. In the 15 seasons I covered the Big 4, there was no more disappointing single loss than UB's second-half collapse in the 2005 MAC Tournament final against Ohio University.

The Bulls had a 19-point lead in the second half. Nineteen! They had a senior-laden team led by the likes of Turner Battle, Mark Bortz and Yassin Idbihi but they blew the lead, losing on a last-second putback. It's almost like the program never quite got over that disappointment.

In the end, Witherspoon's career path turned out to be eerily similiar to Jack Armstrong's at Niagara. Armstrong took over as a 26-year-old in 1989 with things in disarry thanks to Andy Walker. He had some good seasons but was done by 1998 after some brutal struggles. Armstrong had one 23-win season that landed NU in the 1993 NIT but it suffered heartbreak a week earlier when his team blew a 10-point halftime lead over Manhattan in the Metro Atlantic final and lost by one on a last-second free throw.

When Armstrong was finally fired after an overtime loss to Loyola in a '98 quarterfinal, it was actually a surprise. The Purple Eagles were over .500 that season and star scorer Alvin Young was heading into a senior year. They were trending up.

But Niagara got rid of Armstrong before he could win again and brought in Joe Mihalich. He won the MAAC's regular season title the next season, has gone to two NCAAs and has become the modern-day Taps Gallagher on Monteagle Ridge. Maybe UB Athletics Director Danny White will do just as well.

UB is in a simliar boat. With Javon McCrea on a path to the NBA and heading into his senior year, the Bulls were likely going to be a contender in the MAC next season. If they won big -- or even finally broke through to make the NCAAs -- there was no way White could fire Witherspoon. So he pounced on opportunity now to cut bait.

I don't like it one bit but I get it too. I agree with Jerry Sullivan's column today that Witherspoon was a lot like Lindy Ruff, revered too much for too long for accomplishing too little. But Witherspoon was a Buffalo guy and a perfect fit for UB, which is now just going to become another mid-major stepping stone for whoever comes along and has a modicum of success.

White is really on the line here, especially with the confidence he's shown in a 9-27 football coach. The next couple years are going to be fascinating to watch at UB. White gets huge marks for his choice of Felisha Legette-Jack as women's basketball coach. He better do as well in replacing Witherspoon.

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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 | bdicesare@buffnews.com


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 | amoritz@buffnews.com

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