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Griffs poised to defend their MAAC title

by Amy Moritz

The longest winning streak in the nation just kept roling on Friday as the Canisius Golden Griffins defeated Fairfield, 6-2, in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, N.J.

It was the Griffs 18th straight win -- the longest streak in the country -- and their 40th overall. That's the second straight season, and third since 2008, that the Griffs have registered 40 wins.

The offense worked incrementally but again forcefully. Senior Jimmy Luppens reached base in all five plate appearances getting base twice via hit, twice via walk and once via hit by pitch. Sophomore Anthony Massicci was 1-for-3 with a walk and two runs scored. Junior Connor Panas reached base three times while senior Ronnie Bernick was 2-for-3 with an RBI.

Alex Godzak won his sixth straight start, giving up two runs (one earned) in 6 1/3 innings.

Iannick Remillard shut the door over the final 2 2/3 innings to pick up his second save of the season.

Canisius will play in the championship round Saturday. The schedule will be based on the results of the next two games of the tournament. The Griffs will defend their MAAC title against one of three remaining teams -- Siena, Monmouth or Fairfield.

 

Mike Burke sets modern strikeout mark as UB advances to MAC semifinals

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by Amy Moritz

A sparkling performance from Mike Burke on the mound lifted the University at Buffalo to the Mid-American Conference semifinal round.

Burke threw a complete-game shutout as the Bulls defeated Miami (Ohio) 4-0 at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio Friday afternoon.

The Bulls (26-25) will face Akron at 9:30 Saturday needing to win twice in the double elimination tournament to bounce the Zips and move on to the championship round.

Burke scattered seven hits and striking out four to give him the program's modern era record of 78 strikeouts in a season. He threw 102 pitches, 75 of them for strikes in an effective outing.

But then again, Burke has played well in elimination games for the Bulls. The senior from Cleveland is 3-0 in MAC tournament games allowing just two earned runs in 26 innings pitched. All three wins were in elimination games.

Last year he threw eight shutout innings against Northern Illinois while in 2012 he gave up two runs in eight innings to Western Michigan. 

The Bulls rode the strength of Burke's arm, nursing a 1-0 lead it took in the first inning on a sacrifice fly from Tyler Mautner.

In the eighth, Matt Pollock had an RBI double and scored on an error by the Miami third baseman.

The Bulls added one more in the ninth on an RBI single from Brian Dudek.

Rocco finds opportunities in Italy

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Former Niagara Purple Eagle Vince Rocco played for Italy in the World Championships

 

by Amy Moritz

Each tournament is an opportunity for Vince Rocco to grow as a hockey player. After all, you learn a lot when you're lining up across from Jaromir Jagr in an international competition.

The results weren't what Rocco was hoping for, but the experience was invaluable. The former Niagara Purple Eagle was on his third national team for Italy, which went just 1-7 in the preliminary round at the IIHF World Championships in Belarus.

"I thought we had a good tournament," Rocco said via Skype. "It was the third time for me going to the World Championships so I knew what to expect. For a small hockey country like Italy, I thought we played well enough to stay up. Unfortunately we didn't get the bounces to go our way. All in all it wa sa great experience. Obviously you learn some valuable lessons at that level."

Rocco, a native of Woodbridge, Ontario, played at Niagara from 2005-09 and finished with 120 career points (46 goals, 74 assists) and captained the 2007-08 team that won the College Hockey America title and NCAA tournament berth.

He decided to play in Italy and after two seasons he fulfilled the residency requirement to get his Italian passport and become eligible for the national team.

"You have no idea what to expect and once you get over there you realize how good the hockey really is," Rocco said. "You don't realize that every team in Italy has 10 or 11 guys from Canada and America, guys who have played years in the American League or have NHL experience. It's really a good league to get in to."

After four years in Italy, Rocco moved to Sweden this past season, taking the opportunity to upgrade the level of league.

The opportunities overseas include a different type of hockey lifestyle. Teams typically play 40-60 games, more akin to a college schedule than a North American pro schedule, allowing for more time to explore nearby European cities.

The hockey itself is on a bigger ice surface and the while the game overall is faster, Rocco has found the quickness comes not so much in speed as in smarts.

"College hockey especially emphasises skating as fast as you can for short bursts of speed and playing with high energy all the time," Rocco said. "When you go to the pro game, it slows down a bit. Guys are smarter with the puck. You've got to read the game better and have more patience making plays. In college hockey, you don't have the time to do that.

"I'm still growing as a hockey player. I'm still learning. The World Championships help to realize, playing against guys like Jaromir Jagr, what it really means. I just learn every year and take little things from different players and teams to become a better player myself."

This World Championships, he also got to reunite with his former teammate and roommate, Dan Sullivan. The defenseman also went to Italy after finishing at Niagara in 2009 but made his first Italian national team this season. The native of Scarborough, Ontario had seven goals and 23 assists while at Niagara.

"Getting to play at this level with a guy I roomed with and played with for four years was really nice," Rocco said. "It was great to reminisce and play with him again."

Rocco will return to Canada on Saturday and decide over the summer where he will play next year.

 

Canisius baseball extends winning streak to 17

 by Amy Moritz

The nation's longest winning streak extended to 17 as the Canisius Golden Griffins won its opening game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament, 10-1, over Quinnipiac.

The Griffs fell behind, 1-0, at FirstEnergy Park in Lakewood, N.J., but a two run-home run from Jimmy Luppens in the bottom of the first gave Canisius a lead it would build on.

 Luppens finished by driving in four runs on three hits while Anthony Massicci drove in three runs on three hits.

It was the sixth straight game the Griffs have scored nine or more runs and 23rd time this season as they improved to 39-14.

Rohn Pierce gave up just one run — in the first inning — and finished with three strikeouts and three hits in six innings throwing just 70 pitches

Canisius plays at noon on Friday against the winner of today’s game between Fairfield and Siena.

 

 

Mason leaves Niagara

by Amy Moritz

Antoine Mason has been granted permission to pursue other options, Niagara University announced this evening.

The guard from Queens has one year of NCAA eligibility remaining. He started three games as a freshman before a foot injury took him out of the lineup for the rest of the season. Mason took a medical redshirt.

He earned his bachelor's degree in finance earlier this month and has one more year to play Division I basketball while pursuing his master's degree.

Mason finishes as the third all-time leading scorer in Niagara history with 1,943 points.

"I know Antoine enjoyed playing here and I'm sure this was a difficult decision for him and his family," Niagara coach Chris Casey said in a press release. "Antoine played a big role in our basketball program for the past four years and we are proud that he earned his bachelor's degree from Niagara University. Now it is time to for us to move forward with the players who are committed to continuing the tremendous legacy of the Niagara University Purple Eagles."

St. Bonaventure announces upgrade to McGraw-Jennings outdoor complex

News Staff Report

St. Bonaventure announced today that it will break ground this week on a $2 million renovation to its McGraw-Jennings Athletics fields complex.

The field that is home to the Bonnies’ men’s and women’s soccer and women’s lacrosse teams will be converted to an artificial playing surface manufactured by A-Turf of Cheektowaga, while lights will also be installed among other upgrades. 

Construction is scheduled to take approximately three months and is expected to be completed in time for the start of the Bonnies’ soccer seasons in August. While work is expected to begin this week, a groundbreaking ceremony will be held on Saturday, June 7, at 3 p.m. during Alumni Reunion.

The project was funded by a lead gift of $1 million from Tom (1980 Bona grad) and Michelle Marra.

St. Bonaventure Director of Athletics Steve Watson said in a release that this was the first phase. “The renovation of the softball field is necessary," he said, "and I am confident that many loyal Bonnies alumni and fans will help us make that a reality as well.”

This project will be the first major upgrade to St. Bonaventure’s outdoor facilities since the baseball field was converted to artificial turf in 2006, which also was funded by a gift from Tom Marra.

UB baseball knocks off divisional champs to win first MAC tournament opener

News Staff Report

The University at Buffalo baseball program won its Mid-American Conference tournament opener for the first time Wednesday morning in the opening game of this year's tournament at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon, Ohio. 

Sixth-seeded UB (25-24) knocked off third-seeded Miami (Ohio), 6-5, thanks to 15 hits against a Miami team (29-26) which won the MAC East title in the regular season. It is the first time in three attempts that UB has won its MAC opener.

Senior Kevin Hughes, a Starpoint graduate, pitched into the ninth to earn his fifth win. Hughes, a sixth-year senior, struck out six and walked one during a 126-pitch effort.

All nine UB batters had at least one hit, with senior Mike Burke going 3-for-5 and senior Thomas Richards, sophomore Kyle Brennan and freshman Brian Dudek (St. Mary's/Lanc.) each adding two. The lower part of the UB lineup (Nos. 5-9) had 10 of the team's 15 hits.

UB advances in the winner's bracket of the double-elimination tournament and will play at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Bulls' opponent will be either second-seeded Central Michigan (Bulls were 1-2 against the Chippewas in the regular season) or seventh-seeded Akron (Bulls swept the Zips, 3-0). CMU and Akron play at 8 p.m. Wednesday.

UB rebounded from Miami's two-run first inning to take a 5-2 lead through 4-1/2 innings against Miami left-hander Seth Varner, who earned conference Pitcher of the Year honors after striking out 111 batters in 97.1 innings and notching seven wins in the regular season.

Varner struck out the side in the first, but UB tied the game on RBI singles by senior Jimmy Topps and sophomore Nick Sinay in the second. In the third, a bases-loaded chopper by senior Mike Scarcello (Bishop Timon-St. Jude) drove in two for a 4-2 lead. Brennan added a home run, his second of the season, over the left field fence in the fifth for UB's 5-2 lead.  

Miami cut the lead to 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth and UB would take that lead to the ninth. 

UB got a key insurance run for a 6-4 lead when sophomore Tyler Mautner doubled with one out and was driven in on a two-out single by Richards.

Miami cut the lead to one on a sacrifice fly against redshirt freshman Mike Kaelin (Maryvale), who relieved Hughes with one out. With the tying run on base, Kaelin got a fly ball to end the game.

Simon Gray named Niagara AD

By Bob DiCesare

Simon Gray, a ninth-year athletic administrator at Eastern Kentucky, was introduced as the new athletic director at Niagara during a news conference this morning at the university.

Gray, a Pittsburgh native, became EKUs senior associate athletic director in 2011, according to his biography on the school Web site. It says that he served as senior administrator for men's and women's basketball while also acting in a variety of other capacities.

"We are very excited to welcome Simon Gray to Niagara University to lead the Purple Eagles," Rev. James J. Maher, C.M., university president, said in a news release. "His experience as an athletic administrator and his commitment to the university's mission will be critical elements in the continued success of our athletic department. He will be a great asset to our student-athletes, and our entire athletic department, and his positive impact will be felt in the Western New York community and beyond."

Steve Butler had served as Niagara's interim AD since Tom Crowley was removed from the post in September of 2013 after just 11 months on the job. Niagara named Chris Casey to replace the departed Joe Mihalich as basketball coach during Crowley's tenure, but it's unclear whether Crowley played a significant role in that hiring. Crowley has since been hired as special assistant to the commissioner in the Horizon League.

Butler was promoted to interim AD from his role of Associate AD for External Relations. Butler has been at Niagara since May of 2009.

Gray graduated from Richmond in 1998, according to his EKU bio, and worked in media relations at Boston College and East Tennessee State before becoming director of athletic public relations at Richmond. He joined EKU's athletic administration four years later and earned a master's degree in sports administration in 2010.

"Niagara University has such a strong history of athletic achievement." Gray said in the release announcing his appointment. "I am thrilled to be coming to NU and I look forward to being a part in the continued success of the Purple Eagles. This is a great opportunity and I look forward to working with people on campus, and in the local and regional communities, to spread the great name of Niagara athletics."

 

Danford signs pro deal in France

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Ben Danford signed to play next season in France. (buffalonews.com)

 

by Amy Moritz

It's a big weekend for Ben Danford what with his graduation from Canisius College and his birthday wrapped into one neat celebration. Friends and family members stumped for a gift might want to look at English-French phrase books or perhaps an edition or two of Lonely Planet tour guides.

Danford became the first member of the Ice Griffs class of 2014 to secure a hockey job next year, signing with Strasbourg of France's Ligue Magnus.

"I've never been to Europe and this is a good opportunity to not only play hockey but to see the world," Danford said. "I think looking back when I'm older I won't regret the decision."

A native of Stillwater, Minn., Danford's 74 assists are the most in program history by a defenseman while his 84 points rank second. A Third-Team All-Atlantic Hockey selection he was named the Griffs' most valuable player this season.

After Canisius lost in the Atlantic Hockey championship game, Danford signed an amateur tryout contract with the Manchester Monarchs with the AHL. He played in three games before injuring knee -- an irony after Danford went his entire four year collegiate career without missing one game. That's a 158-game streak, the 13th-longest streak in NCAA history.

Danford said he never expected to have an AHL opportunity this season and while he could have tried the pro hockey route in North America and attempt to make a club out of a fall training camp, he opted for the opportunity in France.

"In the long run, this is a better fit for me," Danford said. "I think with my age and where I stand in my game right now, it just suits me better."

As far as the knee, a strained ligament from an awkward hit, he has been working his first real round of rehabilitation in his hockey career.

"I've been working out regularly and lifting the same amount of weight I did before the injury," Danford said. "It's back to normal and I can start skating soon.

"I've been very lucky in college and even in my youth years, I never had any injury that put me out this long a time. It was always just minor things here and there. This is the first time I've experienced anything like this. It's not easy. But I stayed diligent and kept working on it. The knee is stronger and feels good now."

Danford will graduate from Canisius with a degree in management on Saturday -- the same day he turns 25. He will have two months before he packs and heads over to France for training camp in August.

"It really hasn't all hit me yet," Danford said. "Once I start packing I'll probably have a huge culture shock."

The culture shock will be eased slightly by his former teammate and roommate Preston Shupe who will join Danford on the Strasbourg team. Shupe, who graduated from Canisius in 2013, played this past season with the Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

"We pretty much signed at the same time and it was a bit of a package deal for us to go to the same team," Danford said. "We talked it over with each other and thought this opportunity was the best for fit for us.

"They start up in the beginning of August and the exhibition games start soon after that. The season runs from late August through earlier April so it's a little earlier than North America. They play a lot less games which makes it attractive and easier on the body. They play a little more than 40 games so it's similar to a college season."

Canisius hockey announces team awards

by Amy Moritz

Final exams are wrapping up and Canisius College said a final farewell to the 2013-14 season by announcing its team award winners.

Senior defenseman Ben Danford was named the Ice Griffs Most Valuable Player. He's just the third defenseman in the Division I era to earn the honor. Danford set a career this season with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists). During his four year career he played in every game -- 158 straight games. He set the program's DI record for most assists by a defenseman with 74. He also became the first player in program history to be named the team's Top Defenseman for four straight years.

Senior Kyle Gibbons was named the team's Top Forward for the second straight year. He led the Griffs with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) and finished his career ranked fourth in program history with 130 points and second (to Cory Conacher) with 57 goals.

Freshman forward Shane Conacher earned the team's Rookie of the Year award. He ranked 20th nationally among rookies with 0.72 points per game after collecting 23 points (six goals, 17 assists). His best hockey came in the Atlantic Hockey Playoffs where he had eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games.

Junior Braeden Rigney keeps getting better and better, winning the team's Most Improved Player Award for the second time. He had 14 points with nine goals this season after recording 11 points with three goals in his first two seasons combined.

Senior captain Ryan Bohrer received the Dr. David B. Dietz Award which goes to a player for his dedication to athletics and academics. Bohrer has a 3.979 grade point average and played in all 41 games this season.

Senior forward Patrick Sullivan, a native of Derby, was named the team's unsung hero with the Tom Chapman Memorial Award. Playing in all 41 games he had 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists).

Junior goaltender Keegan Asmundson received the team's Community Outreach Award for his work in off-ice community service programs. 

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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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