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Bonnies to Face Pitt on Road

St. Bonaventure today became the second Big 4 team to release its upcoming non-conference basketball schedule and, as was the case with UB, there's a national presence on the slate.

The Bonnies will play at Pitt of the ACC on Dec. 13 in the first meeting between the schools since the 2001 NIT. The Panthers return three starters from the 26-10 team that reached the third round of the NCAA Tournament before being ousted by Florida.

UB previously announced road games against Kentucky and Wisconsin, ranked Nos. 2 and 4 in last season's final coaches poll.

Here are the non-conference schedules for the Bonnies and the Bulls.

BONA

Nov. 8 vs. Mansfield (exb), 15 vs. Dartmouth, 19 vs. Siena, 22 vs. Canisius, 29 at Niagara (Big 4 Classic at FNC). December: 3 vs UB, 6 at Ohio, 13 at Pitt, 20 at Binghamton, 22 at Maryland-Eastern Shore, 30 at Delaware.

UB

Nov. 6 vs. Wheeling Jesuit (exb), 14 vs South Dakota State, 16 at Kentucky, 18 at Texas-Arlington, 21 vs. Montana St., 25 vs. Grand Canyon, 29 at Canisius (Big 4 Classic at FNC). Dec. 3 at Bona, 7 at Robert Morris, 16 vs. Drexel, 19 vs. Niagara, 28 at Wisconsin, 30 at Binghamton. Jan. 3 vs. Cornell.

 

Tributes on Twitter for retiring Canisius softball legend Mike Rappl

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(from www.gogriffs.com)

by Amy Moritz

The tributes are beginning on social media after legendary Canisius College softball coach Mike Rappl announced his retirement on Monday. Rappl retired after being the only head coach in the 35 year history of the Golden Griffins' softball program.

 

Big 4 doubleheader set for Nov. 29 at FNC: UB-Canisius & Niagara-Bona

By Bob DiCesare

All four Big 4 teams. In one place. At one time.

Finally.

The four local Division I programs will meet in a true doubleheader for the first time since 1998 in an afternoon twinbill at the First Niagara Center on Saturday Nov. 29. Niagara and St. Bona will open at 2 p.m., followed by Canisius and UB at 4:15.

"We are excited to be able to bring a true Big 4 doubleheader to First Niagara Center," Canisius AD Bill Maher said in a release. "Setting up an event like this takes a lot of cooperation and coordination between all four schools and First Niagara Center. With four strong fan bases and alumni groups locally, and the fact that this year's event falls on the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, we believe this will be a must-see event for sports fans across Western New York."

What's the potential? A Big 4 doubleheader at the FNC on Nov. 30, 1996, drew 12,508.

Big 4 doubleheaders went by the wayside as the schools, members of three different conferences, pursued their own agendas motivated by maximizing home dates and revenues. However, it stood to reason that it was in their common interest to combine forces one day a year to maximize exposure for all involved.

That day is back.

Finally.

Tickets for the Big 4 Basketball Classic will be available through Tickets.Com, at the First Niagara Center box office or by phone at 1-888-223-6000. Tickets range from $20-30.

 

Rappl announces retirement as Canisius softball coach

by Amy Moritz

Legendary Canisius College coach Mike Rappl has decided to step aside from the game.

The only head coach in the 35-year history of the Golden Griffins softball program announced his retirement Monday.

Rappl retires with a career record of 831-526-2, making him the winningest head coach in any sport in Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference history.

“It has been a great run and I have so many great memories, almost too many to even try and count,” Rappl said in a release from the school. “There are very few professions in life that give you the opportunity to work with young people and travel all across the United States and the world, while being a part of a game.

"I would like to think that I helped people come to school here and I helped them reach their potential as student-athletes. Then to see them go on and reach their potential in the real world – that’s an amazing feeling. To think I was a small part of that growth process is a great honor.

"Doing this becomes a way of life. You work so hard with your head down, and then you look up and it is 35 years later. This has been very rewarding for me.”

Kim Griffin has been named the program's interim head coach for the 2014-15 season. Griffin has been an assistant to Rappl for the past seven seasons. A permanent successor will be named in the near future.

“Our softball program is one of the premier programs in the MAAC because of the hard word and dedication of Mike Rappl,” Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said. “It is hard to truly describe what Mike Rappl has meant to Canisius College, our athletic department and our softball program.

"Mike has been a pillar of success during his time as a coach and administrator here at the college, and a small part of that success is evident in the numerous academic and athletic honors his teams have received over the years."

Rappl, a Lancaster native who was inducted in to the St. Mary's HIgh School Athletic Hall of Fame, earned his bachelor's degree in physical education from Canisius in 1977 and his master's degree in 1980.

His career achievements could fill pages but here are some of the highlights:

  • He was named MAAC Coach of the Year seven times and led the Griffs to 13 regular season championships, 12 tournament titles and 11 NCAA Division I softball tournament appearances.
  • Rappl had a career record of 330-124 in league play and he saw 61 of his student-athletes earn All-MAAC accolades.
  • His 831 career wins rank him in the top-25 among active Division I softball coaches and he ranks among the top-60 all-time in the NCAA record book.
  • From 1986-93 he was the women's head basketball coach for Canisius winning 93 games.
  • In 2009 Rappl became the first active coach to be inducted into Canisius Sports Hall of Fame. Also in the Hall of Fame are 15 of his former softball players along with the entire 1994 softball team. A total of 15 of his former softball players have also been voted into the school’s Sports Hall of Fame, along with the 1994 team, which was enshrined with the Class of 2013.
  • He was voted into the Western New York Softball Hall of Fame in 2007.
 

 

Wheatfield native Ryan Kuhn verbals to Niagara hockey

by Amy Moritz

Add a verbal commitment to the list for Niagara University hockey. Ryan Kuhn announced on Twitter he committed to the Purple Eagles for the 2015-16 season.

The Wheatfield native played for the Buffalo Junior Sabres this past season. The forward had 32 points (12 goals, 20 assists) in 51 games for the OJHL team. This season he is slated to play for the Dubuque Fighting Saints of the USHL.

 

Law inks deal with Indy Fuel of ECHL

by Amy Moritz

Add Taylor Law to the list of Canisius College hockey alum who have signed professional deals.

Law agreed to terms with the Indy Fuel of the ECHL. The 6-2, 200-pound forward graduated from Canisius this past May.

"Taylor is a big, skilled forward with the ability to score big goals in big situations," Fuel head coach Scott Hillman said in the team's press release. "He'll learn to use his size effectively to compete at the pro level as he makes his transition from college hockey."

Law played 115 games for the Griffs and a shoulder injury ended his junior season after 15 games. He had a standout sophomore season, scoring 11 goals with 15 assists in 35 games winning team MVP honors. Last year he embraced a new role as third-line player with a spot on the power play, notching six goals with four assists in 30 games.

After the Ice Griffs season ended, Law played in four games with Elmira of the ECHL, scoring two goals.

"I think it was big for me to get a taste of the ECHL last year,” Law said. “The game is certainly faster in the pros and to be able to make that adjustment immediately will be huge for me.”

The Indy Fuel are part of the Chicago Blackhawks organization and are affiliated with the AHL's Rockford IceHogs.

Capobianco and Muto among those at NHL development camps

by Amy Moritz

What did you do on your summer vacation?

For a number of college hockey players the answer to that question includes spending a week at an NHL development camp.

Two players from Canisius and one for Niagara are participating in prospect camps along with a number of other players from Atlantic Hockey. (This of course without the official release of the Buffalo Sabres development camp roster. That camp opens on Monday.)

Tony Capobianco, the most decorated goaltender in Canisius program history, was invited to the Philadelphia Flyers Develoment Camp which began on Thursday. Capobianco, who graduated from Canisius in May,finished with school records in saves (3,061), save percentage (.920), goals against average (2.71) and shutouts (eight).

James Mazza, who verbally committed to the Golden Griffins for 2015, is participating in the New York Islanders develoment camp.

Niagara defenseman Vince Muto (Niagara Falls) is finishing his time with the Montreal Canadiens. In his freshman season, Muto played in 37 games notching 19 points from the blue line (five goals, 14 assists).

Mercyhurst has five players at development camps, leading tally in Atlantic Hockey. Senior Matthew Zay is with the Chicago Blackhawks while recent graduates Dan O'Donoghue and Nick Jones are with Arizona and San Jose, respectively.

Verbal recruits for 2015 also participating are Tommasco Bucci and Chris Makowski, both with the Islanders.

Others from Atlantic Hockey include Air Force senior Cole Gunner (Chicago), Bentley senior Alex Grieve (Islanders), Robert Morris junior Brandon Denham (Calgary) and Sacred Heart junior Alex Vazzano (Ottawa).

Canisius hockey releases full schedule

by Amy Moritz

We already knew that Canisius was playing at Niagara and hosting RIT. Now we get the full picture of the Golden Griffins' first year at HarborCenter after the team released its schedule Wednesday morning.

The opening game at HarborCenter will be a two-game series against Ohio State on Oct. 31 and Nov. 1. Both games are set for a 7:35 p.m. start. 

The first Atlantic Hockey games in the new digs come Nov. 14-15 when RIT comes to Buffalo.

With HarborCenter a few weeks behind schedule, Canisius will open the season in First Niagara Center, hosting Western Michigan (NCHC) Oct. 10-11. It will be the first time Canisius has played in First Niagara Center since the 2003-04 season when the hosted New Hampshire and UMass-Lowell along with Niagara for the Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase.

Their other non-conference series is a two-game set at Maine, Jan. 2-3.

The home schedule features a five-game conference homestand to close out the first semester, playing Mercyhurst (Nov. 22), Air Force (Nov. 28-29) and AIC (Dec. 5-6) at HarborCenter before the holiday break.

New this year is a Kids' Day game as the Griffs have scheduled an 11:05 a.m. game on Friday, Jan.9 against Holy Cross.

The rematch of last year's conference championship game won't happen until the last month of the regular season when Canisius travels to Robert Morris Feb. 6-7. It's the only time the teams are scheduled to meet after the Colonials upended the Griffs in the title game last March.

Canisius closes out the regular season with two games at Air Force (Feb. 27-28) with the regular season home finale against Mercyhurst Feb. 21.

Overall the Griffs will play 16 regular-season games at HarborCenter.

The complete Canisius schedule:

Oct. 10 -- Western Michigan (First Niagara Center), 7:35 p.m.
Oct. 11 -- Western Michigan (First NIagara Center), 7:35 p.m.
Oct. 17 -- at Army, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 18 -- at Army, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 24 -- at AIC, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 25 -- at AIC, 7:05 p.m.
Oct. 31 -- Ohio State, 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- Ohio State, 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 7 -- at Sacred Heart, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 8 -- at Sacred Heart, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 14 -- RIT, 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 15 -- RIT, 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 21 -- at Mercyhurst, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 22 -- Mercyhurst, 7:35 p.m.
Nov. 28 -- Air Force, 2:05 p.m.
Nov. 29 -- Air Force, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 5 -- AIC, 7:35 p.m.
Dec. 6 -- AIC, 7:35 p.m.
Jan. 2 -- at Maine, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 3 -- at Maine, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 9 -- Holy Cross (Kid's Day), 11:05 a.m.
Jan. 10 -- Holy Cross, 7:35 p.m.
Jan. 16 -- Bentley, 7:35 p.m.
Jan. 17 -- Bentley, 7:35 p.m.
Jan. 22 -- at Niagara, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 24 -- at Niagara, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 6 -- at Robert Morris, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 7 -- at Robert Morris, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 13 -- Army, 7:35 p.m.
Feb. 14 -- Army, 7:35 p.m.
Feb. 20 -- at Mercyhurst, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 21 -- Mercyhurst, 7:35 p.m.
Feb. 27 -- at Air Force, 9:05 p.m.
Feb. 28 -- at Air Force, TBA

Missed opportunities for Atlantic Hockey

by Amy Moritz

Niagara and Canisius will only play twice in the regular season. Both games will be at Niagara's Dwyer Arena. They will not play each other in the brand new HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo, which is the new home for Canisius hockey.

Wait. What?

Confusion and disbelief were the typical reactions after the Atlantic Hockey schedule was released with little consideration apparently given to Western New York rivalries.

First up, a look at the basics of the conference scheduling. 

With Connecticut leaving Atlantic Hockey for this year for Hockey East (despite the Huskies still being on the official Atlantic Hockey website), Atlantic Hockey is down to 11 members. So the conference decided that scheduling would go like this: programs would play four teams four times. The remaining six teams would be played only twice -- three of them in two-game home series, three of them in two-game road series.

Explained Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio, "It’s going to be a cycle over the next few years. … Some years you will play people away and not home and some years you will be playing people both home and away. With 11 schools it takes 10 years to complete the cycle."

In an article last May on USCHO.com, Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio said, "We are still working out the formula. Our intention is to be fair and also maintain local rivalries."

But when asked about the schedule and local rivalries on Wednesday, DeGregorio spoke only of the difficulty in working with an odd number of teams.

"We presented the schedule to the coaches at the coaches’ meeting and it passed. It wasn’t unanimous, but it passed at the coaches' meeting," DeGregorio said. "Then we presented it to the directors and it passed unanimously. The final decision is in the directors’ hands. In perfect honesty with 11 schools it’s very difficult to do a schedule. It stinks. We’re making the best of it. For the first time people who never traveled to Air Force every year will have to go to Air Force a couple of years in a row. That’s the way it works. There’s no easy solution to this unless we get a 12th team and then go back to the drawing board."

So, if Canisius and Niagara drew only two games this year, why not make sure they played in the inaugural year of HarborCenter and let Niagara host next year?

"As far as First Niagara Center, that’s up to them once they get the schedule where they want to play, it’s up to them to move their home games," was DeGregorio's response.

Of course, that doesn't quite answer the question from Western New York fans for two reasons. First, FNC is only hosting two regular season games for Canisius because HarborCenter won't be done until the end of October. Second, the two games are Niagara's home games which is the point of contention. In this inaugural year of HarborCenter, a Niagara-Canisius game would sellout in downtown Buffalo and draw potential new fans. Don't want to cut Niagara out of home games? Make sure that Canisius and Niagara play four times this season.

"We're certainly disappointed to not be playing Niagara in the HarborCenter," Canisius athletic director Bill Maher said. "It's something we hoped could have been worked out. Given the complexities of the Atlantic Hockey schedule and moving to 28 conference games, it was not possible. I do know the commissioner worked very hard and he just wasn't able to make it work.

"You're trying to work with 11 schools all of which have their own levels of priorities. Then you try to balance the east and the west split and travel partners. It's a complex mouse trap. ... Every school has one vote and therein lies the challenge. There are a number of things in our world we would decide differently, but we're one of 11. That's what happens with membership."

While scheduling is complicated, Atlantic Hockey is missing the opportunity to not only protect regional rivalries but enchance them, which in turn helps grow interest in the teams, the league and college hockey as a whole.

Apparently Canisius and Niagara are not consider local rivalries worthy of maintaining.

Neither is Canisius and RIT. Those two teams will also only play twice, both times at HarborCenter with no return games to RIT's brand new campus facility, the Polisseni Center.

This is terribly short-sighted of Atlantic Hockey.

Regional rivalries drive college sports and while fans in Western New York may not yet embrace Atlantic Hockey, they do understand Canisius-Niagara which has a 100-plus year tradition. RIT is new on the scene and Division III in all sports with the exception of the elevated hockey program. But already it hasn't taken long for Buffalo and Lewiston to develop rivalries with Rochester.

Atlantic Hockey did preserve the integrity Niagara-RIT rivalry which will be a pair of home-and-home weekends. But the rivalry has to go deeper than superficial one always pointed out by higher ups. Yes, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder was an All-American goalie for RIT in the 1980s. But that was before the current roster of playres was born (sorry Burkie). RIT may hold on to that memory, but without a long tradition against the Tigers, it merely registers as an interesting footnote at Niagara.

There are better reasons to enchance the rivalries and one of them is to create games which showcase three of the strong programs in the league pitted against each other.

So let's look at the three Western New York programs:

Niagara entered Atlantic Hockey after College Hockey America folded. It has four NCAA appearances on its resume including the first (and currently only) at-large bid to the NCAA tournament from Atlantic Hockey, which came in 2013.

RIT has a history of national success at the Division III level before elevating to Division I in 2006. The Tigers are the only Atlantic Hockey team with a Frozen Four appearance. That came in 2010. RIT will begin play in the brand-spanking new Pollisseni Center this year -- a $38-million facility which will seat about 4,000, perfect for its very enthusiastic fan base which also travels well, especially to regional games. 

Canisius made its first NCAA tournament last year and again made it to the conference championship game. Their success and clear investment in hockey helped land the deal with the Buffalo Sabres to move the Golden Griffins into the new HarborCenter, an 1,800-seat state-of-the-art rink attached to First Niagara Center and an NHL-quality facility.

There are good things happening with programs within Atlantic Hockey. But the league's strategy to grow the league seems to go along the lines of, "Hey look! We have some good teams, players and coaches. You really should come see us." Marketing doesn't work that way. And the work the individual schools are doing to enhance their programs needs better support at the league level.

Which is where the schedule comes into play.

A strong trio in Western New York helps strengthen the entire league, which among the 59 Division I teams has the nine worst average attendance figures. Scheduling Canisius, Niagara and RIT to play each other four times during the regular season, particularly in a year where two of them are opening brand-spanking-new facilities, is an opportunity to draw in, and possibly retain, new fans. It's an opportunity to showcase the best of what's going on in the league. It's an opportunity to increase exposure for the individual teams and for the league.

But all it turned out to be was another opportunity wasted.

Niagara releases hockey schedule

by Amy Moritz

It's an interesting schedule for the Niagara hockey team.

The Atlantic Hockey season is capped with home-and-home series against the defending champion while its local rivalry has been cut in half. And the six non-conference games are pretty challenging as the Purple Eagles released their 2014-15 hockey schedule late Tuesday afternoon.

Niagara opens the season at Dwyer Arena Oct. 10-11 with two games against ECAC teams. Clarkson comes to Monteagle RIdge on Oct. 10 with St. Lawrence visiting Oct. 11.

Niagara then kicks off Atlantic Hockey play against defending champion Robert Morris, traveling to Moon Township on Oct. 17 and returning to Dwyer on Oct. 18. They close out the regular season against the Colonials, the team which defeated Niagara in overtime in the conference semifinals last season, playing at Dwyer on Feb. 27 and in Moon Township on Feb. 28.

Along with the ECAC openers, Niagara's non-conference schedule includes two-game road series at Notre Dame (Oct. 24-25) and at North Dakota (Jan. 16-17).

Now for the mixed news for Western New York college hockey fans.

Niagara will meet RIT four times, with home-and-home series. They meet Dec. 12 and Feb. 7 at the new Polisseni Center on the RIT campus and Dec. 13 and Feb. 6 at Dwyer Arena.

But the annual Western New York grudge match on ice will be a disappointing two games this year, both at Dwyer Arena. Niagara hosts Canisius on Thursday, Jan. 22 and Saturday, Jan. 24.

With Atlantic Hockey membership dropping to 11 teams this season, the league went to a new scheduling format -- play four teams four times then play the other six only twice.

The conference apparently decided that Niagara-RIT was a protected rivalry and not Niagara-Canisius. It also means one of the most interesting matchups in the league will not get a showcase in the Golden Griffins' new home at HarborCenter.

Niagara's complete hockey schedule:

Oct. 10 -- Clarkson, 7 p.m.
Oct. 11 -- St. Lawrence, 7 p.m.
Oct. 17 -- at Robert Morris, 7 p.m.
Oct. 18 -- Robert Morris, 7 p.m.
Oct. 24 -- at Notre Dame, 7 p.m.
Oct. 25 -- at Notre Dame, 7 p.m
Oct. 31 -- AIC, 7 p.m.
Nov. 1 -- AIC, 7 p.m.
Nov. 7 -- at Bentley, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 8 -- at Bentley, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 21 -- Army, 7:05 p.m.
Nov. 22 -- Army, 7 p.m.
Dec. 5 -- Holy Cross, 7 p.m.
Dec. 6 -- Holy Cross, 7:05 p.m.
Dec. 12 -- at RIT, 7 p.m.
Dec. 13 -- RIT, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 2 -- at Sacred Heart, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 3 -- at Sacred Heart, 7 p.m.
Jan. 9 -- at Air Force, 9 p.m.
Jan. 10 -- at Air Force, 9 p.m.
Jan. 16 -- at North Dakota, 8 p.m.
Jan. 17 -- at North Dakota, 8 p.m.
Jan. 22 -- Canisius, 7 p.m.
Jan. 24 -- Canisius, 7:05 p.m.
Jan. 30 -- at Holy Cross, 7 p.m.
Jan. 31 -- at Holy Cross, 7 p.m.
Feb. 6 -- RIT, 7 p.m.
Feb. 7 -- at RIT, 7:05 p.m.
Feb. 13 -- at Mercyhurst, 7 p.m.
Feb. 14 -- at Mercyhurst, 7 p.m.
Feb. 20 -- Air Force, 7 p.m.
Feb. 21 -- Air Force, 7 p.m.
Feb. 27 -- Robert Morris, 7 p.m.
Feb. 28 -- at Robert Morris, 7 p.m.

 

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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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