Taking care of business: Canisius wins series over rival; plays Air Force this weekend

By Marshall Haim

Sports Reporter

The men’s hockey team played long-time rival, the Niagara Purple Eagles, last weekend at HARBORCENTER in a best of three series to see who would advance in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. The Griffs started the series off with 3-2 loss to the Purple Eagles on Friday evening, but the Griffs came away with two consecutive victories to earn their way to the quarterfinals of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs against the Air Force Falcons.

“I thought we put it together against Niagara,” said Coach Smith about the team play throughout the series. “It’s great if we continue that trend going into Air Force. If we get better, then we have a chance, if we get worse we don’t have a chance. This time of year having that complete team game is everything.”

In the opening game, the Griffs played well enough to win but came up just short. Shane Conacher led the team in points in the first game as he earned primary assists on both of the Griffs’ goals scored by defenseman Cameron Heath and forward Dylan McLaughlin. The Griffs statistically outplayed the Purple Eagles, including outshooting the opposition, 33-17. However, one factor that did prevent the Griffs from winning the first game was their power play, as the Griffs only capitalized on one of their five attempts with the man advantage.

As the Griffs were facing elimination, the team hunkered down and won a hard fought battle on Saturday evening, 1-0, forcing a pivotal third game in the series. The shots in the game weren’t as lopsided as the night prior, 33-31, as the Purple Eagles outshot the Griffs for a second straight night. Goaltender Simon Hofley was clearly the difference in the game as the freshman earned his first career shutout at the collegiate level.

“One of the biggest factors was the do-or-die mentality that kicked in the second and third game,” Hofley said about what led to his success. “Our team play really picked up a couple levels, especially defensively.”

Simon Hofley dominated the Purple Eagles in the first round of the AHC tournament. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

Simon Hofley dominated the Purple Eagles in the first round of the AHC tournament. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

Hofley, throughout the series was nothing but stellar, stopping 84 of Niagara’s 88 shots. In his 178 minutes between the pipes, the freshman from Ottawa, Ontario, owned a 1.35 goals against average and a save percentage of .955. Throughout the season, including the statistics from the Niagara series, Hofley has appeared in 25 games, making 23 starts and earning an 8-10-5 record with a goals against average of 2.64 and a save percentage of .922.

“He wanted to win,” Coach Smith said about his freshman goalie. “There were no special talks, and no special motivation. He didn’t play very well on Friday night and he’s the kind of guy that believes in his teammates and felt that he probably let them down. He came back and the one thing he’s done all year is competed. He tries as hard as he can.”

McLaughlin continued his recent hot streak as he netted the lone goal of the game at the 12:42 mark of the 2nd period. He converted on a very beautiful pass from his linemate, Felix Chamberland, after fending off a Purple Eagles’ defender.

Dylan McLaughlin has been a driving force for the Griffs offense this season. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

Dylan McLaughlin has been a driving force for the Griffs offense this season. Photo Credit: Tom Wolf

The third game between the two bitter rivals came last Sunday afternoon at HARBORCENTER and Canisius, like the night before, took advantage. After a scoreless first period, the Griffs netted the first two goals of the game in the second period. The first one coming off of the stick of Mike Sabbatini at the 10:50 mark, then a little over two minutes later, Conacher scored his 20th goal of the season to give the Griffs some wiggle room. In the third period, Canisius got goals from Heath and David Parrottino, to clinch the series and move on in the playoffs.

The offensive side of the puck came up quite successful throughout the series versus the Purple Eagles, but the defensive side as been increasingly improving. Heath, and Jimmy Mazza were two names mentioned by Coach Smith that stood out in the series with the Purple Eagles. Not only were those two players key factors, but the entire defensive core helped lead the Griffs in both ends of the ice and onto the next round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.

“In my 11 years [of coaching], our puck possession right now is very, very good,” Coach Smith proudly stated. “It’s starts with that and we don’t have to play defense as much. We played harder at Bentley and this past weekend against Niagara, than we did in the four losses in between them. We’re boxing out and keeping them away from our goalie, possessing the puck and keeping between them and the net.”

Canisius will begin their quarterfinal matchups in Colorado Springs, Colorado tonight against the Air Force Academy Falcons in another best-of-three series with the winner moving onto the Atlantic Hockey semifinals held at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, New York, next Friday, Saturday. All games in the series this weekend will be played at 9:05pm local time.

“I’m looking forward to the same intensity that we had in the last two games,” Hofley said about the upcoming series with Air Force. “I’m looking for a tight, hard-fought series.”

If Canisius is able to reach the semifinals, this will be the Griffs’ fourth consecutive appearance in the semifinals in Rochester, as the Griffs hold a 2-1 record in those games. For some players, it’s a routine, but for some, like Hofley, it’s uncharted territory and they welcome and look forward to the challenge ahead.

“It’s huge,” Hofley stated. “I knew coming into this program they had a few good years behind it. I did not want the last thing to be ruining the consistency.”

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