Late game heroics aid Griffs to AHC semifinal

By Marshall Haim

Assistant Sports Editor

As most people know by now, the Canisius Golden Griffins were voted to finish ninth out of 11 teams in Atlantic Hockey’s preseason poll. The entire team has used that as motivation.

It shows.

Canisius extended the nation’s longest unbeaten streak to 17 games with a 2-1 win over the Niagara Purple Eagles on Saturday night in front of 851 at HARBORCENTER. The win on enabled the Griffs to sweep the playoff series against their bitter rival.

It’s the fourth time in five years Canisius has reached the conference semifinals. They made the championship game in both 2013 and 2014.

Canisius and Niagara both were held scoreless in the first two periods with both teams exchanging scoring opportunities. Both goaltenders stood their ground as Canisius’ Charles Williams made 25 saves, while Jackson Teichroeb saved 32 for the Purple Eagles.

Williams owns the second-best goals against average (1.83) in the nation, while also having the best save percentage (.944). Coach Smith expects to see the same product he has witnessed all season long from the fifth-year senior going forward.

“Same stuff. Charles being Charles,” Coach Smith said. “He continues to be mature, sincere and humble. In the face of having some of the best statistics in the country, he’s not going to change. I don’t expect anything but the same from him.”

The third period was filled with many penalties as both squads combined for nine power play opportunities. All three goals for the game came in the period, all power play markers.

Félix Chamberland scored the game’s first goal 3:06 into the period off assists from Ryan Schmelzer and Dylan McLaughlin. Five minutes later, Niagara’s Vinny Muto tied the game up while the Purple Eagles were on a 5-on-3 power play. With 1:15 remaining in regulation, Schmelzer earned his second point of the night after deflecting a Jimmy Mazza’s slap shot that found its way behind Teichroeb.

“I don’t even think it has sunk in yet,” Schmelzer said about advancing to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals. “That third period was a rollercoaster of emotions. We scored early, then they took it to us for a solid part of that period.

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Ryan Schmelzer battles with Niagara’s Andrew Pizzo for the puck. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

“There’s a big thing that we preach, it’s the ‘three c’s’: no criticizing, condemning and complaining. That time it was a high momentum swing with all the penalties going on and they had the goal. We just had to stay in control of what we were doing and did a good job of that.”

The East Amherst, N.Y. native earned the primary assist on Chamberland’s goal, which was is tied for the team-best in assists (18) with McLaughlin. He earned his 18th assist on the campaign also on Chamberland’s goal.

Schmelzer had seven shots on Saturday, tying for the team’s highest mark with Chamberland.

“I thought Ryan was the best player on the ice,” stated Coach Smith. “I thought he was calm under a lot of pressure for a game, it was hairy. He plays power plays, plays penalty kills and I thought he was a real leader for us.”

This was the second consecutive tournament that the two rivals met each other with Canisius claiming victory in both. Last year’s tournament needed a decisive third game to find a winner. It was the fourth overall playoff series between the Western New York schools in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs since Niagara joined the conference in 2011. Canisius has won every series.

“It’s a statement about the community of Canisius, not just the hockey program, not just the athletic department,” Coach Smith said about reaching Rochester. “What we have done being at the HARBORCENTER, what we’ve been able to do it takes the entire community to say hockey is important. It is and the players have backed it up.”

Atlantic Hockey roundup

With Canisius claiming the No. 1 seed in the tournament, will be the “home team” for the rest of their tournament games at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.

Air Force defeated Bentley on Saturday evening, 2-0, clinching their spot in Rochester next weekend after sweeping No. 8 seed Bentley in Colorado.

In speaking of military academies, the No. 3 seeded Army West Point were defeated by No. 7 Mercyhurst in overtime on Saturday, forcing a third game to be played on Sunday. If Army wins Sunday, the Griffs will play Robert Morris on Friday in Rochester, who swept Holy Cross with a 3-2 win on Saturday. In the scenario of a Mercyhurst win, the Lakers will end up playing  Canisius next Friday, while Air Force would face off against Robert Morris.

“It’s awesome,” Schmelzer said about playing in Rochester. “I was there my freshmen year, it was very exciting being there. I’m really excited to go back.”

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