Griffs to open quarterfinals at home against AHC

Schmelzer

Canisius will look to have Ryan Schmelzer back in the lineup this weekend. He has not played since Feb. 3 with an upper-body injury. (Marshall Haim/The Griffin)

By Canio Marasco III

Sports Reporter

The Canisius hockey team starts their 2018 playoff campaign with a quarterfinal matchup this weekend against the American International College Yellow Jackets.

AIC ended the regular season in eighth place in the Atlantic Hockey Conference. The Yellow Jackets drew Niagara in the first round of the playoffs, dominating the Purple Eagles by sweeping the best-of-three series.

The Yellow Jackets blew out the Purple Eagles in the first game, 4-1. After having won the first game of the series, the Yellow Jackets entered the second game with a chance to advance to the quarterfinals.

In a hard-fought game, the Yellow Jackets were able to grind out a tough 4-3 win in double overtime. After a scoreless first overtime period, the Purple Eagles were assessed a penalty part way through the second frame. Blake Christensen scored the game- and series-winning goal on the powerplay.

The series win over Niagara was the first for the Yellow Jackets’ since they became a Division I program in 1998-99.

Canisius finished the season in second place, meaning they would matchup against the second-worst remaining seed in the playoffs. After No. 11 Sacred Heart, the lowest seed in the conference, upset No. 6 RIT, the second-lowest remaining seed is the No. 8 Yellow Jackets.

The Griffs have played the Yellow Jackets twice this season in mid-January, splitting their only weekend series.

In the first game of the series, the Griffs lost, 3-0. In an atypical performance, the Griffs were unable to find the back of the goal. In the second game, the offensive floodgates opened, as the Griffs blew out the Yellow Jackets, 6-1.

Despite being the No. 2 seed in the playoffs, and being a heavy-favorite over the Yellow Jackets, it would be disingenuous to say the Griffs have dominated the AHC this season.

Canisius has six more wins in Atlantic Hockey play than the Yellow Jackets, but have been far from consistent this season.

Despite being one of the better teams in the conference, the Griffs have only swept four series this season.

This is largely due to the streaky scoring of the Griffs. Before the season, head coach Trevor Large said that he felt the Griffs could have a dynamic offense – they have large, skilled forwards. That vision has come to fruition this season, but it hasn’t been consistent.

The Griffs have scored the fourth most goals in the conference this season (105). Although an impressive mark, in seven games this season, the Griffs have scored five goals or more.

Although the Griffs’ scoring rarely dries-up completely, this high-caliber offense is coupled with an average defense. The Griffs have allowed 101 goals this season, which is the fourth most in the conference.

The playoffs have been disappointing for the Griffs since 2013, when they won the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, making an appearance in the NCAA Tournament. In the years since, the Griffs have been near the top of the conference every season but have failed to win the conference.

It seemed an almost foregone conclusion that the Griffs would win the conference last season. They had the best goaltender in the league and were consistent in every facet of the game. However, they were knocked out in the semifinals against Robert Morris. The Griffs have another great chance to break their conference championship dry-spell this season.

Dylan McLaughlin was named to the All-Atlantic Hockey’s first team, and Ryan Schmelzer was a third team member. Both players, who the Griffs lean on heavily, have playoff experience.

As the Griffs look to win the conference for the first time in five years, they will need to find consistent scoring – through the continued strong play of McLaughlin and Schmelzer – and put together their best defensive performance of the season.

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