Hockey in semifinals for fifth time in six years

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By Canio Marasco III

Sports Reporter

Canisius hockey will take on Air Force in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals tonight at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

It is the fifth time in the last six years that the Griffs are playing in Rochester for the semifinals. Canisius punched their ticket after defeating AIC last weekend in a best-of-three series.

Canisius entered the playoffs as the No. 2 seed and a heavy favorite to win the series.

The first game went perfectly for the Griffs as they silenced the Yellow Jackets, 8-1. The Griffs scored three goals in the first period while adding a pair in the following period. Canisius opened the game with four unanswered tallies before AIC scored just over five minutes into the second period.

The Griffs would then add four more goals to easily take the series lead, 1-0.

Scoring dried up for the Griffs in the second game, as the Yellow Jackets tied the series up with a 2-1 overtime win, forcing a decisive third game.

AIC tallied the first goal of the game just five minutes into the opening period. The Griffs, following a scoreless second period, were able to tie the game early in the third to force overtime. But, with a series-deciding goal on the line, the Yellow Jackets were able to force a pivotal third game with a goal just over eight minutes into overtime.

In the third – and final — game of the series, the Griffs were able to punch their ticket to the semifinals with a 3-0 win.

Canisius opened the scoring halfway through the first period before adding tallies in the second and third periods, coasting to the easy win.

Air Force, who is in the semifinals for the third straight year, entered the postseason as the No. 5 seed in Atlantic Hockey.

The Falcons took the first game of the series over No. 4 Army, 5-3, before losing the second game, 1-0. In the final game of the series at West Point, both teams struggled to score. The loser-go-home game entered overtime scoreless, before Air Force ended the series scoring the series-winning goal six minutes into the additional stanza.

With the win, the Falcons drew the Griffs in a one-game semifinal this weekend. Canisius has played the Falcons four times this season, splitting the first two-game series in Buffalo in late October. The Falcons won both games in the two-game series in Colorado Springs, Colo in mid-February.

The Falcons entered the season as a preseason favorite to win the AHC. After a slow start to the campaign, the Falcons were able to claw their way into fifth place by season’s end.

Air Force is powered by their strong defensive play. They allowed the least goals of any team in Atlantic Hockey (78), and their 2.31 goals allowed per game is 11th in the country (out of 60 teams).

Billy Christopoulos helps Air Force to their strong defensive play. The junior goaltender is tied for the most wins (20), while owning the best goals against average (2.17) and is sixth in save percentage (.916) in Atlantic Hockey.

On the opposite side, Canisius has relied heavily on their offense this season, scoring the second most goals in the conference (117). Their 3.16 goals per game clip is the 14th best in Division I.

The 117 goals this season for the Griffs is the most since 2013-14 when they netted 120 goals. Canisius is only three behind the current conference leader, Mercyhurst.

Canisius also has one of the most potent offensive players in the conference, Dylan McLaughlin. The junior, who has 48 points (17 goals and 31 assists), was tabbed Atlantic Hockey’s Player of the Year on Thursday, while also being named a Top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Award on Wednesday.

McLaughlin and Canisius have a tough test against the Falcons as the Griffs rely on their offense, while the Falcons rely on their defense.

When the Griffs are scoring, they have shown that they can beat anyone. If the Griffs have another outpouring of goals, like they did in the first game against AIC, the stout defense of the Falcons might not be enough to stop Canisius.

Puck drop is scheduled for 8 p.m. tonight at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.

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