Atlantic Hockey Tournament Preview
by Mike McMahon/Staff Writer
In last weekend’s quarterfinal series, just one higher seed – Mercyhurst – won its series, resulting in the fifth, sixth and seventh seeds joining top-seeded Mercyhurst in Rochester for the Atlantic Hockey Championship this weekend.
The stakes are simple in the AHA. The winner moves on to the NCAA tournament while the losers will have their seasons end.
Canisius vs. Mercyhurst
(Canisius won season series, 2-1)
To say Canisius is playing with house money would be a massive understatement.
The Griffs head to Rochester this weekend with hopes of repeating as Atlantic Hockey champions. This comes just five days after it beat Bentley in Game 3 of its quarterfinal series last week, which came a day after the Griffs erased a 4-1 third-period deficit to win a do-or-die Game 2 in double overtime.
“It was a lot of resiliency and a never-give-up attitude,” said Canisius assistant coach B.J. Adams. “It would have been easy for us to shut it down but it’s a credit to our guys. Capo held the fort strong and we kept chipping away.”
Kyle Gibbons scored that double-OT goal for the Griffs, his 57th career goal.
“It was special,” he said. “Going out for the third, we didn’t want it to end and we led by example.”
That win gives the Griffs a date with Mercyhurst, which finished first in the conference this season. It’s also a rematch of last season’s title game, which Canisius won, 7-2.
In fact, the Griffs seem to have the Lakers’ number of late. Canisius won just 11 games in the Atlantic Hockey regular season, but two of those were against the Lakers.
“They’re in first for a reason,” Adams said. “We’ll need a lot of work and a lot of effort. We have to do what we do, which is to be strong down low and to move pucks quick and get it to the net.”
Mercyhurst’s high-powered offense – the Lakers are scoring 3.6 goals per game, which is fifth in the nation – will be contested by Canisius senior Tony Capobianco, who has been stellar in the playoffs throughout the career.
In 11 Atlantic Hockey tournament games, Capobianco is 10-1, with his only loss coming in overtime last weekend against Bentley in Game 1. He’s stopped 94.8 of the shots he faced and is allowing just 1.92 goals per game.
Mercyhurst’s attack includes seven players with at least 10 goals – only one of whom is a senior – led by Matthew Zay, who leads the team with 42 points and 17 goals.
“We’re going to need to go out and play like there’s no tomorrow,” Gibbons said.
It won’t be the first time the Griffs have that situation.
Pick: Canisius, 3-2
Robert Morris vs. Niagara
(Regular-season series tied, 1-1-1)
Robert Morris heads to the Atlantic Hockey semifinals for the first time this weekend at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
It will be their first time in that tournament territory, but it won’t be the first time the Colonials will find themselves inside the arena this season.
Last month, during a road trip to RIT, head coach Derek Schooley took his team over to the arena for a tour. It was also for motivational reasons: this is where the Colonials wanted to end up.
"It just showed us a destination, where we wanted to be and where we wanted to play,” Schooley said. “I just told them we're going to walk over to the (Rochester) Americans' rink and see the building and that it should be a goal to play here in March.”
Since Jan. 1, it’s as if the Colonials have flipped a switch.
Robert Morris started the season 2-12-2, but have since gone 15-5-3, including a two-game sweep at Connecticut last weekend in the quarterfinal round.
"We've checked one box," Schooley said. "We haven't reached the ultimate goal and that's winning the AHA championship. We know it's going to be a challenge. We know it's going to be difficult. We know we have to pay the price.
"We've given tremendous effort since Jan. 1 and it shows with results but you have to remember the price you gotta pay to get those results. We shouldn't be satisfied with what we've accomplished.”
Niagara comes into this weekend after upsetting Air Force last weekend on the road in the quarterfinal. The Purple Eagles dropped the first game before earning a pair of 4-3 victories in the second and third game.
"The team that works the hardest, that pays the price and sacrifices will be the most successful.” Schooley said.
Pick: Robert Morris, 4-1