March 13, 2014

Atlantic Hockey: Golden Griffs aim to repeat last year's script

By Allen Lessels

Goaltender Tony Capobianco and Canisius nearly knocked off Quinnipiac in last year's NCAA tournament. (Photo by Dave Arnold/New England Hockey Journal)

So here sits Canisius, tied for seventh in the Atlantic Hockey standings and awarded the No. 7 seed for the league tournament that begins this weekend.

Sound familiar? Ring at least a bit of a bell?

Dave Smith’s crew, some might recall, tied for seventh in the standings last year and went into the tournament as the No. 7 seed.

The Golden Griffins, led by the crunch-time goaltending of junior Tony Capobianco, proceeded to roll right through the whole darn thing to their first league tournament title and first appearance in the NCAA tournament.

There, Canisius led Quinnipiac 3-1 early in the third period before falling 4-3.

Now the Golden Griffins will try to repeat the process.

Eleven other Atlantic Hockey teams have the same idea.

“That’s the beauty of the playoffs,” said Mercyhurst coach Rick Gotkin. “Everybody’s starting over. It’s a clean slate. Whether you had a great year or one that was not so great, if you’re in it, you have a chance to win it.”

Mercyhurst gets to start from the front. The Lakers clinched their first regular season league championship with a weekend to spare and are the No. 1 seed, followed by Bentley at No. 2, Air Force at No. 3 and Connecticut at No. 4.

Those four get this weekend off and wait to see how the dust settles after what should be an entertaining first round of best-of-three series.

The pairings have No. 12 Army at No. 5 Robert Morris, No. 11 AIC at No. 6 Niagara, No. 10 Sacred Heart at No. 7 Canisius and No. 9 RIT at No. 8 Holy Cross.

There are no givens in the matchups.

Sacred Heart and Canisius split their regular season series and so did AIC and Niagara. Holy Cross took three points at RIT.

Army lost its two games against Robert Morris. The Black Knights and Colonials were tied at 4-4 with less than five minutes to go in the second game before Robert Morris pulled way to a 6-4 win. 

“That’s our league,” Gotkin said. “We played Army in January and won both games 3-1. Both were tight games and we left West Point feeling real fortunate that we won those games. They’re in 12th place and we felt luck to beat them.”

So now it begins.

Will Canisius reprise last year’s script and go on another championship run? Will it be Holy Cross, RIT, Sacred Heart or someone else this time around?

Will a team, or teams, surviving this weekend pull an upset and get past the quarterfinals, too, and move on to the league championship series at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester, N.Y.?

Stay tuned.

“It’s exciting stuff,” Gotkin said. “It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

Player of the Week

Tony Capobianco, sr., G, Canisius

Capobianco got the tournament season off to a nice start for the Golden Griffins. He made 27 saves on Friday night and followed up with 31 on Saturday for a pair of shutouts against Sacred Heart, 3-0 and 5-0.

Series of the week

Canisius at Bentley

The Golden Griffins and Falcons square off in a quarterfinal series that is one of three tournament rematches from a year ago. Canisius and Bentley met in the first round last year and the Golden Griffins advanced with a sweep.

Power Rankings

1.      Mercyhurst (19-12-7, 17-4-6)  . . . Junior goalie Jimmy Sarjeant heads into the playoffs with a .931 save percentage and 2.42 goals against average to go with his 16-4-6 overall record. In Atlantic Hockey games, Sarjeant is at .943, 2.00 and 14-0-5.

2.      Bentley (18-12-4, 16-7-4) . . . Senior Brett Gensler leads the Falcons at 18-27-45. Of the next six top scorers, three are juniors, two are sophomores and one is a freshman. Senior Branden Komm has a .926 save percentage, 2.38 gaa and 18-10-4 record.

3.      UConn (18-12-4, 15-9-3) . . . Senior forwards Billy Latta and Brant Harris are tied atop the UConn scoring sheet. Latta is at 13-13-26 and Harris at 11-15-26. Senior forward Jordan Sims is next at 7-15-22.

4.      Air Force (20-12-4, 15-9-3) . . . The top three Falcon scorers in the regular season were juniors: Cole Gunner led the way at 14-28-42, Chad Demers was at 14-25-39 and Scott Holm at 11-16-27.

5.      Robert Morris (15-17-5, 13-9-5) . . . Junior forwards Scott Jacklin (three goals, two assists) and Cody Wydo (two goals, three assists) led the Colonials past Army in three games in their quarterfinal series. Wydo is at 25-20-45 for the season.

6.      Niagara (13-18-5, 11-11-5) . . . Freshman Jackson Teichroeb made 38 saves to beat AIC 1-0 in overtime on Friday night. He had 29 stops the next night as the Purple Eagles closed out the series with a 4-2 win.

7.      Canisius (14-19-3, 11-13-3) . . . The Golden Griffins shut Sacred Heart out twice behind Tony Capobianco’s standout goaltending. He stopped all 58 shots he saw on the weekend to improve his save percentage to .916 and his goals against average to 2.73.

8.      Holy Cross (14-20-3, 11-13-3) . . . Freshman Mike Barrett scored 38 seconds into overtime to lead the Crusaders to a 3-2 win in the third game of their series against RIT. Shayne Stockton had two goals in a 5-1 Holy Cross win on Saturday.

9.      RIT (12-20-5, 10-14-3) . . . Brad McGowan scored with 4:36 left in overtime to give the Tigers a 3-2 series opening win at Holy Cross. RIT dropped a 5-1 game on Saturday and then closed out the season with a 3-2 overtime loss on Sunday.

10.    Sacred Heart (12-24-0, 11-16-0) . . . The Pioneers went 6-4-0 in their last 10 games before the tournament, but closed the season with a pair of shutouts at Niagara. Three of the top four scorers for Sacred Heart were freshmen, led by Justin Danforth at 5-24-29.

11.    AIC (10-25-1, 9-17-1) . . . Freshman goalie Hunter Leisner made 48 saves to take Niagara to double overtime in the first game of the series before the Yellow Jackets fell, 1-0. Senior Jon Puskar had career-best totals of 17-18-35 for AIC this season.

12.   Army (6-28-0, 5-22-0) . . . Senior captain Brian Schultz had a career-first, two-goal game in a 4-2 win over Robert Morris on Saturday. The triumph got Army to a third game in the series, but the Black Knights fell 3-1 on Sunday