Canisius grabbed its first Atlantic Hockey Association tournament championship with a 7-2 win over Mercyhurst on Saturday night at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
Niagara made a little more history on Sunday night when the 16 teams for the 2013 NCAA Division I tournament were announced and the Purple Eagles landed a spot in the field. Niagara is the first Atlantic team to earn an at-large bid to the tournament since the league debuted in 2003.
Now the two Atlantic Hockey flag carriers will see what they can do about making a little more noise.
Niagara is seeded No. 3 in the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich., and takes on No. 2 North Dakota on Friday night.
Canisius, the No. 4 seed in the East Regional in Providence, R.I., plays No. 1 Quinnipiac.
“Canisius is playing its best hockey,” said UConn coach David Berard. “My hat’s off to them. They’re certainly in a situation I’d like to be in right now. It’s a credit to the coaches and players. They believe in themselves and they’re buying into it. It’s great to see two teams from our league in the tournament.”
Berard’s team lost to Mercyhurst, 4-1, in one semifinal on Friday. In the other, Canisius ousted Niagara, 5-3.
The Griffs then took out Mercyhurst 7-2, in the finale.
“We’re really just playing a good, solid team game,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith “Our guys are playing hard and we’re hard to play against. The maturity level and effort level is extremely high."
Both Canisius and Niagara have gotten outstanding play from a junior goalie -- Tony Capobianco for Canisius and Carsen Chubak for Niagara -- during the season and they have two of the best defenses in the league overall.
Canisus is first in goals against at 2.28 and Niagara fourth at 2.42.
They’ll see what they can do with Quinnipiac and North Dakota.
Quinnipiac is 27-7-5 and was ranked No. 1 in the country the second half of the season and has its own outstanding goaltender in Eric Hartzell, who has a .934 save percentage and 1.52 goals against average.
The Bobcats allow just 1.62 goals a game and score three each contest.
The winner of the Canisius-Quinnipac game advances to the Regional final to play the winner of a game between No. 2 seed Boston College and No. 3 Union.
North Dakota features a couple of the top scorers in the country in seniors Danny Kristo (25-26-51) and Coban Knight (15-33-48). North Dakota averages 3.30 goals a game and allows 2.45.
The Niagara-North Dakota winner plays either No. 1 seed Minnesota or No. 4 Yale in the West championship game.
The Griffs and Purple Eagles hope to match RIT’s accomplishment from 2010.
That year, the Tigers knocked off Denver and then New Hampshire to become the first league team to make to the Frozen Four.
Canisius and Niagara will try to be the second and third teams to get there.
Player of the Week
Kyle Gibbons, F, jr., Canisius
Gibbons scored the first two goals to get the Griffs off to a good start in the Atlantic Hockey championship game against Mercyhurst. He added a couple of assists later and had six points for the weekend and 12 for the league tournament. Gibbons leads Canisius with 20 goals and 22 assists for 42 points.
Games of the week
Niagaravs. No. Dakota, Friday; Canisius vs. Quinnipiac, Saturday
The Purple Eagles, the first at-large contender from Atlantic Hockey, are the No. 3 seed in the West Regional in Grand Rapids, Mich, and take on No. 2 North Dakota. Atlantic Hockey tournament champion Canisius is a No. 4 seed and drew Quinnipiac, the No. 1 seed in the East Regional in Providence and the No. 1 seed overall in the tournament.
1. Canisius (19-18-5, 12-13-2) . . . The Griffs took out Niagara, 5-3, and Mercyhurst, 7-2, on the way to their first league title. Mercyhurst got to within 4-2 in the championship game with a goal in the first minute of the third period. But a Cody Freeman goal at 7:03 of the period, followed by a Torrey Lindsay goal 74 seconds later, put it away.
2. Niagara (23-9-5, 20-5-2) . . . Senior Giancarlo Iuorio’s goal with just under seven minutes left in the second period, tied Niagara’s semifinal contest with Canisius at 3-3. The Griffs pulled away with a goal with 20 seconds left in the period and another two minutes into the third. Junior Ryan Murphy leads Niagara at 15-21-36.
3. Mercyhurst (19-17-5, 12-11-4) . . . Senior Paul Chiasson scored a pair of goals in Mercyhurst’s 4-1 win over UConn in the semifinals. He ended his season at 15-12-27 and career at 55-54-109. Senior Grant Blakey was at 13-17-30 for the season and 37-59-96 for his career. Sophomores Matthew Zay (13-26-39) and Ryan Misiak (18-20-38) led Mercyhurst this season.
4. UConn (19-14-4, 14-10-3) . . . Senior forward Sean Ambrosie paced the Huskies at 10-22-32 and closed out his career at 34-71-105. Senior goalie Garrett Bartus had a ,911 save percentage and 3.02 gaa for his career. Matt Grogan, a senior who has a year of eligibility remaining, took over for Bartus in the second half and was at .937 and 1.93.
5. Holy Cross (20-14-3, 15-9-3).
6. Air Force (17-13-7, 15-7-5).
7. Robert Morris (20-14-4, 13-11-3).
8. RIT (15-18-5, 11-12-4).
9. AIC (12-17-6, 9-12-6).
10. Bentley (12-20-3, 10-14-3).
11. Army (7-22-5, 7-15-5).
12. Sacred Heart (2-30-4, 2-21-4).
Allen Lessels can be reached at email@example.com