Niagara Gazette — The Niagara Purple Eagles came away big winners in Rochester on Thursday, and the games hadn't even started yet.
NU came away with three major Atlantic Hockey awards, with Dave Burkholder winning Coach of the Year, Mark Zanette winning Defensive Forward of the Year and goaltender Carsen Chubak coming away with conference Player of the Year, as well as being named a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker, college hockey's national player of the year award.
After sweeping RIT in the Atlantic Hockey quarterfinals, the No. 14/15 Niagara hockey team will continue its quest for its first AHA Tournament title against another local rival when the Purple Eagles play Canisius in the semifinal at 4:05 p.m. today at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
The Purple Eagles (23-8-5, 20-5-2 AHA) took the season series 2-1, shutting out the Golden Griffins, 2-0, at Dwyer Arena and splitting a pair of road games played at Buffalo State.They earned a spot in the semifinals following a sweep over RIT at Dwyer last weekend, capped by Zanette's overtime goal.
"When the game was on the line, we made plays and they didn't," Burkholder said. "It was a tough, hard-fought series, but we were able to finish when it mattered."
NU's top line of Zanette, Giancarlo Iuorio and Ryan Murphy carried the team offensively, combining for eight points in the two games. Iuorio had two goals and an assist in the opener, while Murphy finished with three assists.
The Purps' penalty killers managed to keep the No. 2 power play in the country off the board in seven attempts, led by Chubak, who stopped 59 shots on the weekend.
Canisius (17-18-5, 12-13-2) swept Bentley in the first round of the postseason, then swept second-seeded Air Force in the quarterfinals. NU was swept by Air Force in the final two games of the regular season, during which the Purple Eagles were outscored 11-3.
"They're the hottest team in the country right now," Burkholder said. "To do what they did against Air Force, that's impressive. We're going to have to be on our game."
Kyle Gibbons leads the Griffins with 36 points (18+18), while Preston Shupe is second with 26 (16+10). Tony Capobianco has handled the workload in net, posting a 16-18-4 record with a goals-against average of 2.35 and a save percentage of .929.
The Purple Eagles are 13-8-2 in Division I games against Canisius, and have just one loss to the Griffins in the last six meetings (4-1-1). This is the third time the teams will meet in a single-elimination playoff game, which Canisius winning the most recent matchup in the first round of the AHA playoffs in 2011.
The game will be broadcast live on WJJL 1440 AM and PurpleEagles.com, and can be seen on television on TWC13.
Whichever team comes out on top will play the winner of Mercyhurst-UConn in the AHA championship at 7:05 p.m. Saturday at Blue Cross Arena with an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament on the line. Should the Purple Eagles lose, they'll hope for an at-large bid from the selection committee.