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Know your enemy: reports on Canisius, Niagara first-round rivals

The Purple Eagles will have their talons full with the Fighting Sioux.

blog by Ben Kirst  • 

On Sunday night—an evening described by Buffalo News sportswriter Amy Moritz as “...the best night for college hockey in Western New York history and one of the most memorable for the Big 4 in any sport”—the Canisius and Niagara men’s hockey outfits learned their opponents and game locations for the first round of the 16-team NCAA tournament.



As expected, the two squads will have their work cut out for them. Also, as expected, neither faces an impossible task.

Let’s check out the opponents for our two local teams:

No. 16 Canisius (19-18-5) vs. No. 1 Quinnipiac (27-7-5), 5:30 p.m., Saturday, Providence, R.I. TV—ESPN3. The Bobcats are the top seed in the tournament and are currently ranked first in the USA Today/USA Hockey poll and second in the USCHO.com poll. Coach Rand Pecknold’s team won the regular season ECAC title, and finished third in the conference playoff tourney.

Scoring on Quinnipiac is harder than finding a hockey rink in the Sahara—the Bobcats are first in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 1.62 goals per game, and boast the top penalty-killing unit, as well. Goaltender Eric Hartzell is lights-out—the senior from White Bear Lake, Minnesota has a 1.52 goals-against average, stops over 93 percent of the shots he sees, posted five shutouts this season and won over 77 percent of his starts. Seniors Loren Barron, Mike Dalhuisen, Zach Davies and Zack Currie have anchored the tough defensive corps.

Quinnipiac led the ECAC in scoring at 3.32 goals per game in conference matchups. The scoring is balanced. Senior Jeremy Langlois had 12 goals and 18 assists on the season to lead the team with 30 points. Fellow forwards Matthew Peca, Jeremy Samuels-Thomas, Kellen Jones and Connor Jones all have over 20 points apiece.

Weaknesses? The power play is in the bottom fifth of D-1 teams, converting just 13 percent of its opportunities. The Bobcats take over 16 minutes in penalties per game, second-most in the country.

Quinnipiac lost to a pretty good Robert Morris team and a decidedly mediocre American International squad this season—both Atlantic Hockey teams along with Canisius. The Golden Griffins won’t have much room for error, but the Bobcats are not untouchable.

No. 10 Niagara (23-9-5) vs. No. 8 North Dakota (21-12-7), 5:30 p.m., Friday, March 29, Grand Rapids, Mich. TV—ESPNU.The Fighting Sioux finished third in the WCHA regular season standings and were eliminated in the second round of conference playoffs—a hard-fought 4-3 loss to Colorado College, another tournament-bound team. 

The Grand Forks (N.D.) Herald had the story:

UND outchanced the Tigers throughout the game, but goalie Joe Howe was strong in making 29 saves and the Colorado College attackers were opportunistic against UND goaltender Clarke Saunders, who stopped 19 shots but allowed a shot from 40 feet that he’ll want back…

On the winning goal, Colorado College won a faceoff back to Stoykewych, who launched a point shot through a lot of traffic. It hit the leg of UND defenseman Nick Mattson and went past Saunders. The Tigers came on the ice to celebrate the winning goal, which was reviewed and upheld.

Colorado College lost, 3-2, to Wisconsin in the WCHA finals.

Ranked seventh on both major national polls, North Dakota is certainly battle-tested—five teams (Denver, Minnesota, Minnesota State, North Dakota, Wisconsin) from the WCHA made the NCAA tournament. The Fighting Sioux are appearing in their 11th consecutive NCAA tournament, the longest streak in the country.

Senior forwards Danny Kristo (25 goals, 26 assists) and Corban Knight (15 goals, 33 assists) rank among the 10 most productive offensive players in the nation in 2012-13. Both are among the 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, given annually to the top player in college hockey. The Fighting Sioux offense is fifth in the country, netting 131 goals in 39 games.

It’s tough to find many flaws for North Dakota. Like Quinnipiac, they are a fiesty bunch, collecting over 16 penalty minutes per game in conference play. The Fighting Sioux were third in the WCHA on the penalty kill (83.8 percent), fourth on the power play (20.8 percent), third in scoring (3.32 goals per game) and fifth in scoring defense (2.54 goals per game)—again, all in probably the toughest conference in the nation.

Virg Foss of The Grand Forks Herald may have some insight into their Achilles’ heel, however:

You certainly need consistent goaltending, perhaps outstanding goaltending, to win four games in a row in the NCAA regionals and Frozen Four and be the national champion.

The way I see it, I’m not sure who is UND’s best bet in goal heading into nationals, Saunders or freshman Zane Gothberg.

Both have had stretches of brilliance. Yet both have given up soft goals of late, leaving a big question mark for that position heading into the regionals next week.

I think the NCAA tournament is wide open this season, that a number of teams have the talent to win it, UND included.

I don’t know if there’s another team to be named to the 16-team tournament tomorrow that will go into the NCAA regionals unsure who its No. 1 goalie will be the rest of the way.

Niagara has forwards like Giancarlo Iurio and Ryan Murphy who can rack up goals—and after netminder Carsen Chubak’s meltdown against Canisius in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals, the Purple Eagles may need more than a couple to knock off North Dakota.

TAGGED: canisius college, golden griffins, ncaa hockey, niagara university, north dakota, purple eagles, quinnipiac

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