Rochester, N.Y. – The Canisius College hockey team advanced to its first Atlantic Hockey Championship with a 5-3 win over top-seeded and local rival Niagara on Friday afternoon. The Griffs extended the nation’s longest winning streak to seven games – a new program record – and improved to 18-18-5 overall. The 15th-ranked Purple Eagles drop to 23-9-5 with the loss.
“It was great team effort against a very good Niagara team, who is having a special season,” said Canisius head coach Dave Smith. “I’m really proud of the effort from everybody and the support in the stands from Canisius fans was outstanding.
Sophomore Tyler Wiseman led the Griffs with by matching a career-high with two tallies. Juniors Ben Danford and Duncan McKellar and sophomore Cody Freeman also added a goal for the Griffs.
Junior Tony Capobianco anchored the Canisius defense with 41 saves and in the process set the Atlantic Hockey Tournament record for saves in a single championship with 201.
The Purple Eagles grabbed the early advantage in a game, scoring just 3:26 into the contest. After receiving a pass from behind the net, Giancarlo Iuorio finished from close range for the 1-0 lead.
Canisius, however, answered right back to set up the back-and-forth affair. Junior Kyle Gibbons found classmate Patrick Sullivan open in front. The junior then made one extra pass to Freeman, who buried his 11th goal of the season to tie the game at one with 9:27 left in the first.
The Griffs then took their first advantage of the day when Danford netted his second goal of the season with just 39.3 seconds remaining in the opening stanza. A scrum in front of the net led to the puck squirting out to Danford, who pinched up from his spot at the point and fired the shot in for the 2-1 lead. Sullivan and Gibbons both registered assists on the go-ahead goal.
Niagara tied the contest at two early in the second frame. Hugo Turcotte stuffed a rebound in to knot the game 4:05 into the second frame.
Canisius reclaimed its lead just over four minutes later when Wiseman scored his first of the day. Freshman Stephen Miller sent a shot toward goal and Wiseman tipped it past the Niagara netminder for the 3-2 Griffs advantage. Sophomore Mitch McCrank added an assist on the tally with 11:36 left in the second.
The Purple Eagles tied the game for one final time with 6:49 remaining in the second frame when Iuorio netted his second of day. The senior once again finished from close range off a pass from behind the net for the 3-3 score.
The Griffs took the lead for good when McKellar netted his third goal of the season, scoring on the power play. The junior defender snuck up from his spot at the point and Wiseman found him open for the back-door goal, giving Canisius the 4-3 advantage with 20.0 seconds remaining in the second period. Sophomore Stephen Farrell also added an assist on the extra-man tally.
Wiseman then stretched the Canisius lead to two soon after the intermission, scoring his sixth goal of the season 1:58 into the final frame. McCrank chipped the puck to Miller and the rookie found Wiseman streaking through the middle of the ice. Wiseman then skated in and finished blocker-side for a two-goal advantage with 18:02 remaining in the contest.
Capobianco then sealed the door for the Griffs, helping Canisius advance to its first Atlantic Hockey Championship and the team’s seventh-straight win.
Niagara finished the game with a 44-29 advantage in shots. Canisius won the special teams battle by going 1-for-3 on the power play and killing all four Niagara extra-man chances.
Carsen Chubak – the 2012-13 Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year – took the loss in net for the Purple Eagles, stopping 24-of-29 shots.
The Griffs now await their opponent for the title game, which will be held on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. in Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena. Fourth-seeded Connecticut and sixth-seeded Mercyhurst squared off in the second semifinal.
Game Notes: The winning streak is longest in the program’s Division I history and the longest in school history since taking eight straight from Oct. 30, 1992 to Nov. 21, 1992 … Capobianco topped the previous Atlantic Hockey record of 193 saves, set by Branden Komm last season … Wiseman netted two goals in a game for the third time in his career … Canisius has scored at least four goals in six of its last seven games after netting four goals in six of its first 34 games of the season … The Griffs improve to 5-22-2 all-time against nationally-ranked schools … The only other time Canisius advanced to a league title game in its Division I history was the 1999 MAAC Championship (a loss to Holy Cross).