When Canisius and Niagara last met in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs in 2013, the Purple Eagles were ranked 15th in the nation, sat comfortably in the PairWise rankings and were guaranteed a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
The Golden Griffins were surging, having won their last six games. They knocked off Niagara, 5-3, in the semifinals en route to their first conference title and ensuing automatic bid into hockey’s version of March Madness.
The teams meet again, this time in a best-of-three first-round playoff series that begins at 7:35 Friday in HarborCenter. The series continues at 7:35 on Saturday with Sunday’s game, if necessary, at 5:05 p.m.
This time the meeting is quite different.
Niagara is 5-23-6 overall and in danger of posting its worst season in its 20-year history. The Purple Eagles set that mark last season, going 7-28-4.
Junior goaltender Jackson Teichroeb has started all 11 playoff games for Niagara the past two seasons with a 2.31 goals-against average and .933 save percentage in that span. His 2015 postseason was highlighted by a career-best 58 saves in a 2-1 triple overtime loss at Holy Cross in the opening round. He rebounded with 49 saves the next night as the 11th-seeded Purple Eagles upset the sixth seeded Crusaders in Game Three.
The Golden Griffins slipped into the No. 7 seed after losing their last four regular-season games to finish at 10-13-5 in Atlantic Hockey.
The Griffs entered this season as one of the youngest teams in college hockey. Only two players have significant Atlantic Hockey playoff experience. Senior Ralph Cuddemi in 16 playoff games has eight goals, 15 points and a plus-11 rating. Junior Shane Conacher in 10 playoff games has four goals, five assists and a plus-8 rating.
Robert Morris won the Atlantic Hockey regular-season title with an 18-6-4 conference mark, 21-9-4 overall. Air Force finished second and Holy Cross third, earning first-round byes.
No. 4 Mercyhurst and No. 5 RIT also earned first round byes. They will play each other in Erie, Pa., in the best-of-three quarterfinal round beginning March 11.
Other opening round series: No. 6 Army hosts No. 11 American International and No. 8 Bentley hosts No. 9 Sacred Heart.
Teams are reseeded after each round.