For the second straight year, Niagara's college hockey season ended at the hands of rival Canisius. The Golden Griffins defeated Niagara, 2-1, on Saturday to earn the sweep in the best-of-three quarterfinal round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
On paper, it was the worst season in Niagara's program history with a 5-31-3 record while on the flip side Canisius tied its program record for wins, improving to 21-10-7. But there's more behind the numbers as the season ends for the Purple Eagles and continues for the Griffs.
1. The Purple Eagles won just three games in the regular season but found new life in the playoffs. They knocked off RIT in the best-of-three first round series -- a dramatic upset by Atlantic Hockey standards. In the quarterfinal series against Canisius, they dropped the opener, 3-0, then came back with their best hockey of the season, falling short in the 2-1 loss.
In that final game, senior defenseman Vinny Muto scored a power play goal and had two blocked shots while senior goaltender Jackson Teichroeb made 32 saves including several amazing efforts in the first 40 minutes.
"We had a lot of guys max out tonight which was great," coach Dave Burkholder said after Saturday's game in HarborCenter. "It was a great college hockey game. We had a couple of good pushes throughout the game. I thought Vinny as the game wore on was unbelievable. Obviously Teichs had a great weekend, it’s too bad we didn’t get him more support again, but certainly he gave us a chance to take the win."
2. Goaltender Jackson Teichroeb left his mark on the program. Teicherob ended his collegiate career ranked second in Niagara program history with 2,854 saves, third with seven shutouts, third with 105 games played, and tied for fourth with a .902 save percentage.
He saved his best hockey for the playoffs, with a career post-season goals-against average of 2.44 and save percentage of .931.
3. The biggest problem for Niagara, again, came from injuries. In 39 games this season the Purple Eagles lost 234 man games to injury. Rarely did Burkholder have the opportunity to make any decisions about who played -- he played the roster which was healthy. That left Niagara with no depth and some key losses.
Among the missing was junior Derian Plouffe who was leading the Niagara offense. In six conference games he had five points (three goals, two assists) an was on his way to establishing himself as a top player in Atlantic Hockey when he was hit in the head with a puck at practice in November missing the rest of the season.
Canisius keeps rolling
1. The Griffs are headed to the semis. For the fourth time in five years Canisius is heading to the Atlantic Hockey semifinal game at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. The top-seeded Griffs will face the lowest remaining seed at 4:30 p.m. on Friday. They will meet No. 4 seed Robert Morris while No. 2 Air Force and No. 3 Army West Point will meet in the other semifinal.
The Griffs and Robert Morris played twice in the regular season, both in HarborCenter. Canisius won on Oct. 21, 6-3, while the teams tied the next night, 2-2.
Canisius is on a 17-game unbeaten streak, last losing Jan. 7 to St. Lawrence in a non-conference game. The last time they lost an Atlantic Hockey game was Dec. 31 at Holy Cross.
2. Great goaltending makes all the difference. Charles Williams has been the backbone of the Griffs surge. The senior transfer from Ferris State is having the season of his life. He set the school record for longest shutout streak going 209:33 without allowing a goal. He surpassed the previous mark set by Andrew Loewen (201:00) during the 2007-08 season.
Williams is a semifinalist for the Mike Richter Award, given annually to the most outstanding goaltender in men's college hockey. He leads the nation in save percentage (.946) and ranks second in goals-against average (1.75). He has set school marks for wins (21) and shutouts (six) in a single season and is on pace to establish program records for goals against average and save percentage in a season.
3. The offensive depth for Canisius has given Williams some goal support. The Griffs struggled early in the season to score, but found their niche as a young team throughout the course of the season. Offense is coming from all over the Canisius lineup.
In Saturday's game against Niagara, Ryan Schmelzer scored his fifth game-winning goal of the season -- the second most game-winning goals in a single season in program history. Felix Chamberland scored his seventh power play goal of the season, giving him a share of the team lead in power-play goals with Nick Hutchison. And defenseman Jimmy Mazza recorded a point for the third straight contest with his assist on Schmelzer’s game-winning goal.
"Just a team effort," Schmelzer said. "Last year it was one line, not too much depth. This year everyone's contributing, everyone's doing little things, everyone's a piece of the puzzle."