Two of the most prolific goal scorers in Division I men’s ice hockey, Niagara freshman forward Ludwig Stenlund and Canisius senior forward Dylan McLaughlin, will face off for at least a couple of more games when the Purple Eagles host the Golden Griffins in the first round of the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs.
It will be the first time the Purple Eagles will host a playoff game since 2014. Game 1 is at 7 p.m. Friday in Dwyer Arena. Game 2 in the best-of-three series is at 4 p.m. Saturday, and Game 3, if necessary, is at 4 p.m. Sunday. All games are in Lewiston.
Niagara (12-17-5 overall, 11-12-5 conference) is seeded sixth, just missing a first-round bye. Canisius (11-18-5 overall, 8-16-4 conference) is seeded 11th after finishing last in the regular-season standings.
“There’s a lot of special things going on up here, and I think that the exciting part for me is how young we are and our guys, what their ceiling is," Niagara coach Jason Lammers said before the longtime rivals played a home-and-home series in late February. "They’re just kind of scratching the surface here a little bit.”
Stenlund and McLaughlin have each scored 19 goals, top in the conference this season and sixth among all Division I players.
Stenlund led the nation among freshmen in goals, power play goals (9) and points (34) and was named the league's player of the month for February after posting eight goals in nine games and finishing with a 12-point month. He also set the school record for most consecutive games with a goal at eight. Stenlund also was named the league's rookie of the month in November and January.
"We were ranked 11th in our division (in the preseason), so we just want to prove people wrong and go as far as we can," Stenlund said. "Hopefully, that's the national tournament."
McLaughlin, the conference player of the year last season and also a Hobey Baker top-10 selection, is third in the conference with 37 points (19 goals, 18 assists) in 34 games.
Stenlund and Niagara junior defenseman Noah Delmas (12, 22) are tied for sixth with 34 points in 34 games.
Niagara is 2-0-2 against Canisius this season, winning the first two games, 5-2 and 9-6, on Nov. 15 and 17. The teams tied in each of the last two matchups, 2-2 and 3-3, on Feb. 22 and 23.
Freshman Matt Ladd was in net for the two ties and is 2-0-2 in his last four games, including a shutout against Air Force, after returning in mid-February. Ladd has stopped 141 of 147 shots in those games and has solidified a position that has had four starters and has been without projected No. 1 goalie Daniel Urbani for the season.
Ladd, a Getzville native, joined the Golden Griffins at mid-season after playing with the New Jersey Junior Titans of the North American Hockey League.
"When you have a calming presence in net, it goes a long way," coach Trevor Large said after a 2-1 win against RIT to close the regular season. "It allows our team to go out and play. ... It's another tremendous performance for him. Come playoff time, you need to have solid goaltending to win. Right now, we're getting that. Matt's building confidence and our team and coaches are all with him as he's solidified the starting role with us."
The winner of the first-round playoff series advances to the best-of-three conference quarterfinals from March 15-17 against opponents to be determined.
Those top five teams in the final regular season standings – American International, Bentley, Air Force, Sacred Heart and RIT – earned byes into the quarterfinals, where the top three seeds will host opponents that had to win a first-round series to advance.
The semifinals and championship game are March 22-23 at Harborcenter.
The Atlantic tournament champ earns an automatic berth in the NCAA Division I men’s hockey tournament.
Air Force won the conference title in each of the last two seasons and in seven of the last 12 years.
“We’ve been handed an easy mission here to prove people wrong,” Lammers said. “We’re still on a mission to prove people wrong.”