Ice Griffs prepare for Battle of the Bridge
By: Jay Ashdown
As the race to the postseason tightens up in the Atlantic Hockey Association, Canisius’s next task will be taking on their archnemesis Niagara this weekend. The Purple Eagles are currently 9–9–2 in conference play and are tied for sixth in the conference with Air Force and Sacred Heart, who both have 29 points in 20 conference games played.
With AIC in first place with 45 points in 20 games, first place in the conference is very much out of the realm of possibilities for the Griffs this season. The team does have 34 points in 20 games — which is good for second in the conference — and they possess a two-point lead on RIT, who sits in third place.
In order for the Griffs to get much-needed points this weekend to maintain their second-place position in the conference, they’ll need to play two complete games, which has always been a focus from head coach Trevor Large.
As Niagara heads to LECOM Harborcenter for game one, they’ll enter the matchup on a three-game winning streak with a win over Mercyhurst as well as their first season sweep of the season over Bentley. One aspect the Griffs will have to pay attention to is finding ways to get comfort room against Niagara. Of the Purple Eagles’ nine wins this season, seven have been decided by one goal. The other two wins the Purple Eagles had were by two goals, so Niagara is not a team that will run away with a game, but they have become very good at winning close.
The first goal is an important one for both teams, as both boast very good records when striking first. Canisius is 11–2–1 when getting the first goal, while Niagara is 6–2–2. When Niagara gets scored on first, they are 3–14–0, while Canisius is 2–9–2 when they allow one first.
Hockey is a 60-minute game, and in order to take home huge points, both teams will have to put in the work, but both teams are very hard to beat when they maintain a lead after 40 minutes of play. Canisius is 8–1–0 this season when they lead after 40, and Niagara boasts an 8–0–1 record this season, as well in this circumstance. The third period is obviously important, but in order to win these games, these teams have to take advantage of the other team's mistakes early and often, and the team who can find the back of the net quickly will possess a great advantage in the game.
This series will see two of the bright goaltenders in the conference in Jacob Barczewski and Chad Veltri. Barczewski has been dominant again this season for Canisius, boasting a record of 12–9–1 with a save percentage of .921% and a goals-against average of 2.52. While Veltri’s numbers have dipped this year, posting a record of 9–8–1 with a .898% save percentage and a GAA of 3.00, he still boasts a career record of 18–15–5, a .911% save percentage and a GAA of 2.51, so the potential for him to stand on his head this weekend is always a possibility.
The Battle of the Bridge series will begin Friday at 7 p.m. at LECOM Harborcenter before concluding on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Niagara’s Dwyer Arena. Canisius will then finish out their season with two more series against Atlantic Hockey opponents Sacred Heart and Mercyhurst. Three of those four games will be at home, so the Griffs will have more than enough chances to lock down their number-two spot in the conference.