Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — One might figure the Niagara hockey team would have trouble playing on enemy ice against rival Canisius College.
But in fact, just the opposite is true.
The 15th-ranked Purple Eagles will try to extend their mastery over the Golden Griffins when the clubs meet tonight at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. Faceoff is is set for 7:05 p.m. The two teams wrap up the series Saturday night in Dwyer Arena.
Niagara has won the last four meetings on Canisius ice, including a 2-1 triumph on November 16. They have outscored the Griffs 15-7 in those four victories.
Niagara defenseman Dan Weiss has been through the Canisius-Niagara wars for four years now. The bad feelings associated with this rivalry are not just for the media and fans.
“It is that crosstown rivalry, a cliché that people talk about, but is definitely real,” Weiss said. “My sophomore year, they knocked us out of the playoffs, and kind of set us back and left a bad taste in our mouths. We definitely have that, wouldn’t say hatred, but definitely a dislike for them.”
And according to Weiss, it doesn’t take long for the indoctrination of bitter feelings toward Canisius in younger Niagara players.
“You kind of come in and you already know that Canisius is the team that you are going to bring it against them every night,” Weiss said. “We kind of extoll that in those guys. It doesn’t really matter where they are in the standings, or where we are."
Niagara comes in rolling, basically as it has all season. The Purple Eagles are 7-1-2 in their last 10 games to begin the second semester, and are 17-4-5 overall. In Atlantic Hockey, Niagara burst out of the gate early and has never looked back en route to a 16-1-2 record.
The Purple Eagles hold a commanding 11-point lead over second-place Mercyhurst in the conference standings, although the Lakers have a game in hand. Barring a major collapse, the Purple Eagles should be the regular season champions and get a first-round bye.
“We always try to take it game by game,” Weiss said. “Of course, all of us have looked at the standings. But anything can happen, especially in college hockey. People can get hot and go on rolls, and people can start slumping.”
While the Purple Eagles are dominating the conference, Canisius is in a battle for position.
The Griffs are 9-8-2 (10-13-5 overall) and are in fifth place, only three points behind Mercyhurst for second place. But, they are also just two points up on the three teams tied for eighth — Connecticut, the Rochester Institute of Technology and Army. Canisius is 2-4-0 in its last six games.
“We played them once, but that was so long ago,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “They are really, really fast, and they compete like heck, and they are very good defensively. They have one of the best goalies in Atlantic Hockey (Tony Capobianco). We are going to have our hands full. They are up in the standings for a reason."
Capobianco is 9-13-4 with a 2.23 goals against average. Niagara will probably start junior Carsen Chubak in goal, who is 17-3-5 with a 1.81 GAA and a .941 sv. pctg.