Niagara Gazette

July 30, 2013

NU hockey can't fall behind

By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Niagara University dominated Western New York's Division I hockey scene for much of the 2012-13 season.

The Purple Eagles were the talk of the town thanks to an 11-game unbeaten streak, a 23-10-5 record, the Atlantic Hockey Association regular season title and program-best rankings at the national level.

But the team faltered at the end of the season, dropping five of its last eight contests, including a loss in the AHA final.

While Niagara did have a good showing in a 2-1 loss to North Dakota in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, the AHA final loss left the door open for WNY rival Canisius — the AHA victor — to sneak into the NCAA Tournament and steal the end-of-the-season spotlight.

Like Niagara, the Golden Griffins lost in the first round — only they played on ESPN and held a two-goal lead over top-ranked (and eventual NCAA champion) Quinnipiac with just under 12 minutes remaining in the third period.

Now, with Tuesday's oft-rumored offical announcement that Canisius will call HARBORcenter — Terry Pegula's key project in his effort to make Buffalo hockey's Mecca — its home rink, the Griffs have taken a step toward increasing their stranglehold on WNY college hockey.

If HARBORcenter is a success, Pegula turns around the Sabres and Buffalo becomes the new Hockeytown, USA, Canisius will rise to prominence with it. The Griffs are tied to the success of the endeavor and could become a national D-1 destination if "Canisius" becomes synonymous with "Hockey Heaven."

That's bad news for NU, which once carried the torch as WNY's premier D-1 program.

Not that the Purple Eagles should lay down and accept their place as WNY's No. 2. Buffalo becoming a hockey destination would have a trickle-down effect that would benefit NU, and were Canisius to become a top program, Niagara would get some play simply for being a rival.

But it's tough to be the Mets when the Yankees are in town. If Niagara wants to take advantage of the potential changing landscape, it needs to make some changes of its own.

The simplest way would be to beat the Griffs on the ice. All the perks that come from residing in Pegulaville won't matter if they're not winning.

But the NU brass should think outside the box, too. There's an opportunity available to become a premier program, and no one will be happy on Monteagle Ridge if it's Canisius flourishing.

Respond to Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler or via email at mike.meiler@niagara-gazette.com.