Canisius and Niagara men’s basketball, women’s basketball and hockey all to meet in playoffs

By Nick Veronica

Canisius and Niagara have met in the playoffs plenty of times, but never quite like this.

The Western New York rivals’ three most prominent sports teams – men’s basketball, women’s basketball and ice hockey – will all face each other in the first round of their respective conference tournaments this week.

Never before have all three teams met in the playoffs in the same year, let alone in the same round or weekend. 2011 was the only year Canisius and Niagara met in the postseason in two of the three sports, with Canisius women’s basketball beating Niagara in the play-in round and the Griffs hockey team winning in the semifinals.

The chart below shows the history of their postseason meetings. The teams are 3-3 in men’s basketball while Niagara has never beaten Canisius in a postseason women’s basketball or hockey game.

Screen Shot 2016-02-29 at 1.11.32 AM

This week’s schedule

The Canisius-Niagara women’s basketball game kicks off the entire MAAC Tournament weekend, starting things bright and early Thursday morning with a 9:30 a.m. contest at Albany’s Times Union Center.

[2016 MAAC Tournament brackets]

Canisius (8-12) is seeded eighth and Niagara (5-15) is seeded ninth. Canisius swept the regular-season meetings, winning the road game in overtime. The winner plays No. 1 Quinnipiac at noon Friday.

The men’s basketball teams meet in the play-in round at 7 p.m. Thursday night. Seventh-seeded Canisius (also 8-12) swept both games from Niagara (also 5-15) this year.

The winner faces No. 2 Iona at 9:30 p.m. Friday.

The hockey teams play a best-of-three series this Friday-Sunday. No. 7 Canisius (10-13-5) is the higher seed, so it will host all three games at HarborCenter, with faceoff at 7:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 5:05 p.m. Sunday if necessary. 

Canisius took the season series from Niagara (5-18-6, seeded 10th) with a win and a tie. Both games were at HarborCenter.

Atlantic Hockey reseeds teams after the first round, so the next opponent is not yet known. It will either be 1-Robert Morris, 2-Air Force or 3-Holy Cross.

Canisius has already clinched the Battle of the Bridge – the all-sport competition between Canisius and Niagara – for the sixth year in a row. Only regular-season games are included in the competition.

Former leading scorer Murphy won’t return for Niagara hockey

By Nick Veronica

niagara_logo_bigWith its offense down nearly half a goal per game from last season, Niagara’s hockey team could use a boost. But that won’t be coming from former leading scorer Ryan Murphy.

Murphy was suspended from the team in October, reportedly due to a driving while intoxicated charge. Coach Dave Burkholder said Murphy would be suspended half the season, eligible to return on Jan. 13.

But Murphy has not been listed on the team’s roster and a Niagara spokesperson confirmed today that Murphy is no longer with the program.

Murphy led Niagara in scoring last season and was sixth in Atlantic Hockey with 36 points (15 goals, 21 assists) as the Purple Eagles earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Murphy would’ve been a senior this season. The spokesperson did not know if Murphy is still enrolled at the university.

Niagara, which is scoring just 2.65 goals per game (38th of 59 nationally) after averaging 3.05 last year, is 5-12-3 overall but sits in the middle of the pack in Atlantic Hockey at 5-5-3. Niagara hosts Holy Cross this weekend.

Sabres/Canisius rink update: No progress on talks this semester

It has been nearly five months since The Griffin first reported in July that the Canisius athletic department was having discussions with the Buffalo Sabres about potentially partnering to build an ice rink on campus. As a full semester goes by with no new developments in the talks, The Griffin looks for answers.

Athletic Director Bill Maher sits at a table in his office. He’s slightly on edge, but well within reasonable expectations of someone discussing a potential project he previously said would cost over $20 million.

“There’s not much to report there,” he says. “The Sabres continue to look at a number of options. We’ve continued to have discussions with them, but at this time, there’s really been no change and no meetings with the Sabres organization.”

The sides last met early in the fall and haven’t talked since. There have been several meetings since last spring but discussions seem to be cooling off.

“I’d love to be able to make an announcement and tell you [things have changed], but they really haven’t,” Maher said.

“I don’t think we’re any closer, I don’t think we’re any further apart.”

Though Sabres owner Terry Pegula has not been involved in any negotiations, he caused quite a stir last week when he and his wife Kim donated $12 million for athletic facilities to Houghton College (Kim’s alma mater). Maher thought it was a generous gift but said he isn’t concerned the owner of a business he is working with just gave eight figures to a different college for a similar project.

“I don’t look at it that way,” he said.

The discussions are yet to reach a point where the sides are hammering out individual issues — right now, they’re still talking “opportunities.” Maher remains optimistic that Canisius College will someday house its own rink, but right now, it’s a waiting game.

“When there’s the next opportunity to talk, they’ll come to us and we’ll certainly have that dialogue,” Maher said. “I don’t think there’s anything more we can do at this point in time. We can continue to make ourselves available … and from there, we’ll see.”

The ball may be in the Sabres’ court, but they aren’t talking. A team spokesperson declined to give any additional information this week. There have been discussions, but nothing new has happened. A practice facility is something the Sabres would like to have, but it’s just another item on the laundry list of improvements the team would like to make.

Without a partnership with the Sabres, it’s unlikely the school would get a rink in the near future, Maher said, a reminder that Science Hall is the school’s top priority.

C-Block Vice President James Millard was excited when he first read about the possibility of Canisius getting its own rink, but he isn’t upset that nothing has developed over the course of the semester. However, he hopes talks don’t die out completely.

“I think it would be good for the school to have our own rink on campus for two reasons,” Millard said. “One, fan attendance would skyrocket. Driving 5-10 minutes to Buff State may not seem like a big deal, [but] people would walk over just for the fun.”

Secondly, and more importantly: “You would attract a much larger audience when scouting. I ate lunch with head coach Dave Smith a couple weeks ago and he said that’s one of the main reasons people turn Canisius down when they’re looking at schools, because we don’t have our own rink.”

Until the ice freezes inside a new arena, the Griffs will continue to use Buffalo State for every practice and every home game, and administration will continue handing out money from its athletic budget to another college. Someday, local schools and youth organizations may dream of playing in the city’s only Division I facility, but until then, Canisius will travel to play its home games at D-III Buff State, home of the Bengals.

Getting a rink on campus was thought to be something Canisius had to achieve if it were to change conferences. The Griffs may not have left Atlantic Hockey even with a rink, but without one, the team will not move conferences.

“Not right now, for sure,” Maher said. “Atlantic Hockey has always been a good option for us … in the end [moving] wasn’t a better option that what Atlantic Hockey provides us right now.

“There were discussions in the summer; those discussions have closed. We’re a member of Atlantic Hockey and that’s where things stand.”

New potential hockey conference for Canisius, Niagara and… UB?

Air Force rumor in opposition to coach’s decree

With the future of the once-prestigious Central Collegiate Hockey Association in jeopardy, reports have a new potential suitor for the Canisius and Niagara hockey programs: the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Bruce Ciskie from KQDS-FM radio in Duluth, Minn. reported Friday that Bowling Green, currently a CCHA team with an invitation to join the WCHA, had a meeting this week with the four Atlantic Hockey schools who previously met with the CCHA — Canisius, Niagara, Robert Morris and Meryhurst.

The WCHA had originally given BGSU a deadline of Sept. 22 to accept the invitation, but that date was extended to Oct. 7 late this week.

Kevin Gordon of the (Bowling Green, Ohio) Sentinel-Tribute wrote that “The extension further fueled speculation Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Robert Morris are being considered for WCHA membership.

“Those four schools have expressed an interest in leaving their present league because it offers only 12 scholarships, six below the NCAA maximum. The CCHA and the WCHA use the NCAA maximum.”

The WCHA currently has 12 teams. It will shrink to eight in 2013-14, losing eight teams to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten while poaching four from the CCHA.

“Adding those four schools would help balance the revamped WCHA geographically,” Gordon continued. “If BG[SU] and the four Atlantic Hockey schools joined the WCHA, the league would have 13 schools — six in the south/east; and seven in the north/west.”

The league could actually get up to 14: Ciskie’s source said there was one more school involved in the meeting, one that doesn’t currently have a Division I program but is interested in adding one — the University at Buffalo.

Gordon wrote more about UB and said the athletic department member he contacted hadn’t responded to an email seeking comment at the time he published.

The Canisius athletic department would not confirm or deny any details about the new meetings and issued the following statement:

“With the current landscape of college hockey, a number of discussions have taken place and continue to take place. Because of the sensitive nature of these conversations, and out of respect to the schools and conferences, we feel that it is in the best interest to show consideration for the ongoing process and not discuss these conversations through the media.”

Ciskie also reported that Air Force and RIT were invited to the meeting, though neither attended. Air Force, he said, was interested but couldn’t get someone to the meeting; RIT was not.

Air Force’s supposed interest in a conference jump is directly opposed to statements its head coach Frank Serratore made Tuesday at Atlantic Hockey Media Day.

“All these programs in football and in hockey, they’re changing conferences like they change their underwear,” Serratore said in his closing remarks at the podium.

“I would like to go on record as saying the Air Force Academy is a proud member of Atlantic Hockey. This is our league, this is where we are and we ain’t looking anywhere.”

Niagara’s Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin also recently backed the AHA, saying his school is “not considering any move to a league that may disband,” referring to the CCHA, and that it “look[s] forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”

Spin:

I see UB’s involvement in a meeting like this as more of a let’s-show-up-and-see-what-they-say type of deal. The school isn’t going to announce tomorrow that it’s starting a new program.

With all the conference moving going on, this might seem like a good time to get into the action, but building a program takes time. The 2013-14 season is still a while off, but even that would probably be too soon for a new team to jump in.

All I’ve ever heard about UB’s hockey program is that it probably won’t get one. Stranger things have happened, but there are a lot of things to take into account. Hockey programs are extremely expensive to run, and the Bulls would almost certainly have to add a women’s program as well to comply with Title IX.

UB has a club team that competes in the ACHA. Everyone seems to love mentioning that fact, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like those players could just go into a D-1 league and be competitive. I play in the ACHA — there’s no way.

Google Maps shot of the Northtowns Center, located at the bottom-left corner. The back lot and baseball diamond and at the arena's immediate right. UB Stadium and Alumni Arena are also listed. Maple Road is cut out from the bottom of the image.

The only other reason I could think of is to see where the club team plays — if there is a rink on campus. Technically there isn’t, but the Northtowns Center (formerly Pepsi Center) might as well be. UB baseball’s home field lies on the Northtowns Center’s grounds and the rink’s back parking lot is the same one you would use for a ballgame.

The Northtowns Center is great for youth hockey, but for a Division I team? I’m not so sure.

The Feature Rink is really the only one of the four pads a D-1 team would use. It (generously) says it can seat 1,800 (no individual seats, all bench seating), smaller than a D-1 team would like. There is limited press seating, if any.

Plus, the thing looks like it was built for roller hockey. The boards have a concrete base all the way around, dangerous because it has no give to it. You always see the boards shaking at NHL games… that’s for safety. Why be crushed between a shoulder and a hard place when you could be hit into something that gives? Plus, the benches (and penalty boxes) are small. Really small. We disliked playing there in high school for that reason; it’d be even worse with big college guys.

So where would the team play? Not only would UB have to fund two programs, it would also have to build a rink, unless it rented time out somewhere or threw a lot of money into renovating the Northtowns Center.

The largest college in one of the country’s most hockey-crazy cities really should have a D-1 team, but there are a ton of obstacles. I wouldn’t get too exited.

Air Force was the Atlantic Hockey champion last year, but the school is better suited to remain in its current league, despite the geological difference.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore.

Especially when it can make use of military flights, Serratore said the travel back-and-forth from Colorado really isn’t that bad.

Air Force would be more competitive in the 12-scholarship Atlantic Hockey Association than in any of the other major conferences, which allow the NCAA-maximum 18.

As a military academy, Air Force can’t give athletic scholarships. Plus, upon graduation, athletes can’t really try to enter hockey’s professional ranks like former Golden Griffin Cory Conacher is doing. All graduates owe the country five years of service, Serratore said. Even Jacques Lamoureux, the best player ever to come out of Air Force, is only playing part-time for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces while stationed in Seward’s Folly

There’s nothing formal that says the two schools must remain together, but the Air Force enjoys playing in the same league as Army, too.

Atlantic Hockey commissioner not worried about CCHA

Possibility of conference jump dwindling for Canisius, Niagara

ROCHESTER — Canisius College and Niagara University were two of four Atlantic Hockey schools that met with Central Collegiate Hockey Association executives in July about the possibility of switching conferences, but with the stability of the CCHA in question, that move is seeming less and less likely.

AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio said Tuesday that he isn’t worried the teams will leave his conference.

Athletic directors from all 12 Atlantic Hockey schools completed a thorough review of the league’s strategic plan during a lengthy directors meeting at Bentley University last week, DeGregorio said.

“Based on what I heard there… I think that everybody’s going to stay right where they are. … I have the confidence that the issues the league has to deal with will be addressed by the directors as we move forward. I think that we will stay at 12 teams and continue to be a very strong conference and get better as we move down the line.”

The main perk of moving to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association is the increase in scholarship players allowed on the roster — CCHA teams may award up to 18 scholarships while Atlantic Hockey limits its members to 12.

Frank Serratore, head coach of reigning champion Air Force who flew in from Colorado for Atlantic Hockey Media Day, said he understands the competitive aspect of schools who look into switching conferences and has no problem with it.

“You’ve got to do what you feel is in your best interest. Those programs have operated up front and the league knows that they’re talking to different people. They’ve ultimately got to make a decision like everybody will.

“I don’t care what anybody says: Nobody’s making decisions out of the goodness of their heart. They’re making decisions based on what they feel is in their best interest. If those four teams feel it’s in their best interest to look elsewhere, then that’s what they have to do.”

The CCHA currently has 11 members that include national powerhouses like Michigan and Notre Dame, both Frozen Four teams a year ago. However, when the new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey conferences rock the landscape of college hockey in 2013-14, the CCHA looks to be the hardest hit — at least seven members will be defecting for the greener pastures of the new leagues and the mighty Western Collegiate Hockey Conference, with even more departures likely.

It’s the shaky foundation of the league that is keeping the prospective teams — Canisius, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris — at a distance from the once-prestigious conference.

“As of today, only two teams currently in the CCHA – Notre Dame and Bowling Green – have committed to league membership past 2014 and BGSU has been extended an invite to the WCHA. To that end, we are not considering any move to a league that may disband,” Niagara Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin said via email.

Canisius Athletic Director Bill Maher chose not to comment further for this story, only reiterating the blanket statement the four schools jointly released following their July meetings with the CCHA.

If the four teams were to leave Atlantic Hockey, DeGregorio said the league would not immediately look to add replacement teams, but it wouldn’t be out of the question.

“What I would urge the directors to do is always keep the door open,” DeGregorio said, adding that the league would take interest if schools like Rhode Island, Navy or even the University at Buffalo added Division I programs. “If they were to leave, we’d be at eight, [a] very workable number. … My urge to the directors would be to take the eight, redo the schedule, redo the playoff format.”

The vastly depleted CCHA would then add the four AHA teams to its remaining two schools, just meeting the NCAA’s minimum requirement of six teams for a conference to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For the four Atlantic Hockey schools, that would mean 60 percent of their “new” conference schedules would be against teams they already compete with.

Further complicating matters is the commitment Atlantic Hockey teams have to the conference. Per league rules, teams would have until June 30, 2012 to give notification that they plan to leave. But that is a two-year notice, DeGregoiro said. The soonest any team could leave the AHA would be for the 2014-15 season.

If a team wanted to leave sooner — say, for the 2013-14 season when the NCHC and Big Ten start playing — it would need to pay the Atlantic Hockey Association a cash buyout. DeGregorio couldn’t say how much the buyout would cost because it is determined by a formula, but if schools hopping leagues for football give any indication, the cost could very well be in the millions.

If either Canisius or Niagara chooses to stay, it is likely the other will do the same. At least for right now, it appears that Niagara is leaning toward remaining a member of Atlantic Hockey.

“Any chance to improve our program is attractive but we like the rivalries we have in Atlantic Hockey,” McLaughlin said. “We look forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”