The hype is building for Carsen Chubak. The Niagara University goaltender once again showed why. Teammate Mike Benedict, meanwhile, again showed why people might start talking about his knack for scoring rather than just his work ethic.
Combine their performances with yet another victory, and it’s easy to see why the Purple Eagles are in the national college hockey conversation.
Chubak shined with 31 saves Friday night to lead Niagara to a 2-1 victory over rival Canisius. The goaltender continued his run as the team’s unquestioned star, exiting Buffalo State Ice Arena with a goals-against average of 1.08 and save percentage of .966.
“They probably had four Grade A’s in the first eight minutes of the game, and he kept us in it,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He’s been doing that all season. It’s a national story.”
Niagara won its fifth straight and ran its unbeaten streak to eight (6-0-2). The Purple Eagles’ 7-2-3 start includes a 6-0 record in the Atlantic Hockey Association.
“At the start of the year, a lot of the hype that we got, which was positive, was on last year’s team,” Burkholder said. “We had to tell the guys, “Hey, we need people to start talking about this year’s team,’ and they’ve done that. To be where we are in our league at this point in the season is unreal.”
The Griffs continued to play well, outshooting Niagara, 32-23, but they again fell in a close one. They slipped to 2-6-3, 1-2-1 and have lost three games by one goal.
“We gave ourselves a chance,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “We generated opportunities. We did everything right except find the back of the net.”
Chubak was at his best while short-handed, keeping the Griffs off the board in the opening minutes and late after Niagara took back-to-back penalties in the final 8:18. His best stop came with just four minutes gone. Shortly after taking a blast off the mask, Chubak robbed Doug Beck. The left winger was all alone in front, but Chubak slid across to get his glove on the blast.
Niagara rode his saves to a 1-0 lead after alleviating the pressure and collecting a turnover in the Canisius zone. Niagara left wing Ryan Murphy’s high shot from the slot eluded goalie Tony Capobianco, who looked into the cage in disbelief with 5:09 gone.
Niagara built its lead to 2-0 with 6:59 left in the second, again getting the best of Capobianco. The goalie couldn’t control a shot from the left side by defenseman Dan Weiss, giving Niagara’s Michael Benedict a chance to compete for the rebound. The sophomore from Eden scored his fifth of the year while falling at the side of the crease. He had just two goals in 37 games as a freshman.
“A lot of people don’t know this, but actually in juniors I put up a lot of points,” said Benedict, who played at St. Francis before leaving for the North American Hockey League and recording 24 goals for Corpus Christi. “I’ll take any goal I can get. [Burkholder] calls it the ‘men’s club’ anytime you’re in the crease and you can get the puck in the net. I’m just happy to be out there and have an opportunity to score those goals.”
The Griffs answered 2:37 later, ending Chubak’s bid for his fourth shutout in five games. Three sounds followed Stephen Farrell’s slap shot from the left point. The first was the puck deflecting off the stick of Beck, which led to the goal horn and cheers from the home fans in the crowd of 1,200.
The Purple Eagles hit the ice again tonight to start of stretch of four straight at home. They host Robert Morris at 7 p.m. in Dwyer Arena.
The Griffs get a week to rest. They don’t play again until next Saturday, when they host American International.