One goalie is playing white-hot, while the other is playing lights-out. Both netminders play for hockey teams committed to strong play in their defensive zone.
Seems like there aren’t going to be too many goals scored tonight when the ice version of the Canisius-Niagara rivalry resumes at 7 p.m. in the Buffalo State Ice Arena (Radio 1440 AM). But statistics and trends are often meaningless when weighed against the intensity displayed by teams in a rivalry game.
“The crazy thing is when you play Canisius ... anything can happen,” said Dave Burkholder, who is in his 11th season as Niagara head coach. “I have no idea what to expect other than it’s two teams fighting for school pride and points in Atlantic Hockey.”
He’s not kidding. Niagara (6-2-3, 5-0-0) may lead the all-time series 16-8-2 — including a 2-0-1 mark last season, but when the Griffs (2-5-3, 1-1-1) have beaten the Purple Eagles the triumphs have been memorable (Sean Weaver’s 58-save gem in 2000, and the Griffs’ 6-3 playoff win at Dwyer Arena that ended NU’s season two years ago are among the highlights).
Entering tonight, Niagara ranks 13th nationally in goals against (2.18), while Canisius is right behind in the No. 14 spot (2.20).
“Both teams are working really, really hard in all situations and that’s why the numbers reflect it,” said Griffs coach Dave Smith, whose team has yielded two or fewer goals in six of 10 games. “Whether it’s 0-0 or 4-4, I think you’ll see two really committed teams.”
Carsen Chubak leads NU’s charge to the Ice Arena. The junior goalie, who suffered a season-ending knee injury after earning the No. 1 job two years ago and was limited to just one game last year while recovering from that injury as well as offseason hip surgery, is back and better than ever.
Chubak leads the nation in save percentage (.966), goals-against average (1.09) and shutouts (four).
He had a string of four shutouts in as many starts broken last Saturday when Army scored late in the third during NU’s 4-1 win. He set the Niagara record for consecutive shutout minutes (258:32), a mark previously set by Greg Gardner (232:38) in 1999-2000.
The NCAA record for consecutive shutouts is five, set in 1994-95 by Lake Superior State’s Blaine Lacher. If Chubak had blanked Army, he still would need to post a shutout tonight for the NCAA to declare him tied with Lacher because Chubak yielded a goal during a relief appearance Oct. 27, interrupting the shutout string.
“It’s disappointing but at the same time you knew you pretty much had the game locked up so that kind of softened it a little bit,” Chubak said of the end of the scoreless streak. “But I was more mad than I thought I’d be.
“The goals-against average statistic is more of a team statistic so it speaks loudly of our defense and even our forwards play down low. Everybody’s been contributing. ... Everybody’s making good plays out there, making my job real easy.”
Junior counterpart Tony Capobianco utters similar words when talking about the Griffs’ commitment to team defense.
Capobianco, who made 44 saves in a 1-0 loss at national No. 2 Minnesota on Oct. 28, has a 2.33 GAA and .926 save percentage. He’s started all but one game for Canisius, which finally found its scoring touch in last Saturday’s 6-3 win at RIT.
The Griffs now average 1.6 goals per game. Senior captain Preston Shupe leads the team with five points, while sophomore Tyler Wiseman has a team-high three goals.
“As much confidence as we gained [from the close loss at Minnesota], it took us a little while to recover from that game,” Smith said. “It took us until Saturday night at RIT to get our aggressive play back. ... [We] really started to push the tempo and create some opportunities.”
Niagara has seen 12 players score with 10 recording multiple-point games, but senior Giancarlo Iuorio has done it most often as he leads in goals (eight) and points (13), followed by linemate Ryan Murphy (four goals and 10 points).
Murphy and Jeff Hannan (three goals, eight points) have a team-high three multiple-point games on their resumes.
“It’s been someone different every night,” said Burkholder.