Dave Burkholder doesn’t necessarily see the loss as a good thing. Sure, there is a school of thought that it’s better for a team to suffer a regular season loss than roll into conference tournament time undefeated. As if the more you win, the more difficult it becomes to keep winning.
All things considered, Niagara would rather have had the win, even if it did respond with one of their best games of the season.
On Friday, the Purple Eagles suffered their first loss in Atlantic Hockey, a 5-3 setback at Holy Cross.
“It felt horrible. It was pretty somber in the room,” Burkholder said. “We played really well so we tried to build on the positives. We out-chanced them. We outshot them. It was a physical game both ways. There were too many positives to be down. And then we followed it up with our best road game and maybe one of our better games of the season. Looking back on it, it’s a fantastic split.”
The team responded with 4-1 victory on Saturday. The split helped keep Niagara in the national poll. The Purple Eagles are ranked 17th in the latest USCHO.com poll. That makes nine straight weeks in the national rankings, the longest ever for a Niagara team.
That in itself is quite a statement considering some of the talented NCAA-bound teams Niagara has fielded in the past. Now, consider injuries throughout the season have forced the Purple Eagles to play with a short bench and you unlock one of the keys to their success this season – depth.
“I think the gratifying thing as a staff is that guys are being asked to contribute more offensively or are getting more prime-time ice, especially in regards to special teams, and they’ve stepped up and produced,” Burkholder said. “That speaks to our depth.”
Niagara still has quite a cushion in the Atlantic Hockey standings, in first place with 27 points (13-1-1) ahead of second place Holy Cross and Mercyhurst, each with 18 points.
The Purple Eagles face RIT (6-6-3) in a home-and-home series this weekend with Friday’s game in Rochester and Saturday’s in Dwyer Arena. Fewer than 100 tickets remain for Saturday’s game, which looks to be Niagara’s second home sellout of the season.
Meanwhile Canisius is recovering from its first zero-point, two-game weekend in Atlantic Hockey after two losses at Bentley.
The Griffs are still in the thick of a tight conference race. They are in seventh place with 16 points (7-6-2), but just two points out of second place, which is shared by this weekend’s opponent, Mercyhurst. The goal is to finish in the top four as those teams earn a first-round bye in the conference tournament and gain home ice for the best-of-3 quarterfinal round.
If they finish out of the top four, the next goal is finish between fifth and eighth place for home-ice advantage in the best-of-3 first round series.
“The standings are so tight. It’s so competitive,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “You can feel great one weekend and get two wins or have the experience we had this past weekend. It’s a range of emotions, and you really want to make sure that when you’re playing the games, you’re in a good mindset. You want to think let’s get points tonight, whatever the night is.
“Right now it’s a mental challenge to be game ready on a night-to-night basis. We’ve done it most of the year and I’m confident we’ll come out strong not only this weekend but in the weekend series we have left.”
The mindset is the focus for a young Canisius team that continues to learn how to handle the ebb and flow of a season and manage their confidence levels.
“Our guys have responded well,” Smith said. “We know that we’re right in the thick of things and they’ve responded because we’ve seen we can win, we can beat anybody in the league. It just needs to be there on a night-to-night basis.”
This weekend’s home-and-home series with Mercyhurst will have plenty of implications in the standings and in playoff positioning. The teams play in Erie on Friday and return to Buffalo on Saturday.
Brenna Doty Rousseau will be honored by the University at Buffalo on Saturday as part of the school’s “Legends of the Hardwood” series. The series spotlights the best men’s and women’s basketball players in UB history.
Doty Rousseau, who is second on UB’s all-time scoring list with 1,703 points, will have her No. 31 honored before the Bulls host Western Michigan at 2 p.m. Saturday. In the 1996-97 season, she ranked second nationally in three-point field-goal percentage (46.0) and participated in the NCAA Three-Point Shootout at the men’s Final Four in Indianapolis that year.
The Erie Community College men’s basketball team is ranked 13th in the nation and is on a 12-game winning streak. The Kats are 14-3 overall and 5-0 in the Western New York Athletic Conference. Sophomore forward Rayshawn Sumlin was named Region III Athlete of the Week after posting back-to-back double-doubles in wins over Alfred State and Jamestown Community College.