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The Canisius Golden Griffins advanced. Niagara is done.

Not a shock to anybody heading into this weekend’s series, but Canisius had to earn it the hard way, defeating a gritty Niagara club 2-1 on a late third-period goal Saturday night at the HarborCenter to sweep the best-of-three series. The top-seeded Golden Griffins improved to 21-10-7 and advanced to the Atlantic Hockey tournament semifinals next Friday at 4:30 p.m. in Rochester’s Blue Cross Arena.

“Yeah, extremely glad,” said Canisius coach Dave Smith about polishing off Niagara in two games. “We want to win every game we play, and I thought tonight we got better as the game went on. I thought Ryan Schmelzer was an absolute stud in the game tonight, not only with his power-play assist and goal, but as a leader amongst the penalty killers. We will take the win and take the rest. And we will prepare for the next night.”

Schmelzer turned out to be the hero when he deflected Jimmy Mazza’s low shot just outside the crease past Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb with just 1:15 left in the third period.

“We thought we would try for a shot tip because it was drawing their guys out,” said Schmelzer. “We tried it, and it worked.”

Earlier, Canisius took a 1-0 lead on a controversial goal when Felix Chamberland finished off a gorgeous tic-tac-toe play when Dylan McLaughlin passed to Schmelzer in the slot. Schmelzer neatly fed the puck to his right and a streaking Chamberland, who whistled a low shot past Teichroeb to give Canisius a one-goal lead at 3:06 of the third period.

“I heard Felix screaming his head off for it, just chipped it over there and he was able to bury it,” Schmelzer said.

The score was reviewed and was ruled a goal, though it appeared a Canisius player might have been offside before the passing play transpired. The goal was reviewed after Niagara lodged a complaint that the play was offside.

“It was offside,” said a subdued and mildly angry Niagara coach Dave Burkholder after the game. “We got our guys up top watching. We thought it was offside, we were told it was offside, and it was offside, and they don’t have the cameras working in an Atlantic Hockey playoff game.”

Niagara later tied the game when senior defenseman Vinny Muto scored on a rocket shot from the point when his blast sailed through a maze of players over Canisius goaltender Charles Williams’ glove to tie the game 1-1 at 7:54.

The third period was a chippy affair, with nine penalties being called.

“We had a lot of guys max out tonight, which was great,” Burkholder said. “It was a great college hockey game. Obviously, I thought it was pretty even. We had some good pushes throughout the game. It is a shame, in a game close that it was, the refs would get involved like that.”

Burkholder was not happy with his club’s effort in Friday night’s loss, and said unequivocally that would be the clear message to his team. The Purple Eagles responded early, spending much more time in the Canisius end, at least early on. Niagara was outshot 11-7 in the period, but put much more pressure on Canisius.

The Griffs picked it up a little in the second period, but after two periods, quality scoring chances were limited while Teichroeb and Williams were sharp on the rare situations when they had to be.

Now, Canisius gets an extra day’s rest before moving on to Rochester.

“I would say at this time of the year, 90 percent of our focus is on our team, making sure we are rested, healthy, and on the same page,”  Smith said.

Atlantic Hockey roundup

No, 18 Air Force 2, Bentley 1
Ben Kucera scored the game-winner just 39 seconds into the third period to lift the Falcons to the sweep. Jordan Himley scored the other Air Force goal, while Andrew McDonald scored the lone Bentley goal.

Mercyhurst 3, at Army 2 (OT)
Mercychurst’s Matthew Whittaker scored in overtime to force a third and deciding game. Earlier, Whittaker gave the Lakers a 1-0 lead before Conor Andrle tied it up for Army just over seven minutes later in the first period. Joshua Lammon gave Mercyhurst a 2-1 lead midway through the third, but Brendan Soucie tied it for Army a few minutes later.

Robert Morris 3, Holy Cross 2
Daniel Leavens had two goals and Brady Ferguson added a goal and two assists as the Colonials eliminated the Crusaders. Leavens scored his two goals eight minutes apart in the second period to give RMU a 2-0 lead before Mitch Collett got Holy Cross on the board. Ferguson’s goal iced the game at 18:42 of the third before Peter Crinella made it 3-2.