PITTSBURGH, Pa — On Saturday, Oct. 27 at 9:20 p.m, the Pitt Panthers and Duquesne Dukes resume their rivalry on the ice at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmarville. The Panthers swept the season series in the 2017-18 season, besting the Dukes at PPG Paints Arena on November 17, 3-1, and at Alpha Ice Complex on February 3, 6-4. Pitt went on to clinch the regular season championship for the College Hockey Mid America conference while Duquesne was eliminated from CHMA playoff contention.
This season, it looks as if Duquesne has a better chance to topple Pitt and make an early statement in this season’s rivalry. The Dukes sit at 4-4-1 overall and are 3-1 in conference play. The Panthers, having not played a conference game yet, are 2-4 on the season. They come into this weekend after three straight losses, scoring only a single goal in each. Given Pitt’s early season struggles with goaltending and Duquesne’s prolific offense through their first nine games of the season, the Panthers will need more than just a single goal to open their own conference schedule with a win.
Here are Ed Major’s keys for each team to come out victorious:
- Lock the Gates: defense is key. Even if Pitt can put up more than one goal, they will need to limit the number of shots that get through to either of their goaltenders – Snader or Ciaramella. Both have three starts this season for the Panthers and while Snader has been excellent, Ciaramella has struggled (more on that below). If the lack of quality goaltending depth continues, the defense is going to need to pick up the slack, especially against a Duquesne offense that put up 80 shots against Towson in September.
- Forward Milo Defay needs to find the back of the net again. He currently has five goals through six games. If the Panthers are going to put up more than a single goal, Defay needs to find the same magic that he had in each two-game series against Alabama and Kent State – two top-20 ACHA teams that Pitt was able to split series with. Trent Thomas and Jacob Tepe each have two goals and three assists. If the three of them can find their scoring touch again against Duquesne, they can come out with a win.
- Pick a starting goaltender and stick to it. As mentioned above, the Panthers have been splitting their goaltending equally between Matt Snader and Garet Ciaramella. While that may be all well and good if they were both playing above-average goaltending, Ciaramella has not quite been holding up his end of the bargain. His 4.00 goals against average and 0.912 save percentage are dwarfed by Snader’s 1.68 GAA and 0.967 SV%. If the Panthers are going to stop a Duquesne offense that has four players averaging over a point per game, they need to name Matt Snader their undisputed starting goaltender and give him the proportional amount of starts.
- Keep the freshman involved. Duquesne has nine newcomers this year, not counting several sophomores that saw little playing time last season. So far, six of them have points on the season, including Johnny Percoskie, who has seven points (three goals, four assists). He leads the rookies in both categories. If the Dukes want to topple a Panther team that is hungry for their first conference win, they will need to keep those freshman involved in the offense. Martin Hubert, a West Virginia transfer, has also been excellent for Duquesne; he currently has three goals and 11 assists on the season. If he can continue feeding his linemates, Duquesne should have no problem putting points on the board against an up-and-down Panthers team.
- Goaltending needs to be solid. Similar to Pitt, Duquesne has used a mix of goaltenders this season. The Dukes, however, have the undisputed starter in senior Alex Taylor, who has received the majority of starts this season with five. Jonathan Braden spelled Taylor in the second game against Towson, allowing five goals and taking the 5-4 loss. Braden also took the 4-3 shootout loss to Canisius last weekend, allowing three goals. Wade Conlan has made his case for backup goaltender slot, allowing only two goals against Oakland in a 3-1 loss and preserving a 4-3 overtime victory against West Virginia two weeks ago. Unlike the Panthers, though, the Dukes have two goaltenders in Taylor and Conlan that can give them an equal chance at winning, plus a third goaltender in Braden that can be developed and has shown himself capable of stepping in and playing at a high level.
- Seniors need to step up. There is no bigger game than a conference matchup against your cross-town rival. The seniors know this. They have been through the ups and downs, sweeping the Panthers two years ago and getting swept last season. Emotions need to be held in check. Forward Ryan Sweeney received a 10-minute game misconduct penalty against Robert Morris for fighting at the beginning of October. If junior forward Sean Lloyd can continue feeding second-year Manny Mancha, who has six goals on the season, the Dukes can put up solid numbers to come away with the victory and move one step closer to their first CHMA championship since 2009.
Regardless of who makes what adjustments to come away with city superiority (at least for two weeks until the two teams play for the second time this season), there will no doubt be a hard-hitting, fast-paced, exciting game on Saturday.