PITTSBURGH, PA — Usually when Duquesne and Pitt meet, there’s a lot on the line for both teams. In basketball, it’s city superiority. In hockey, they fight for the CHMA (College Hockey Mid America) conference championship. In 2017, Pitt edged Duquesne by a single point — 22-21 — for the CHMA’s automatic bid into the ACHA national tournament. That was despite Pitt dropping both games to Duquesne in the 2016-17 season.
This year, the Dukes haven’t fared quite as well. The Panthers came away with the 3-1 victory on Nov. 17 at PPG Paints Arena in the first of two meetings this year between the clubs.
The scene may be smaller but the stakes are higher for the second matchup of the season this Saturday at Alpha Ice Complex. Pitt is one win (or one Robert Morris loss and one John Carroll loss) from claiming the regular season championship for the second year in a row. Duquesne is fighting for that final spot in the CHMA playoffs. The Dukes cannot mathematically win the regular season and probably will not rank high enough for an at-large bid into the national ACHA tournament, but they can still salvage a season that hasn’t quite lived up to its expectations.
Saturday night’s game versus the Panthers would be a great place to start. Early in the season, Duquesne had trouble playing from behind. When trailing after two periods, the Dukes have a record of 2-9. Compare that to their record when tied or leading after two periods, where they are an impressive 10-3-2. It all comes from their offense. Duquesne is 7-3-1 when scoring five or more goals in a game this season. They sit at 5-9-1 when scoring less than five. Obviously, numbers such as those are somewhat typical, but this shows how reliant Duquesne is on its high-powered offense. That type of offense, though, doesn’t seem to show up consistently for them. Pitt, on the other hand, has had the consistency that Duquesne has been lacking.
The Panthers are 10-1-0 in conference play and have scored at least four goals in seven of those 11 games. Forwards Daniel Merz, J.D. Oddi, and Jacob Tepe currently lead the Panthers in points at 25, 22, and 21, respectively. By comparison, Duquesne’s top scorers are Thomas Diffendal (46), Luke Gross (32), Sean Martin (28), and Tim Freed (25). On paper, Duquesne definitely has the advantage.
So the questions are why hasn’t the success of the individual players led to more team victories for the Dukes and why do they find themselves on the outside looking into a playoffs spot?
One reason is the defensive play. Duquesne has given up a lot of opportunities in their defensive zone this season. Starting goaltender Alex Taylor has faced 710 shots this season, second only behind Ohio goaltender Jimmy Thomas, who has faced 747 shots. Thomas has appeared in 29 games for Ohio this season. That’s about 26 shots per game. Taylor, on the other hand, has only appeared in 23 games for the Dukes. So on average, he faces about 31 shots per game.
The key for Duquesne on Saturday should be shot blocking. Pitt’s lowest shots on goal tally this season was their lone CHMA loss against John Carroll, when the Blue Streaks held them to 18. If one of Duquesne’s top defensemen like Daniel Bigley, Jack Malka, or Mack Geissler can channel their inner Ian Cole, then David should have a good chance at toppling Goliath.
The Dukes and Panthers will meet this Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018 at Alpha Ice Complex in Harmar. Puck drop is scheduled for 9:00 p.m.