BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — There may not be a hotter team in all of Atlantic Hockey over the last month than the Canisius Golden Griffins, and they’re within touching distance of a championship.

The Griffs will have a chance to clinch their second-ever NCAA Tournament berth and conference tournament title in Saturday’s AHA championship game at LECOM Harborcenter.

After a slow start to the 2022-23 season, the Griffs (19-18-3) have turned things around in a big way. Canisius went 7-2-0 over their final nine regular season games, helping earn them the No. 4 seed in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Ensuing series victories over No. 5 Army in the quarterfinals and rival No. 6 Niagara in the semifinals now has them a win away from glory.

Awaiting them in the title game is No. 7 Holy Cross (17-20-3) who pulled off a major upset of top-seeded RIT in the semifinals. Canisius went 2-1-1 against the Crusaders in the regular season, winning the two most recent matchups 3-0 and 6-3 on Feb. 24 and 25, respectively.

The winner of Saturday’s championship game will be the lowest-ranked team in the NCAA Tournament out of the 16 that qualify. This will likely pin them against the Minnesota Golden Gophers in the regional semifinals, the nation’s top team.

The Griffs have been led by senior forward Keaton Mastrodonato, who leads the team in both points (35) and assists (20) this season. Fellow senior Ryan Miotto has also been a key contributor, leading the team in goals with 17 to go along with 34 points.

Miotto’s two goals in Sunday’s 4-2 victory over the Purple Eagles helped Canisius win Game 3 and the series, advancing them to their fourth Atlantic Hockey title game appearance in program history.

The key to a Canisius victory and Western New York’s first NCAA Tournament berth since 2013, when both the Griffs and Niagara qualified, could very well be getting out to a quick start. Canisius is 12-5-0 when scoring the first goal this season, and an even better 15-1-0 when they lead after two periods.

As for Holy Cross, junior forward Jack Ricketts has played a key role, leading his squad with 32 points on the season, while sophomore Liam McLinskey ranks tied for second in all of Atlantic Hockey with 21 goals this season.

Puck drop at Harborcenter between the Griffs and the Crusaders is scheduled for 6 p.m. on Saturday night.

Adam Gorski is a Buffalo native who joined the News 4 team in 2022. You can find more of his work here.