By Thomas Baldwin
Niagara’s first season in the now defunct College Hockey America league was a tremendous and memorable success.
That isn’t the case this time around.
The Niagara University hockey team’s season came to a shocking and frightful end when Canisius exploded for four goals in the second period to soundly defeat the Purple Eagles 6-3 in an Atlantic Hockey first round playoff game at Dwyer Arena on Saturday night.
The third-seeded Purple Eagles, who advanced to the NCAA Tournament 11 years ago in their inaugural CHA season, went out quietly this time in a new league, finishing 15-11-2 in league play and 18-13-2 overall.
Sixth-seeded Canisius, which won both games at Dwyer this season by a combined score of 12-6, were in control for most of the evening and now advance in the Atlantic tourney. The Griffs will skate at No. 3 Holy Cross in a best-of-three series next weekend.
With the score tied at one in the second period, Canisius took command with two power-play goals. Vincent Scarcella started the onslaught with a power-play goal at 6:52 for a 2-1 lead when his shot sailed through a screen over Niagara goaltender Cody Campbell’s glove.
Just under three minutes later, Preston Shupe scored on a two-man advantage when he whacked a rebound off Cory Conacher’s shot past Campbell for a 3-1 Canisius lead at 9:34.
Shupe scored when Niagara’s David Ross was whistled for hitting from behind and Ryan Murphy for roughing at 8:15.
After Scott Moser upped the lead to 4-1 at 11:33, Campbell was lifted in favor of Chris Noonan to give the Purple Eagles some spark — but it didn’t matter — as Scarcella scored again just under four minutes later and all of a sudden it was 5-1 Canisius.
“We gave up (only) eight shots,” said a frustrated Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We out-shoot a team 21-8 in the period and are down 5-1. We are killing penalties when quite frankly, we shouldn’t have. That takes its toll. That 5-on-3 call, and the goal. ...that was the game.”
Indeed, by this juncture in the game, and Niagara’s season, were over.
“There were not many flashy plays, just get pucks to the net and get rebounds,” Scarcella said of the decisive second period in which Canisius scored on four of its eight shots.
The Purple Eagles did mount an admirable comeback to acquire a glimmer of hope when Giancarlo Iuorio and Bryan Haczyk scored goals 1:41 apart early in the third period to make it a 5-3 game.
But Haczyk took a questionable interference penalty at 14:36. Just over two minutes later, Canisius’ Eric Rex punctured Niagara’s slim chances with a goal to make it 6-3.
“I thought it was pretty weak, considering the game,” Haczyk said of the penalty. “What can you do? I could have sworn these two refs were Canisius alumni, but we can’t control that. It was a bad call. ...It killed our momentum. That’s all I have to say.”
Canisius goaltender Dan Morrison recorded 48 saves, but Burkholder admitted a lot of Niagara’s shots were not quality.
“We didn’t have enough quality chances and we didn’t spend enough time at the top of their crease, which was a team goal today,“ Burkholder said. “He (Morrison) had too many clean looks. He played well.”
Rex had two goals for Canisius while Ben Danford had three assists.
Derek Foam had the other goal for Niagara. Campbell stopped 13 of 17 shots while Noonan recorded nine saves. The Purple Eagles went 2-for-3 on the power play while the Griffs were 2-of-7.