BUFFALO — The Niagara Purple Eagles led in almost every category Friday night, except for where it counts.
Niagara fell to the Canisius Golden Griffins, 4-2, in the first part of this weekend’s Battle of the Bridge at Harborcenter.
The game was a penalty-filled affair, where Niagara (0-8-1, 0-4-1 Atlantic Hockey) went 1for 10 on the power play. Canisius (2-6-0, 1-2-0 AHA) went 2 for 6, with both goals coming on a five-minute major for contact to the head on defenseman Ryan Cook. He was also ejected from the game.
“I thought we played with way more vigor than we have,” said NU coach Jason Lammers. “I thought our power play, especially early, had great chances and a lot of good looks. I feel like maybe we’re squeezing our sticks into sawdust right now. We all just need to take a breath and relax for a second, and it’ll probably start going in.”
The teams exchanged chances in the first period, with both goaltenders making big saves. A pad save by Niagara's Chad Veltri led to Niagara’s first goal, and Veltri’s first assist of his collegiate career. On the play, Veltri kicked the puck to forward Ryan Naumovski, who passed it up to a streaking Justin Kendall. Skating into the Griffs' zone, Kendall made a cut move to the middle and beat Canisius netminder Matt Ladd five-hole to put the Purple Eagles up 1-0. Niagara finished the period ahead 1-0 and outshot Canisius 11-4 in the frame.
The Purple Eagles continued to attack in a penalty-filled second period, establishing a dominating forecheck at times. The Griffs, however, came out of the period with a 2-1 lead. Mitchell Martan scored Canisius’s first goal 3:21 into the period. Their second goal, scored by Nick Hutchison, came on a partial breakaway, as defenseman Noah Delmas appeared to lose an edge on the play, giving Hutchison a clear lane to the net.
Niagara rebounded in the period, at one point spending nearly an entire power play in the Griffs' zone, but were unable to get one past Ladd. The Purple Eagles outshot Canisius in the period, 17-10.
The third period took a turn in Canisius favor when Cook was ejected after laying a big hit in the Griffs' zone. The play was reviewed, and the officials determined that Cook made contact to the Canisius player’s head. The Griffs scored two goals quickly on the ensuing five-minute power play, making it a 4-1 game.
“I liked a lot of our game today, outside of the five-minute major penalty and the two goals,” Lammers said.
Lammers said he had to review the hit before commenting on whether it should have been called.
“I think the challenge in this league is that if you hit somebody too hard, you’re going to get a penalty,” he said.
Niagara received a five-minute power play of its own after defensemanJared Brandt took a high hit with just under five minutes left in the game. After another Canisius penalty for roughing made it 5-on-3, Kendall scored his second goal to make it a 4-2 game. Niagara outshot Canisius 40-24 on the night.
The teams play the second part of the two-game series at 4 p.m. today at Harborcenter. Lammers said he’s looking for the same type of effort.
“We told the guys tonight, we’ll get a plan together here, and maybe tweak a couple of things, but we put a lot of shots on,” he said. “That’s the most shots we’ve had all year. We had some really good shots, and some guys played really well.”