ROCHESTER — The Niagara University men's hockey team had a chance to boost its NCAA resume, advance to the Atlantic Hockey championship and eliminate end a rival's season Thursday.
Instead, a 5-3 semifinal loss to Canisius at the Blue Cross Arena knocked Niagara out of the conference tournament and left the Purple Eagles' NCAA tournament fate in the hands of the selection committee, which will release at-large bids in a special selection show at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.
"They were the better team (last night)," NU coach Dave Burkholder said. "They had a little more grit, showed a little more passion than we did, and we're going home."
In a matchup that had been pegged as a probable low-scoring affair, goals came early and often.
NU (23-9-5, 20-6-2) opened the scoring just 3:26 in when senior center Giancarlo Iuorio potted his 20th of the season off a nice pass to the front of the net from junior Ryan Murphy.
Canisius (18-18-5, 13-13-2) answered 10:33 in. Less than a minute after NU goalie Carsen Chubak stopped the Griffs' second-leading scorer, Preston Shupe, on a 2-on-1 chance, the referees waved off an icing call after Canisius dumped the puck from its zone. Leading scorer Kyle Gibbons was able to recover the puck and hits Patric Sullivan, who slid the puck across the front of the net to Cody Freeman, who buried it short side.
The Griffs took their first lead late in the period when Ben Danford picked a loose puck out of a scramble at the 19:21 mark and beat Chubak, who was on his back in the crease. Assists were credited to Duncan McKellar and Gibbons.
NU struck first again in the second at the 4:05 mark when Isaac Kohls picked up a the puck after it bounced into the slot and fired it on net. Canisius goalie Tony Capobianco made the initial save, but Huge Turcotte was able to push the rebound in for his eighth goal of the season.
Canisius retook the lead 8:24 in as a week shot from Stephen Miller bounced off Tyler Wiseman and into the net. Iuorio again tied the game with his 21st of the year on another pretty feed into the slot from Zanette at 13:11, but Canisius took the lead for good on the power play with just 20 seconds left in the period when Wiseman hit McKellar on a cut to the net for an easy tap in.
"It's a team goal of ours to win the first two and last two (minutes) of each period, and we didn't do it," Burkholder said. "That's a killer. That's bad coverage, a bad penalty kill."
Wiseman capped the scoring with a backhand goal on a partial breakaway just 1:58 into the third.
The loss dropped NU to No. 12 in the PairWise Rankings, which are used to determine at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. The Purps should make the 16-team field, barring upsets in the five conference tournaments happening this weekend.
NOTES: NU played without defenseman Dan Weiss, a senior captain. He was injured last weekend against RIT. ... If NU is awarded a tournament bid, it'll be the first time an AHA team went as an at-large team. ... Canisius, the No. 7 seed, is the lowest seed ever to reach the AHA championship game.
Follow Gazette sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter for updates on all your local teams.