AMHERST, N.Y. — This time it did not take an act of God for the Canisius College Ice Griffs to beat the Niagara University men’s hockey team at the Dunn Tire College Hockey Challenge.
All Canisius needed was its grit, determination and solid goaltending from senior Stephen Fabiilli to beat the Purple Eagles 4-3 before a sellout crowd of 1,500 Tuesday night at the Amherst Pepsi Center.
The Griffs have a reputation of being physical and more than lived up to that billing as they pounded the swift-skating Purple Eagles into submission.
“If our team had the grit and heart they do, the skies the limit for us,” Niagara coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We have the talent to be successful, but zero intangibles.”
“Taking a hit is easy. Making one is tough. The guys didn’t want to make the extra effort,” said sophomore forward Bernie Sigrist, whose power-play goal at 14:29 of the third period pulled the Eagles within 4-3.
Rob Bumbaco opened the scoring for Niagara, but Canisius received consecutive goals from David Deeves, Chris Duggan and Brad Kenny to gain the advantage.
Thomas Clayton scored on the power play to pull NU within a goal at 6:01 of the third, but Marc Bouffard replied with a power-play goal for Canisius 44 seconds later.
The Purple Eagles (13-15-4) lost their second in a row and are winless in four games. They return to College Hockey America action Friday and Saturday at Dwyer Arena against Air Force.
Canisius (14-10-3) won its fourth straight game and returns to Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference action Friday against Army. Army helped the Ice Griffs clinch a MAAC playoff berth by beating Fairfield on Tuesday, 6-2.
The Griffs can thank their special teams unit for being able to produce timely goals. Canisius went 2-for-3 on the power play and scored a short-handed goal. NU finished 2-for-8 with the man advantage.
Coach Brian Cavanaugh used Monday’s practice to teach the Ice Griffs how to defend Niagara’s power play because its a system they haven’t faced too often. The extra work paid off.
“I thought for the most part we did a good job,” Cavanaugh said. “For Niagara’s part, they did a good job adjusting and threw more pucks to the net. They’re a good team.”
Niagara tried to produce the tying goal in the final six-plus minutes, but the Griffs relegated the Eagles to outside shots and continued playing physical.
“They can really fly,” Kenny said. “If you don’t play the body, they’re going to go right by you.”
Fabiilli finished with 36 saves as he became the second Canisius goalie to win player of the game honors for the extravaganza. Junior teammate Sean Weaver earned the nod last year with his 58-save performance in the Ice Griffs’ 2-1 win.
Bumbaco fired in a rebound of a Dave Hominuk shot at 4:13 to give NU the lead.
The goal awakened Canisius as the Griffs became more physical and determined. Their hard work paid off when Deeves scored on a wrap around on the power play at 10:32. Rob Martin and Jeff Street made the goal happen by forcing a turnover behind the NU net with some vicious forechecking.
“You always want to send a message when you play a team from the same (area), but this is always how we play” said Fabiilli of his team’s physical nature.
Kenny set up the go-ahead goal for Canisius in the second period by blocking Mike Bozoian’s shot from the point during a Niagara power play. Duggan grabbed the loose puck and darted into NU’s zone. Bozoian got back and forced Duggan wide, but Duggan went around the net and banked in a shot off freshman goalie Scott Lindsay (13 saves). Lindsay was in no man’s land on the goal because he attempted to poke check the puck away from Duggan before he went behind the net and missed. The goal came at 11:56 of the second period.
Kenny made it 3-1 by one-timing Todd Bisson’s pass into the net at 18:38 of the frame.
Clayton deflected Chris Welch’s shot to pull Niagara within 3-2 on the team’s fifth power play of the game.
Bouffard scored four seconds after Hominuk went to the box for roughing, redirecting Steve Birch’s point shot. Corey Lucas won the face-off and Bisson dished the puck back to Birch.
Sigrist deflected Timo Makela’s shot during a two-man advantage. The Eagles had 1:07 of power-play time left following the goal, but were foiled.
“We clearly didn’t get the big saves we needed early on,” MacDonald said. “The fact is we had opportunities to score more than four goals and we didn’t do that.”