LEWISTON, N.Y. — With the Buffalo Sabres wallowing in yet another miserable season, hardcore Western New York hockey observers packed Dwyer Arena this frigid Saturday night in hopes of witnessing another installment of what has become a fierce rivalry between the area’s two Division I teams.
They were not disappointed.
Niagara and Canisius battled to a spirited 3-3 tie in a game of subtle momentum shifts, but as the final whistle blew the real fireworks began. Canisius forward Daryl Pierce and Niagara assistant coach Jerry Forton were both awarded disqualification penalties, Pierce for instigating a fight and Forton for verbally chastising referee Jeff Fulton.
The difference-maker was Canisius goalie Bryan Worosz, who turned aside 37 shots, many from close range. Worosz rebounded from a subpar performance against Niagara on Thursday night to backstop a Canisius attack that gradually became stronger as the game wore on.
Add Canisius’ ability to win key faceoffs in critical moments, and the Golden Griffins neutralized Niagara’s territorial advantage throughout the contest.
“We have to have that type of goaltending on the road,” Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh said. “No question Bryan was outstanding tonight. It was a great game, in a packed house, with a lot of swings and emotion.”
“It was a great college hockey game,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said, “but it didn’t have to end that way.”
Canisius got on the board early in the first period when freshman Michael Cohen won a battle in front of the Niagara net and beat Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten. VanNynatten seemed to struggle most of the night with low shots and gave some choice rebounds.
Niagara evened the score later in the first after Justin Cross fed Joe Tallari on a 2-on-1, on which Tallari connected with a soaring wrist shot.
But Canisius jumped out in front early in the second. Ryan Corcoran fooled VanNynatten with a quick shot from down low. VanNynatten gambled that Corcoran would attempt a pass, but the Canisius forward adjusted to the out-of-position netminder and rifled it home.
Niagara stormed back when Marc Norrington out fought a Canisius defender and threw the puck toward the goal on a delayed penalty. The puck found its way into net after an odd bounce and skate deflection.
After Niagara took the lead in the third on a nifty play by Paul Muniz, the Purple Eagles appeared to relax and allow the Griffins back into the contest.
A costly turnover by Niagara was swooped upon by Canisius center Todd Bowler, who deftly dropped a pass for defenseman Tim Songin as he rocketed a slapshot past VanNynatten to tie the game.
Worosz made some spectacular saves in overtime. Both teams called timeouts during the extra period when Niagara pressed play deep in the Canisius zone. But the Purple Eagles could not win key faceoffs and the game drew to a close without chances from either side.