NIAGARA, N.Y. — You might think an early three-goal lead would bring a sense of calm to the Niagara bench in the first period of its 6-2 drubbing of crosstown rival Canisius.
Seconds after Matt Caruana put back his own rebound, Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder could be seen launching a verbal barrage toward his team, exhorting them with an intensity most often found in the confines of the lockeroom.
“We just scored a goal and have the 3-0 lead and we take a dumb penalty,” Burkholder said. “We got momentum off the power play all night but there were way too many penalties. Sometimes you get a little sloppy with the lead. Sometimes the guys try and get too much of an offensive jump and I wanted to caution against that.”
Niagara’s first two goals came courtesy of outstanding special-teams play. Freshman Chris Moran continued to quarterback the power play with uncommon poise, and found Les Reaney lurking in the slot for the deflection past Canisius goalie Bryce Luker.
Sean Bentivoglio’s marker followed quickly on an ensuing Purple Eagle man advantage. Niagara finished out the period 3-0 after Matt Caruana backhanded the puck top shelf past Luker who was relieved by Andrew Loewen to start the second period.
“When the game was on the line in the first period, their power play executed and ours did not,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “Consequently, they gained momentum and it was hard for us to get going. They (Niagara’s top line of Sean Bentivoglio, Ted Cook and Les Reaney) really zip it around good.”
“We knew they were one of the most penalized teams in the country,” Bentivoglio said. ” We went over a couple things before the game, and knew what we were doing once we got out there.”
Niagara dominated the second period, bottling up Canisius in their zone for long stretches and shutting down the Griffins on offense. Egor Mironov’s heads-up pass to a wide open Les Reaney led to the Purple Eagles fourth goal. Reaney skated in on Loewen and rifled a wrist shot past the goalie for a commanding 4-0 Niagara lead.
Canisius struck in the waning moments of a power play at the end of the period. Josh Heideger beat Niagara net minder Juliano Pagliero after a mad scramble in front of the Niagara net.
“Pags played a great game,” Burkholder said. “His stop on the breakaway in the second was a game saver. It gave us a chance to collect our breath and move on.”
Canisius scored its second goal of the evening on what appeared to be a hand directed puck into the Niagara net by Golden Griffin forward Jason Weeks. The controversial goal woke up the slumbering crowd at Dwyer Arena and led to a physical exchange between the teams that culimated in Canisius’ Spencer Churchill’s disqualification.
Again, Niagara worked the man advantage to precision. Ted Cook notched his eighteenth goal of the season after pouncing on a Bentivoglio rebound. Matt Caruana added Niagara’s final goal on an open net after Canisius pulled Loewen with over two mintues left in the game.
In all, Pagliero stopped thirty-nine Canisius shots while Loewen, solid in relief of starter Luker, took the loss for the Golden Griffins. Niagara remained unbeaten at home for the season but the victory didn’t seem to fill Burkholder with holiday cheer.
“This is not a game I want to play next year,” Burkholder said. ” For the first time in a long time we are in the hunt for an at-large bid to the playoffs if we keep on playing well and winning, but our strength of schedule kicks us out. It’s just a big relief to have this game over.”