BUFFALO, N.Y. — Cory Conacher finally found a way to score without Vince Scarsella.
The dynamic duo did make the score sheet — Conacher assisted on Scarsella’s first-period goal, marking the sixth time in seven games that one has assisted on the other’s goal — but the junior forward also notched the game-winning penalty shot in the waning minutes of the third period to lead Canisius College to a 4-3 victory and a weekend home-and-home sweep over visiting Mercyhurst at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in Buffalo, NY.
The Golden Griffins (4-6-0, 3-3-0) have won three of their last four contests, all within the Atlantic Hockey conference, after starting the season with five losses in their first six games.
“The guys worked extremely hard,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “It was a very gritty and determined effort.”
After posting a 2-1-1 record in their first four Atlantic Hockey matchups, the Lakers (2-7-1, 2-3-1) were swept by conference foe Canisius in a weekend series for the first time in the teams’ 21-year, 60-game rivalry.
Conacher broke a 3-3 tie at the 14:24 mark of the third period after teammate Torrey Lindsay’s point-blank shot was gloved by Mercyhurst defenseman Kevin Noble during a wild scramble in the Lakers’ goal crease, leading to a falling on the puck penalty against the sophomore from British Columbia.
Tapped to take the shot, Conacher took a direct route to Mercyhurst goaltender Max Strang’s crease before firing a low wrister beneath the right pad for the game-winner.
“I was thinking of going low blocker, and the goalie gave me an opening at low blocker,” Conacher said. “I snapped it quickly, and fortunately it went in.”
The Griffs started with an early lead for the second straight night. After jumping in front of the Lakers 3-0 on Friday in Erie, Pa., before hanging on for a 6-4 win, Canisius again drew first blood with a pair of first-period tallies.
Senior center Josh Heidinger settled an airborne pass from defenseman Dave Cianfrini at the left goal post and deposited a fluttering shot behind Strang for a power-play goal to give the home team a 1-0 lead with 3:30 remaining before the opening buzzer.
Just 22 seconds later, Scarsella tapped a Conacher pass behind Strang on a two-on-one rush to increase the lead to two.
Mercyhurst, however, slowly began to steal the momentum away from the Griffs in the second round. After withstanding a withering, late-period Canisius power play that saw Lakers’ defenders Noble and Matt Fennell take a pair of ferocious slap shots to the body, Mercyhurst cut the Griffs’ advantage in half on junior winger Steve Cameron’s sixth goal of the season with 1:36 remaining in the frame.
The Lakers tied the score early in the third period on freshman winger Paul Chiasson’s goal at the 2:36 mark, but Canisius jumped back in front, 3-2, in just 24 seconds when senior defenseman Carl Hudson roofed a quick wrister from the right circle.
The see-saw battle continued as Cameron scored his second goal of the night to tie the game at 3-3 at 6:46 of the third, redirecting a long Scott Pitt pass from the right wing boards into an open net at the right post behind Griffins’ goaltender Dan Morrison.
Conacher closed the scoring with his penalty shot, allowing the home team to escape with two points.
Morrison finished with 26 saves, earning his third win of the season. Conacher and Hudson had two points apiece.
Strang stopped 29 shots. Grant Blakely and Brandon Coccimiglio each had two assists in the loss.
The Lakers will attempt to right the ship with a pair of conference home games versus RIT next weekend. Mercyhurst will play six of its next eight games on its own campus.
“We’re not very good,” Lakers’ coach Rick Gotkin said after seeing his team fail to overcome a multi-goal deficit for the second night in a row. “Good teams don’t go down 3-0, 2-0. Comeback hockey, come-from-behind hockey, is losing hockey. That’s how I think. The good news is we have some time to think it out, sort it out, but right now, we’re a very average to below-average hockey team.”
Canisius will host Connecticut on Nov. 14 and Nov. 15 in Buffalo. The Huskies swept a pair from American International this weekend after starting 2009-2010 with six consecutive losses.
“The players are really excited now about every game,” Smith said. “They’re really excited about two points, and that’s what we’re going to focus on. We know they’re good. UConn has beat us in the past, they’re well-coached, and they have some skilled, talented players, as well. In the room, our guys are just going to make it important; it’s their life right now, and that’s something fun to be a part of.”