BUFFALO, N.Y. — Atlantic Hockey released its monthly awards for October on Tuesday, and Canisius made a clean sweep — player of the month, goaltender of the month, and rookie of the month.
Niagara, in town to face the Golden Griffins, took notice. In fact, coach Dave Burkholder made noticing easy because, according to senior winger Bryan Haczyk, the article was double-posted in the Purple Eagles’ locker room.
So how did the October award winners fare in the first showdown of the season against Atlantic Hockey newcomer Niagara, the neighboring team that also just happens to be Canisius’ most bitter rival?
Cory Conacher, player of the month: zero shots, one assist, minus-2.
Dan Morrison, goaltender of the month: six goals allowed.
Kyle Gibbons, rookie of the month: two shots, minus-2.
The Purple Eagles started the second month of the season by recording a 6-5 overtime win over the Golden Griffins, ruining what had been a raucous evening for the mostly-partisan crowd of 1,421 spectators at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.
Senior winger Paul Zanette’s short-handed goal with 36 seconds remaining in the extra session sealed the deal for Niagara, negating a remarkable comeback by the Griffs in the final minute of regulation.
“I liked the way we responded all night,” Burkholder said. “In the end, you’re always looking for your seniors and your key guys to make big plays, and they did. We overcame a lot tonight.”
The game was a battle of conflicting styles — the seat-of-their-pants flash and dash of Canisius versus the relentless pressure of a methodical Niagara squad.
Until the closing seconds of the third period, it appeared the Purple Eagles’ constricting force would win comfortably.
Although Niagara fell behind 2-0 in the opening five minutes of the first period, the visitors proceeded to offer a clinical display of disciplined hockey — puck control, punishment on the boards and an opportune offense that nabbed a pair of power-play goals.
The red-hot Canisius line of Conacher, Gibbons and Vince Scarsella was all but silenced, finishing with three total shots and a combined minus-5.
Morrison was strong in net at times, keeping the game from devolving into a blowout, but wilted at others under a constant barrage.The Purple Eagles outshot their hosts 41-21.
But with Morrison on the bench and Niagara defenseman Jason Beattie in the penalty box on an interference call, Canisius forward Torrey Lindsay popped a loose puck behind goaltender Carsen Chubak following a wild array of chances to cut the Purple Eagles’ lead to 5-4 with 44 seconds on the clock.
Twenty-seven seconds later, senior defenseman Scott Jenks tied the score at 5-5 when his bouncing shot from the left point skipped into the Niagara net.
After killing a penalty to sophomore defenseman Ben Parker to start overtime, the Golden Griffins caught another big break when Beattie was slapped with a five-minute contact to the head penalty along with a game misconduct for his shot on Conacher in front of the Purple Eagles’ bench with 2:32 left to play.
The hero, however, would be Zanette. Churning behind the Canisius net, battling to the right circle with two Griffs in hot pursuit, Zanette cut back toward the goal and chopped a shot at Morrison that scooted past the goaltender’s pads near the left post to seal the win for Niagara.
The short-handed goal was Zanette’s second tally of the game. Giancarlo Iuorio, Scott Arnold, Haczyk and Ryan Rashid also scored for the Purple Eagles. Chubak made 16 saves in the win.
Niagara improved to 2-3-2 overall and 2-1-0 in Atlantic Hockey competition, boosting the team into a third-place tie with Holy Cross. The Purple Eagles will face Northeastern in a non-conference road matchup on Friday.
Eric Rex, Ben Danford, and Scott Moser added goals for Canisius, which fell to 4-3-1 overall and 3-2-1 in Atlantic Hockey. The Golden Griffins are alone in second place, one point behind conference leader Robert Morris, and will take a two-game road trip to Connecticut this weekend.
First, however, Canisius will have to find a way to steady the ship. After rushing out to a 4-1-1 start that included a win over Western Michigan and three conference victories, the Golden Griffins have lost two in a row to Army and Niagara, respectively, in games in which the team was battered physically.
Coach Dave Smith was philosophical about the situation, acknowledging the need for his top line with Conacher, Vince Scarsella and Gibbons to contribute despite the added defensive attention they’ve received while offering a vote of confidence for Morrison. The key for the next few days will be to heal and improve before facing the Huskies.
“I don’t think any coach wants to be in a 5-5 game,” Smith said, “but there’s a lot of heart in that locker room. It was a vicious game — a lot of hitting, a lot of physical play. It was a great environment, but it was also a great challenge. There were a lot of times we could have quit, but we didn’t. Now we have to find ways to get better.”