For Niagara, it isn’t March Madness, it’s March Sadness.
The Purple Eagles’ season came to another sad and somewhat unexpected conclusion when Canisius exploded for four goals in the second period to whip the Purple Eagles, 6-3, in an Atlantic Hockey first round playoff game at Dwyer Arena on Saturday night.
The third-seeded Purple Eagles’ season ended last year in lightning quick fashion in an overtime loss to Alabama-Huntsville in the final College Hockey America Tournament.
They suffered a long and painful death this go around and went out quietly this time, dominated in their own rink by a bitter and hated rival. They finished 15-11-2 in league play and 18-13-2 overall.
No. 6 Canisius, which won both games at Dwyer this season by a combined score of 12-6, was in control for most of the evening and bludgeoned a schizophrenic Niagara club.
Since the leaves starting falling way back in October, it seemed the Purple Eagles were exceedingly solid or just plain bad. On this night, they were not bad, but certainly nowhere close to good.
The Golden Griffins now advance in the Atlantic tourney (frenzy) and will skate at No. 3 Holy Cross in a best-of-three series next weekend.
With the score tied at one in the second period, Canisius took command with two power-play goals. Vincent Scarcella started the onslaught with a power-play goal at 6:52 for a 2-1 lead when his accurate shot whizzed through a screen over Niagara goaltender Cody Campbell’s glove.
Just under three minutes later, Preston Shupe scored on a two-man advantage when he whacked a rebound of Cory Conacher’s shot past Campbell for a 3-1 Canisius lead at 9:34.
Shupe scored when Niagara’s David Ross was whistled for hitting-from-behind and Ryan Murphy for roughing at 8:15.
After Scott Moser upped the lead to 4-1 at 11:33, Campbell was lifted in favor of Chris Noonan to give the Purple Eagles some spark, but it didn’t matter much, as Scarcella scored again just under four minutes later and all of a sudden it was 5-1 Canisius.
“We gave up (only) eight shots,” said a frustrated Niagara coach Dave Burkholder after the game, who very rarely declined a question from the media in an uncharacteristic situation. “We outshoot a team 21-8 in the period and are down 5-1. We are killing penalties when quite frankly, we shouldn’t have. That takes its toll.
“That five-on-three call, and the goal…that was the game.”
Indeed, by this juncture the game, and Niagara’s season, were over.
“There were not many flashy plays, just get pucks to the net and get rebounds,” Scarcella said of the decisive second period in which Canisius scored on four of its eight shots.
The Purple Eagles did them commence with a commendable rally to regain a glimmer of hope when Giancarlo Iuorio and Bryan Haczyk scored goals 1:41 apart early in the third period to make it a 5-3 game.
However, Haczyk took a questionable interference penalty at 14:36. Just over two minutes later, Canisius’ Eric Rex punctured Niagara’s slim chances with a goal to make it 6-3.
“I thought it was pretty weak, considering the game,” Haczyk said of the penalty and who later choked up when asked about personal accomplishments compared to team success. “What can you do? I could have sworn these two refs were Canisius alumni, but we can’t control that. It was a bad call; it killed our momentum. That’s all I have to say.”
Canisius goaltender Dan Morrison recorded 48 saves, but Burkholder admitted a lot of Niagara’s shots were not quality.
“We didn’t have enough quality chances, and we didn’t spend enough time at the top of their crease, which was a team goal today,” Burkholder said. “He (Morrison) had too many clean looks. He played well.”
Rex had two goals for Canisius while Ben Danford had three assists.
Derek Foam had the other goal for Niagara. Campbell stopped 13-of-17 shots while Noonan recorded nine saves. The Purple Eagles went two-for-three on the power play while the Griffs were two-of-seven.
NOTES: Only 978 fans attended the game. Niagara is officially on Spring Break…Philadelphia Flyers scout Don Luce again attended a Niagara game. Haczyk and Paul Zanette — who leads the nation with 29 goals — are reportedly on Philly’s free agent radar screen.