LEWISTON, N.Y. — Tuesday night’s rivalry tilt between Atlantic Hockey’s closest foes was the kind of hockey coaches love.
And fans dread.
Despite plenty of physical play between the bluelines, Niagara and Canisius played to a 1-1 tie that drew yawns from many of the 1,436 in attendance at Dwyer Arena.
After a pair of goals in the first five minutes, the offenses were kept on mute. So was a large student section of Niagara fans, many of whom had wailed like banshees the night prior for what amounts to a meaningless non-league basketball game between the Purple Eagles and Central Connecticut State.
“Our goal was to outhit them and outshoot them [and] we did both of those,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Ideally, people are here to see goals. And we couldn’t get that done for them.”
With two crucial points against an in-league rival on the line, and plenty of pride in the schools’ so-called “Battle of the Bridge,” the teams played safe, calculated hockey, with few offense chances at either end.
That helped the confidence, and goals-against averages, of both Canisius’ Dan Morrison and Niagara’s Cody Campbell, who were both among the night’s three stars.
Morrison kicked aside 32 shots, although Canisius coach Dave Smith admitted he had plenty of help from a defense that kept the Niagara snipers at bay.
“I didn’t think he had to make any tremendous saves. He’s an extension of our team defense and I thought he was real soft controlling rebounds, put pucks into the corners and just making the saves that were shot at the net,” Smith said of Morrison. “I think there were a few breaks both ways, but Dan was a steady, calm force back there for us.”
Meanwhile, on the offensive end, Canisius (2-5-2, 2-1-2 AHA) managed just one goal for the third straight contest, but it proved to be enough to earn a point. It came just 1:52 into the first as Torrey Lindsay notched his second short-handed goal of the year, and third overall, converting on a 2-on-1 after the Purple Eagles coughed the puck up at the offensive blueline.
The advantage didn’t last three minutes, as Ryan Rashid’s shot from the point even things up for Niagara (2-4-3, 1-2-2 AHA) at the 4:45 mark. The marker was Rashid’s fourth of the year, and came with Canisius’ Doug Jessey off for one of his four minor penalties.
That’s when the offenses came to a screeching halt, however.
Other than a few nicked posts, Morrison and Campbell had relatively easy nights keeping the sheet clean after the opening flurry, with some of the best chances coming late from Canisius’ Matthew Grazen and Niagara’s Iuorio and Kevin Ryan.
Even a 5-on-3 power play for the Golden Griffins in the third didn’t produce much excitement.
Burkholder, who saw his team surrender goals on an incredible 10 of its previous 20 penalty kill situations at home this season, was happy to see that unit finally come to life, noting that a different practice approach seemed to work wonders. Niagara held Canisius scoreless on five power play opportunities, including the 43-second two-man advantage.
“We came to the realization that we were practicing our power play, yet the guys who are on the power play are our best penalty killers,” said Burkholder. “So we practiced our penalty kill for most of the week and it definitely was a difference. Guys were in the shooting lanes, guys were blocking shots. We’ve just been over-extending our box, it’s been getting out of control. We had nine days off, so we had time to work on it, which was great.”
Despite having 19 freshmen and sophomores on his roster, and weapons like Cory Conacher and Vincent Scarsella gone to graduation, Smith has seen his inexperienced bunch push into the upper half of the conference standings through its first five league games. This despite scoring just 10 goals in those contests.
“To tell you the truth, with the young guys, you look at every game like, ‘Oh my goodness, what are we in for?’ And fear can be a great motivator,” Smith said. “Every team we play in our league is good. And any night that we get points is good.”