LEWISTON — After 11 minutes, Niagara was down three goals. In its home rink. To its biggest rival.
But the Purple Eagles battled back, responding well to the adversity and earning a 6-4 win over Canisius in front of 1,559 at Dwyer Arena on Saturday night.
“That’s a big test against an older team that has some swagger and success of late,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Just for us to hang in there. No one felt bad after the first period. … We outshot them, outhit them and scored on every opportunity. We played like you forget about the scoreboard and you hope the process gets you through and it did.”
Niagara’s Ryan Rashid took the puck off the boards and rushed down the ice, firing the puck past Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco 1:53 into the third period. It was a short-handed the goal, the second of the game for the Purple Eagles. It gave Niagara its first lead and proved to be the game-winner.
“After their second goal we knew we were taking it to them. We just weren’t getting the bounces,” Rashid said. “We just had to keep doing what we needed to. … We established our cycle pretty early in the game and their D just couldn’t stick with us tonight. We worked hard to get our bounces.”
Canisius dominated the first 11 minutes of the game, jumping to a 3-0 lead.
Tyler Wiseman opened the scoring with a short-handed goal just 3:14 into the game, taking a pass from Matthew Grazen after Ben Danford chipped the puck up from center ice.
The Golden Griffins then scored twice on the power play, Taylor Law reached his own rebound and banged it past Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb. Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher picked up the assists. It was the first collegiate point for Conacher, the younger brother of Cory Conacher, the Griffs’ all-time leading scorer and current Ottawa Senator.
Kyle Gibbons went end to end for the next Canisius goal, also a power play tally.
But while Canisius was up 3-0, coach Dave Smith said that the overall team defense wasn’t quite there.
“What we wanted as coaches, and I know what our players want as well, is to battle, battle, battle,” Smith said. “We’ll learn the lessons, but we didn’t put ourselves in enough battles in enough areas to win.
“We were trying to control and contain our hunger and enthusiasm for being up 3-0, but we didn’t feel like we backed off or sat on the lead.” Niagara got on the board at 13:46 on a goal by Matt Dineen as the puck took an awkward bounce behind Capobianco.
Doug Beck scored less than two minutes later to again extend the Griffs’ lead to three goals as Cuddemi and Mitch McCrank picked up their second assists of the period.
T.J. Sarcona then tipped the puck past Capobianco with 58 seconds left in the opening period to cut the Canisius lead to 4-2.
In the second period, Canisius hit the post twice as Adrian Ignagni took over in net for Niagara. Then Niagara took control of the period.
Kevin Ryan fired the puck from the blue line for a power play goal to make it 4-3 at 4:52 of the second.
Canisius had two power plays late in the period, but Ignagni made several key saves. Then Niagara capitalized on a turnover in the neutral zone, and Chris Lochner scored short-handed with 25 seconds left in the period for a 4-4 tie.
Mike Conderman scored an empty-netter for Niagara with 13.5 seconds left in the game.
It was the first win of the season for Niagara (1-2) which plays at Robert Morris on Saturday. … It was the third straight loss in a season opener for Canisius (0-1), which is off until Oct. 25-26 when it travels to Colorado to play Air Force and Denver. … Conacher left the game in the first period with an injury to the head, not concussion related, and was taken to the hospital to be evaluated. … The 10 goals were the most combined scoring in a Canisius-Niagara game.