They came in with a plan. Then they had to change the plan.
Canisius College entered Thursday’s game with Niagara already out of whack with top-line center Ryan Schmelzer sidelined with a one- game suspension issued by Atlantic Hockey.
So Jeff Murray took his spot centering Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher. But then the Golden Griffins lost forward Cody Boyd to a game misconduct penalty late in the first period. And Niagara kept coming. And Canisius kept taking penalties.
Needing a shakeup, the Griffs moved freshman Dylan McLaughlin of Lancaster to the top line, returning Murray to his spot on the second line. That’s when things started to roll better offensively for Canisius.
The first shift of the Conacher-McLaughlin-Cuddemi line broke the scoreless tie, as the trio accounted for all of the Griffs’ goals in a 3-1 win over Niagara at HarborCenter.
“We came in with a plan and I thought Jeff Murray was the guy to go there,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I actually thought Jeff Murray had his best game of the year. … Jeff was skating well. I thought Dylan was creating some offense so we just went with it.
“Dylan, Shane and Ralph were the difference makers in the game.”
“I thought first and second period they seemed uninterested but they’re opportunistic, I’ll give them that,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Their top line killed us. They’re all-league players … not much fight in the dog tonight, unfortunately.”
But before that line could get rolling, the Griffs had to survive a strong Niagara attack. The Purple Eagles had four power plays through the first two periods and dominated play early in the second period.
“I thought we were trying to be too cute. I thought we lost our commitment to the grind,” Smith said. “We were trying to score goals from our end and the neutral zone and that’s pretty hard to do. I thought Niagara made it hard for us to get in their zone and we weren’t committed to the grind to be able to do it.”
The tide shifted when Cuddemi scored one of his trademark gritty goals, finding the puck in the front of the net and willing it past Niagara goalie Jackson Teichroeb at 13:47 of the second.
“I just tried to take it off their guy’s stick and bring it to the net,” Cuddemi said. “I think Shane was open but I didn’t know if their D was going to intercept it so I just tried to jam it home and it kind of rolled over his back and past the goal line.”
With the 1-0 lead and more consistent even strength play in the third period, Canisius was able to find a better offensive flow.
That led to Conacher’s goal, his 15th of the season and first against Niagara. A strong forecheck from Cuddemi started the play. McLaughlin backhanded the puck to Conacher who one-timed it from the high slot.
“I think our effort was there in the third,” Conacher said. “We kind of got away from it in the second period and then we got back at it, got pucks deep and were just rolling. It was more five-on-five play and I think five-on-five we match up well against them.”
McLaughlin scored with 3:59 left, all alone in front of Teichroeb for his second multi-point game of his career.
Cuddemi finished with a three points. Conacher extended his point streak to a career-best seven games.
“We just want to stick to our game – keep putting pucks in deep or make hockey plays like we’re always talking about,” Cuddemi said. “We just have to be happy with everyone’s effort inside the room. Guys stepped up big and we came out with two points.”