LEWISTON – These are the kinds of game which previously gave Canisius fits. The Golden Griffins would be playing strong and confident with a train of momentum and then put up a flat, performance against one of the league’s cellar-dwelling teams.
The Griffs bucked that trend Thursday night.
After a slow start, Canisius played another solid defensive game and with two goals from Ralph Cuddemi defeated Niagara, 4-1, in front of 1,013 at Dwyer Arena.
The win extended the Griffs’ unbeaten streak to six games as they improved to 11-8-6 on the season. It also was the first win in Dwyer for the Griffs since a 6-3 win on March 5, 2011.
Three key elements came together for Canisius – the defensive poise of senior goaltender Keegan Asmundson, the continued clutch offensive machine of Cuddemi and Shane Conacher, and the Griffs’ ability to score third period goals.
Niagara dominated early play, holding a 15-3 advantage in shots on goal through the first half of the opening period. But none of it bothered Asmundson.
“The potential for frustration was there,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I thought what was important at that moment was Keegan wasn’t frustrated. I thought there were a couple big saves there because they could have had a couple early. … As the period went on, Keegan’s confidence and just his demeanor, I thought our guys started to build off that and build some intensity.”
The Griffs scored first as Conacher made a beautiful drag with the puck in the high slot and hit Cuddemi,who buried the shot past Niagara’s Jackson Teichroeb.
Only 45 seconds later the Purple Eagles evened the game as Hugo Turcotte took a pass from Dan Kolenda and sped past the Canisius defense. With Chris Rumble already being called for a hooking penalty on the play, Turcotte buried the shot.
Still, from that point on the Griffs found their stride and controlled most of the flow of play. Defensively they frustrated the Purple Eagles who couldn’t sustain their high-energy start.
“It was a good first 10 minutes and we put the puck on the net and played our system,” Turcotte said. “We trying to have the first five minutes be our best five minutes but once we deviated from our play in the second and third period and once again it cost us the game.”
While the second period was scoreless, Canisius held the advantage in shots and Cuddemi had two prime scoring opportunities on the same shift, one hitting the post.
It was a 1-1 game going into the third. And what’s been dangerous about the Griffins is that they tend to play some of their best hockey in the final 20 minutes.
A shot from Conacher was tipped by Cuddemi at 1:22 in the third and the Griffs took the 2-1 lead with a third assist going to Logan Roe. Jeff Murray sealed the deal when his wrister floated in at 12:15 with Mitch McCrank adding an empty netter.
That’s nothing new for the Griffs who are outscoring conference opponents in the third period, 27-9.
“We’re never a team to quit,” said Cuddemi who leads the team with 14 goals. “I feel our conditioning is at its highest level. Our mental strength is also at our highest level which gives us the ability to play in the third and play to the best of our abilities instead of finding an excuse and not trying to win the game.”
Meanwhile the slide continued for Niagara (3-18-2) which is now winless in its last 11.
The teams meet again at 7 p.m. Saturday in Dwyer Arena.