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Canisius wraps up sweep of Niagara

LEWISTON – All that mattered to the Canisius Golden Griffins was beating Niagara. So it goes in the intense local rivalry when a rare sweep is in sight.

But it wasn’t just that this was a game against Niagara. It was the most important game on the Golden Griffins’ schedule because it was the next game. The Canisius hockey team, anchored by 10 seniors, has been intensely focused on the task in front of it. With confidence that increases with each passing test, the Griffs have become formidable in Atlantic Hockey this season.

With a 6-4 win over Niagara in front of 1,302 at Dwyer Arena Saturday night, the Griffs extended their unbeaten streak to seven games. With an 11-4-5 conference record, they are solidly in second place in the league standings.

It is the longest regular-season unbeaten streak for the Griffs since they went 6-0-1 in 2000-01 season.

Cue the familiar keys in the Canisius win – absolutely fantastic goaltending from senior Keegan Asmundson and a stunning performance from the top line.

The No. 1 line of junior Ralph Cuddemi and sophomore Shane Conacher centered by freshman Ryan Schmelzer had a hand in all six goals for the Griffs.

Cuddemi had two goals and two assists for his fifth multi-goal game of the season. Conacher had four assists, becoming the seventh player in the Division I era to have four helpers in one game. Schmelzer scored twice and was on the ice for all five even-strength goals. He is a plus-14 in his freshman season.

“They feed off each other and they want to win,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “When they have that energy, they’re very difficult to stop. Any time any line gets that hot, you have a good chance to win.”

Cuddemi opened the scoring at 9:09 of the first period but Niagara responded 49 seconds later when Robert Angiolella scored on the power play.

Asmundson made several big saves, including stopping Derian Plouffe on a breakaway with 1:40 left in the first. He then stymied Isaac Kohls on the rebound.

Using momentum from those big saves, Canisius built an impressive second-period lead.

It started with defenseman Chris Rumble, who scored at 9:04 to put the Griffs up, 2-1. The offense flooded from there with a power-play goal by Mitch McCrank and a tally by Schmelzer.

The highlight goal of the night was the power-play score by McCrank, which started on a rush that sent the puck from Cuddemi across to Conacher to a streaking McCrank in front of Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb.

“We talked about it after the first game,” Cuddemi said. “There’s a seam for a three-on-two pass. I knew that Shane was open and he wanted it so I sent it across.”

“We always enforce the net drive there,” Conacher said. “Mitch was going hard and it opened for me so I just tucked her in there.”

But Niagara wasn’t quite finished for the night yet.

T.J. Sarcona scored at 7:11, which set off a crazy third period in which teams combined for five goals on just 12 shots.

A short-handed goal by Niagara’s Kevin Patterson made it a 4-3 game.

The offense bounced back and forth from there. Schmelzer got clear on a breakaway and buried a shot, and then Angiolella scored with the extra attacker with 38 seconds left in the game. Cuddemi put the win away for the Griffs with an empty-netter.

Asmundson finished with 24 saves, in control and confident despite the third period surge that came from the Purple Eagles.

The loss for Niagara (3-19-2) extended its winless streak to 12 games.

“We’re sitting the coaches room after two and we’ve dominated faceoffs, Grade A’s, shots, physicality, and we’re down, 4-1,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “That’s our season.

“What do you do, hang your head? Give up? Or do you come out and fight like we did in the third.”