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Canisius, Niagara play to deadlock in men’s hockey

Canisius wanted the sweep. Niagara wanted to stop its losing skid. Both felt they played well enough to win. Neither did, which is why the tie felt so unsatisfactory in the moment.

But for the Golden Griffins, it was the first time they came out of a weekend with three points. For the Purple Eagles, the point ended a six-game losing streak.

So that 3-3 tie between the rivals at HarborCenter Saturday afternoon left mixed feelings on both sides.

“It’s a steppingstone and a step forward for us but we wanted the four points,” Canisius junior forward Shane Conacher said. “We thought we gave ourselves a chance. … We’ve got to play with a lead better but it’s a step forward.”

Sophomore forward Derian Plouffe had similar sentiments from the Niagara room.

“It definitely helps confidence for everyone,” Plouffe said of picking up the point. “It’s there. It proves it. We should have won, I thought. We out-battled them, but it’s something to build off this week in practice.”

This one played out with Canisius taking a 1-0 lead when freshman Dylan McLaughlin scored just 1:12 into the game but Niagara countered when Plouffe finished an odd-man rush with a goal with 1:08 left in the first period.

Daniel LaFontaine gave Canisius a 2-1 lead early in the second but Niagara gained momentum off its power play, tying the game on a Sean King tally and taking a lead on a rebound goal by Tanner Lomsnes.

The Purple Eagles were ready to go into the second intermission with the lead and the confidence. That is until Ryan Schmelzer intercepted the puck along the boards at the blue line and fed Conacher, who buried his breakaway opportunity.

“I saw the play happen and I thought what I was going to do before I got the puck and the opportunity opened up. I just tried to get a good shot off and I tried to beat him five-hole and it happened to go in,” Conacher said. “When you over-think it sometimes you get messed up but I try not to over-think things and take what’s given to me, and happy I got it behind the goalie.”

That play changed the emotion of the game. Canisius came out with a strong third, drawing three power plays in the final period and overtime. In the closing seconds Felix Chamberland’s tip went off the far post – the third post hit by the Griffs.

“Sometimes you can’t fault the effort, or the execution,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “It just didn’t go in. What I like most about this weekend is day after day we’re starting to see the improvement and we’re creeping up in the standings, not as much as we’d like but we still have a goal to finish in top four and it’s still in reach.”

On the flip side, Niagara took a second-period lead and won the overall shots-on-goal battle for the sixth straight game. But the Purple Eagles are just 0-5-1 in those games as finishing opportunities and closing out games remain a work in progress.

“Maybe some guys are gripping their sticks a little too tight,” said Plouffe, now on a three-game goal scoring streak. “Other than that I thought we played a good game. … Obviously it’s frustrating but it’s something we need to stay positive with and keep working hard.”

Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said he sees progress in his team.

“I just think in the shot chart and I think we were the more physical team,” Burkholder said. “We certainly won that battle in regards to number of hits. Those are things we demand and continue to get better at. I think if we light the torch once, I say look out. Again, we like this team. I liked our spirit and effort tonight. That’s first and foremost as a coach.”