BUFFALO, N.Y. – Trailing cross-town rival Canisius heading into the final period of play, Niagara hockey pocketed a three-goal third period to drop Canisius by a score of 4-2 at the Buffalo State Sports Arena on Saturday night.
After Sam Alfieri evened the game at two apiece in the first five minutes of the final frame, Niagara's Matt Chiarantano scored the go-ahead goal to give the Purple Eagles a 3-2 lead with 7:11 remaining in regulation. Patrick Divjak raced into the Canisius zone and spotted Chiarantano streaking toward the net. Divjak connected with Chiarantano at the top of the slot, who beat Canisius goalie Tony Capobianco with the one timer for his second goal of the season.
The Purple Eagles were able to hold off a late Canisius push, and Divjak added the empty net tally to secure the victory, taking the season series, 2-0-1.
"We talked after the second period that we played a perfect first 20 minutes with 25 attempts and 12 shots on goal," said head coach Dave Burkholder. "The second period we didn't play very well though. There were penalties on both sides, but Canisius took it to us. We said if we could duplicate the first period and just work them it would end well for us which is what happened. To win the season series against the returning champions is huge for us."
Alfieri accounted for the first pair of the Purple Eagles' goals, his first career two-goal game, and added an assist for a career-high three-point evening. Freshman goaltender Adrian Ignagni turned away 22-of-24 shots. Niagara went 2-for-6 on the power play, while holding the Golden Griffins scoreless in 4-of-5 man-up opportunities.
The win pushes Niagara's overall record to 9-15-4, with a record of 9-8-4 in AHA action. The loss drops Canisius to 10-15-3 overall, with a record of 9-9-3 in conference play.
"After spending a couple games on the sidelines we put Divjak and Lochner back in the lineup," added Burkholder. "We need them in our lineup because they make us a better team. I thought Alfieri with Divjak and Lochner were the difference in the game."
The first goal of the evening was scored by Alfieri via assists from Chiarantano and Vincent Muto. With four seconds remaining on Niagara's first power play of the evening, the junior banked in the puck off Capobianco for his second of the season.
Ignagni made his best save of the period during a Canisius power play opportunity. Shane Conacher connected with Kyle Gibbons for the one-timer on the doorstep, but Ignagni went post-to-post to rob the senior and keep the Purple Eagles ahead.
Canisius evened the game with 4:41 remaining in the frame as Braeden Rigney jumped on a rebound on a shot by Mitch McCrank, whose shot trickled through the pads of Ignagni where Rigney cashed in on the loose puck.
The only score of the second period came off a Canisius stick as the Golden Griffins capitalized on their own power play opportunity to grab their first lead of the contest. With 50 seconds remaining on the man-advantage, Gibbons sent in a shot on the Niagara cage where Ignagni made the initial save, but let up a rebound that was eventually pounced on by Ralph Cuddemi for his ninth goal of the season, giving Canisius the 2-1 lead.
With 16:19 left in regulation, Chris Rumbling was whistled for boarding, resulting in a five-minute major where the Niagara power play capitalized with the extra man. Chris Lochner laced a pass across the slot to Alfieri who in turn found the back of the net at 5:14 for his second tally of the game to deadlock the game at two apiece.
Niagara begins the final three weeks of regular season play with a home-and-home series against former College Hockey America foe Robert Morris on Thursday, Feb. 13 and Saturday, Feb. 15 at 7:05 p.m. Thursday's game will take place at Dwyer Arena, while Saturday's contest is set for the 84 Lumber Arena.