By Budd Bailey

It was almost as if the college hockey gods wanted to flip the script on Saturday night.

The night before, Canisius had earned a 5-2 victory over Niagara in the LECOM HarborCenter. The win meant the Golden Griffins had stretched their unbeaten streak to four games (3-0-1), and had improved their overall record to 8-12-3. Meanwhile, the Purple Eagles’ defeat meant it had lost five of its last six to fall to 12-11-2 overall, 6-9-2 in Atlantic Hockey play.

But on Saturday, it was Niagara that looked like the team that was playing well and Canisius that looked like it was struggling. Appropriately enough, Niagara won the game by a score of 5-2, so the local rivals finished the weekend series with a win apiece and seven goals apiece.

The reaction of the coaches to the turnaround was exactly what you’d expect. One was happy, one was not.

“It’s always good to win,” Niagara coach Jason Lammers said. “We had a big win in Air Force, and now a big win for us tonight. These are good wins for us. We want to keep putting blocks on top of blocks.”

“If you don’t at least match the energy of the opponent, you don’t win in this conference,” Canisius coach Trevor Large said. “I thought Niagara was better than us. It was really disappointing. I’d put it in the category of inexcusable, but it happened. The only choice was to learn from it.”

It would be an overreaction to say this game was decided in the first five minutes. However, perhaps it’s not a huge overreaction. Josef Mysak put Niagara on the scoreboard first when he snapped the puck home with 3:29 gone. Only 57 seconds after that, Ryan Cox took advantage of a turnover in the Canisius zone, and slid the puck in for a 2-0 lead. That seemed to take some of the energy out of the building.

“They started better than we did last night, and we started better than they did tonight,” Lammers said. “The start usually impacts the game.”

Even when things went right for Canisius, they were offset by something wrong. At the start of the second period, the Griffins got their first goal (Ryan Miotto) on a power play. The problem was that it came 48 seconds after Niagara’s Glebs Prohorenkovs had tallied a shorthanded goal. So the net result was a two-goal lead, just like it had been before.

The game settled down from there, with neither team having many good scoring chances. Still,  the two-goal margin didn’t seem overwhelming for Canisius. Then Prohorenkov notched his second four seconds before the buzzer at the end of the second period. A 4-1 score did seem like a very big mountain to climb considering the nature of the game. Both teams picked up a goal in the third period to account for the final score.

“It’s hockey – last night they were going in for us, and tonight they didn’t,” Large said. “We can sit here and make a bunch of excuses about hitting a bunch of posts, but the reality was that we got outplayed at home by our rival.”

Chad Veltri had 23 saves in the Niagara goal. He did have a few key saves that kept Canisius from gaining some momentum. Otherwise, the defense really made sure Veltri wasn’t tested too often.

“I think it was unbelievable,” he said. “I think they really bounced back well from last night. In the first period, you saw the commitment level. They blocked two shots. We got out of the first period. It’s an amazing energy boost when you’ve got that in front of you.”

“This is the best we’ve done in 14 years (in the conference),” Lammers said. “Maybe this has been a little blip on the radar lately, but I think we’re coming out of it. I’m really excited about our group. We’ve got a great group. We’ve got about eight games left, and I’m looking forward to it.”

Coming up, both Niagara and Canisius will see how their teams match up with the best in Atlantic Hockey. RIT had a 13-2-1 record in the AHA entering this weekend. The Griffins play them in a home-and-home series next weekend, with the later game serving as the first of five in a row on the road. Niagara takes on RIT on February 10 and 11, following a series the previous weekend with Army West Point.

(Follow Budd on Twitter @WDX2BB)

Budd Bailey

Budd Bailey has been involved in almost every aspect of the local sports scene for the last 40 years. He worked for WEBR Radio, the Buffalo Sabres' public relations department and The Buffalo News during that time. In that time he covered virtually every aspect of the area's sports world, from high schools to the Bills and Sabres and everything in between. Along the way, Budd served as a play-by-play announcer for the Bisons, an analyst for the Stallions, and a talk-show host. He won the National Lacrosse League's Tom Borrelli Award as the media personality of the year in 2011, and was a finalist for that same award in 2017. Budd's seventh and eighth books, one on the Transcontinental Railroad and the other about Ichiro Suzuki, are scheduled to be released in the fall.

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