Quick-strike Niagara beats Canisius in home-and-home opener

Chris Lochner and Ryan Murphy scored goals 18 seconds apart early in the second period Tuesday night at Buffalo State Ice Arena to put the Niagara Purple Eagles up 3-0 and sink Canisius into a hole it would never recover from.

Dan Morrison is now just 11 saves away from Canisius' all-time record of 2,771, set by Bryan Worosz in 2005. However, sophomore Tony Capobianco will likely get a start in net Thursday.

The Griffs controlled the tempo of the game early on but lost momentum with four first-period penalties and untidy play in their defensive zone. They struggled to put offensive chances together in the second and third periods, but any Griff who was able to elude defenders on the way to goal was met by a purple brick wall — Niagara’s senior goaltender Chris Noonan, who ranks second nationally in goals against average and save percentage.

“Going into the game, we talked about how it’s not an X’s and O’s type game, it’s who can play with passion and intensity,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I thought from a Canisius perspective, they had a couple of sloppy goals … it’s tough to win against anybody with that many sloppy goals.”

Noonan stymied Mitch McCrank’s one-timer from point-blank range early in the first period and was sharp all night, finishing with 30 saves to improve to 10-5-4 on the year.

Niagara went up 4-0 later in the second period before Doug Beck’s fourth goal of the season got Canisius on the board shortly after. Senior goaltender Dan Morrison got the start in his final home game against Niagara and made 32 saves in the 4-1 loss. He is now just 11 saves shy of Canisius’ all-time record.

Morrison was beaten in the first period on a point shot from Dan Weiss that found its way through traffic and went in to the lower portion of the net. The second was a power-play goal from just outside the crease and the third came on a 2-on-1 break.

Niagara scored its fourth goal after Duncan McKellar tried to knock a puck out of the air in the neutral zone but instead sent it toward his own net. Morrison came out in desperation and tried to swipe the puck away, but it went right to Giancarlo Iuorio, who shot into an empty net.

“The difference in tonight’s game was they capitalized on our sloppy plays,” Smith said. “That’s why we keep score — credit goes to Niagara for capitalizing.”

Morrison had a similar take, noting how his team’s play has changed over the course of the season.

“We have to find our team defense again and build off that,” Morrison said. “Earlier in the year we had good team defense. We might not have had as many scoring chances, but at least we’d be in every game. Right now it’s just getting away from us.”

Canisius had five power-play opportunities on the night but couldn’t convert. The unit had trouble getting situated in the Niagara zone and, when it finally set up, couldn’t get shots through. Both of those are recurring problems this season: After going 0-for-5 with four shots on the night, the power play unit now runs at just 9.6 percent on the season and averages only 1.02 shots per power play.

In contrast, Canisius’ opponents score on 22.2 percent of power plays and record 1.63 shots per man advantage.

The teams will meet again Thursday night, this time at Niagara’s home rink.

“Man,” Morrison said, shaking his head, “we can’t lose Thursday.”