By Thomas Baldwin
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — LEWISTON - The Niagara hockey team wanted desperately to get revenge against Canisius on Saturday night.
It did, but barely, and on a goal that could be considered a fluke. Niagara coach Dave Burkholder called it “puck luck.”
But a win is a win. And the Purple Eagles redeemed themselves in a 2-0 victory over the Golden Griffins in front of 1,559 fans at Dwyer Arena.
Ryan Murphy scored the game-winner on a rare type of goal, Patrick Divjak added an insurance goal and Carsen Chubak stopped 32 shots for his nation-leading sixth shutout of the season to avenge Thursday’s 2-0 loss at Canisius.
The Purple Eagles, who entered the game ranked 15th in the USCHO.com poll and 14th in the USA Today poll, improved to 17-2-2 in Atlantic Hockey and 18-5-5 overall. They extended their lead to 10 points over second-place Mercyhurst and are three points away from clinching the conference title.
“I tell you, all weekend you hope your best players are going to make a play, and he did,” Burkholder said of Murphy’s game-winner. “The timing of it was unbelievable. That was an entertaining hockey game.”
With the game in a tenacious scoreless draw, Niagara’s Jason Beattie attempted to ice the puck, but it inadvertently struck the referee. An opportunistic Murphy sprung on the loose puck at the Canisius blueline, darted in alone and roofed a backhander over Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco’s glove to give the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead with four and a half minutes left in the game.
“The puck went across the ice in the “D” zone, and we like to throw it on to the other side to get onto it,” said Murphy of his 12th goal. “I put my head down and skated as fast as I could. Once I got to the blueline, I picked my head up and the puck was right in front of me. I took it right to the net, put it on the backhand upstairs on the far side of the net.”
The goal was a classic case of fortuitous luck for the Purple Eagles and misfortune for the Griffs.
“I just read icing, and once he got the puck, I couldn’t get my depth,” Capobianco said. “In kind of desperation I threw a poke check, but he was too far away. It was a pretty good shot.”
Divjak’s empty netter with three seconds left extended Niagara’s unbeaten streak on home ice to 18 games. The school record is 22 games set five years ago.
The Purple Eagles killed off a two-man advantage for 1:27, 1:20 of which opened the third period. Niagara’s Chris Lochner, Dan Weiss, Kevin Albers and Divjak combined to kill the penalty while allowing Canisius only two shots.
Canisius fell to 10-9-2 in conference play and 11-14-5 overall.
“I thought it was a super intense game,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “Both teams had chances, both teams played physical, both teams played hard. That was an extremely high-level hockey game both ways tonight.”
NOTES: The Niagara scratches were Giancarlo Iuorio, Dan Kolenda, Jeff Hannan and Matt Chiarantano ... Capobianco recorded 42 saves … Both teams were scoreless in five power play attempts.