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by Alex Pagliano / Buffalo Sabres

Atlantic Hockey Association league play opened with a bang Saturday night.

The Niagara University Purple Eagles scored four unanswered goals to defeat Canisius College 6-4 at Dwyer Arena in Lewiston, N.Y. Senior Ryan Rashid scored the game-winning goal for the Purple Eagles shorthanded 1:53 into the third period.

Niagara freshman goaltender Adrian Ignagni earned his first career collegiate victory, posting 18 saves on 18 shots in 40 minutes of relief. Niagara moves to 1-2 on the year, while Canisius drops to 0-1.

For the second consecutive season, the local rivalry produced a sellout at Dwyer Arena. After the game, Burkholder lauded the product of college hockey.

“It’s the best-kept secret in Western New York,” he said. “There cannot be anyone leaving this building that does not want to come back.”

The Golden Griffins jumped out to an early three-goal lead thanks to great special teams play.

Canisius found the scoreboard 3:14 into the first period when Tyler Wiseman converted on a shorthanded two-on-one opportunity from the slot.

The Golden Griffins added their second of the night minutes later on the power play as forward Taylor Law jammed home a rebound in front of the net past Niagara starting goaltender Jackson Teichroeb.

Canisius returned to the power play at 9:22 and scored again. Kyle Gibbons wristed a hard shot past Teichroeb to expand the Golden Griffins’ lead.

Gibbons, a senior, was named to the Preseason Atlantic Hockey All-Star team after recording 43 points on 22 goals and 21 assists last season. The goal against Niagara was his first of the season.

“It’s nice to get the monkey off your back on the first night,” Gibbons said. “I just wanted to get some pucks on the net and I thought that I had some good looks.”

Despite being down three goals 11:02 into the game, Niagara remained confident.

“They virtually scored on every opportunity,” Niagara David Burkholder said. “We were dominating play. We outshot them and we outhit them. When you’re playing like that, you just forget about the scoreboard and you hope that the process gets you through it.”

The Purple Eagles took advantage of a fortunate bounce to cut down the deficit to two. With 6:14 remaining in the opening period, defenseman Matt Dineen rocketed a point shot that ricocheted off of the boards and behind Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco for the tally.

Canisius added another goal late in the first period as Doug Beck wristed a shot in from the slot on a beautiful pass from teammate Mitch McCrank to make it 4-1.

Niagara forward T.J. Sarcona made it a two-goal game with 58 seconds remaining in the period.

Entering the second period, Burkholder decided to make a change in goal, swapping Teichroeb out in favor of freshman Adrian Ignagni.

“I told [Ignagni] with 4:41 left in the first period that he was going in and that he was going to shut the door, and he said, ‘OK, coach,’” Burkholder said.

Ignagni entered Saturday’s game after stopping 25 of 27 shots in a loss against Clarkson on Oct. 6. Teichroeb started against Clarkson the next night, turning aside 39 of 41 shots and earned the start against Canisius because of his strong play.

But after having a solid week of practice, Ignagni remained ready.

“I felt alright,” he said. “I just made sure that I was ready.”

Ignagni came in and sparked the Purple Eagles. Kevin Ryan converted on the power-play for Niagara 4:52 into the second period to put Niagara within one. Then, with 25 seconds remaining in the frame, forward Chris Lochner placed a shot past Capobianco shorthanded to tie the game 4-4.

“Going forward, having two goaltenders bodes well for us,” Burkholder said.

Niagara found themselves shorthanded again early in the third period, as Patrick Divjak took a minor penalty for cross-checking just 33 seconds into the period. After a designed play to clear the zone, senior Ryan Rashid launched a shot over the glove of Capobianco to give the Purple Eagles their first lead of the game, 5-4, at 1:07 into the period.

Canisius pulled Capobianco late, but their efforts to add the equalizer were unsuccessful. Mike Conderman added an empty-net goal to give Niagara the 6-4 victory.

“Anything could happen at any point in the game, so I just tried to stay on focus,” Ignagni said. “If I came in and made some plays, and some big saves, particularly early, I knew that our team could bounce back.”

Canisius coach Dave Smith was pleased with how team performed offensively when they had opportunities, but noted some defensive issues.

“We exposed ourselves a bit,” Smith said. “We were easy to play against. … Our team-tough defense was not there. There’s nothing else to say.”

Gibbons said that the Golden Griffins’ offense could be more productive than the previous season’s team that won the Atlantic Hockey Championship.

“[We’re] probably better, to be honest,” he said. “We have some really good forwards. Shane Conacher’s going to be a good player for us, and Tyler Wiseman is ready to break out. … It’s just not me, [Patrick Sullivan] and Cody Freeman. Anyone could score a lot of goals on our team.”

Niagara’s next game is on the road at Robert Morris on Oct. 19. Faceoff from Coraopolis, Pa. is scheduled for 7 p.m. Canisius is also on the road for their next contest. They take on Air Force on Oct. 25 at 9:05 p.m.

The Purple Eagles return home to Dwyer Arena on Friday, Nov. 15 to host Army at 7 p.m. Canisius doesn’t have a home game until Nov. 9 when they face Mercyhurst College at 7:05 p.m. at Buffalo State Ice Arena.

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