Sam Alfieri grew up just five minutes from the Buffalo State Ice Arena, down the road in fact from Canisius College.
Needless to say, the Niagara junior was fairly excited as he scored a pair of goals to help the Purple Eagles earn a critical Atlantic Hockey victory over the Golden Griffins. Alfieri helped Niagara mount a third-period comeback for a 4-2 win over the Griffs in front of 1,536 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena on Saturday night.
“Every time we play Canisius, especially for me, it doesn’t get any better than that,” said Alfieri, who finished with three points.
Alfieri opened the scoring, giving Niagara a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal 6:33 into the game. He then scored the game-tying goal, also on the power play, 5:14 into the third period.
“He’s been great,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said of Alfieri’s play. “Anything you ask of him he does. For him to get two tonight is just great. He’s a junior that’s been around and he cares. He’s passionate and when he’s able to have a night like tonight especially in his hometown, that’s special.”
Alfieri gave Niagara the early lead, but Canisius tied the game later in the first period when Braeden Rigney put home a fat rebound off a shot from Mitch McCrank.
The Griffs then took a 2-1 lead in the second period on a power-play goal by Ralph Cuddemi with assists from Shane Conacher and Kyle Gibbons.
But the third period was when Niagara was able to take advantage of its opportunities. Canisius sophomore Chris Rumble was called for a five-minute boarding penalty. With some good play in the corner, Chris Lochner dug the puck out for Niagara and passed it to an open Alfieri to tie the game.
“I have to credit Chris Lochner because he made a great pass,” Alfieri said. “The goalie was following Lochner. I had to get it off quick, but he was on the other side of the net.”
Matt Chiarantano scored the game-winner on a pass from Patrick Divjak, burying an open look in front of Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco (31 saves).
“It was a gut check,” Burkholder said. “It’s playoff hockey. We said, ‘guys this is desperation. We need to have a good third period’ and we did. I thought we played really well.”
The Griffs had chances to tie the game in the third with a late power play, but freshman goalie Adrian Ignangi was solid. He made 23 saves. Divjak added an empty net goal for Niagara.
“I think that game could have gone either way,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “It could have gone either way all night. I think tendencies are to look and ask what was wrong. We did a lot of things right. We just didn’t win the game. We had to battle some things that were a little bit out of our control.
“Hockey’s a game of mistakes. We can look and find a lot of them. There was a lot right. If we could change the script, we capitalize on a few more chances and probably come out to a better start in the first period. But the story’s been written about the game. We just have to find a way to capitalize on those earlier in the game before we get down one.”
Niagara (9-15-4, 9-8-4) took the season series with Canisius 2-0-1 and moved a point ahead of the Griffs (10-15-3, 9-9-3) in the standings.
Niagara junior defensman Kevin Albers missed the game serving an extra suspension issued by Atlantic Hockey for a contact to the head penalty he received last Saturday against Sacred Heart. Albers was given a game disqualification which came with an automatic suspension. Hew served that on Thursday, but Atlantic Hockey gave him an additional game.
He is eligible to return on Thursday when Niagara hosts Robert Morris at 7 p.m. in a home-and-home weekend series that concludes Saturday in Pittsburgh.
Canisius hosts Air Force at 7 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.