Saturday was a disappointment for Dave Burkholder. It wasn’t just that his team lost to Ohio State as the Buckeyes swept the weekend series. It was the way his Niagara team responded within the game.
“We got down early and once we got down, that was it,” Burkholder said. “There was not much fight. There was nothing showing in our tank. We’ve addressed it, had some great meetings and it’s like a fresh start for us this weekend. Point-wise, we could be in first place with a good weekend.”
The Purple Eagles can use the fresh start. At 1-6-1 overall, Niagara isn’t where it hoped to be at this point. But the Atlantic Hockey season is young and at 1-1-1, the Purple Eagles have a chance to grab early conference points as they host Army tonight and Saturday (7 p.m.) in Dwyer Arena.
Army got its first win of the season on Tuesday, scoring three goals in the second period for a 6-2 win over Sacred Heart. The Black Knights are 1-3-0 in Atlantic Hockey and 1-6-0 overall, scoring a league-worst 14 goals on the season.
Perhaps the inefficient offense of the Black Knights will help a beleaguered Niagara defense. The Purple Eagles have a league-worst defense, giving up 4.67 goals per game. The ability to score in spurts has kept Niagara in games as the team is averaging 4.33 goals a game.
“Army scored three power play goals against Sacred and that’s an area we’ve had problems with,” Burkholder said. “We have the utmost respect for the Army program and how they play. They play hard and physical and it’s a huge test for us.”
This weekend represents the last home games for Niagara this year. The Purple Eagles play the next eight games on the road, not returning to Dwyer until Jan. 10, when they host American International.
Canisius, meanwhile, looks to parlay its momentum from Saturday’s win over Mercyhurst. The Golden Griffins travel to Columbus to play Ohio State for two non-conference games, today and Saturday.
Canisius is 2-5-0 overall with an Atlantic Hockey win over the Lakers and a victory over then-No. 17 Denver.
Ohio State (6-4-0) is coming off a sweep of Niagara where the Buckeyes outscored the Purple Eagles, 10-2. The Buckeyes rank 11th in the country in goals per game (3.70) but their goaltending situation is in crisis mode.
Freshman Matt Tomkins left Saturday’s game with a lower body injury that will likely sideline him for a significant part of the season. Last week, sophomore Collin Olson left the team for lack of playing time. That leaves Ohio State with walk-on freshman goalie Logan Davis.
Davis made 14 saves and gave up one goal against Niagara in the second period.
For Canisius coach Dave Smith, the trip will be a return to his alma mater.
“I’m excited to get back to Columbus. I have a lot of friends in the area and it will be great to see them,” Smith said. “As far as hockey goes, the program is significantly different now so the emotions I feel there are connected with the community and the campus. The challenge of hockey is part of the job.”
The challenge for the Griffs will be to build on the success of the Mercyhurst win.
“The sign of any veteran team is the ability to change things on the fly,” Smith said. “If the guys didn’t do that, we wouldn’t have won that game. Those are things that don’t get measured on the scoreboard or result directly in a goal. They’re reflected in where the game is played and how the game is played and I’m really pleased with the way our team responded.”