COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Bernie Sigrist’s goal late in overtime gave Niagara a 3-2 victory over Air Force on Friday, the Purple Eagles’ seventh straight win over the Falcons.
“This is a gut-wrenching loss,” Air Force coach Frank Serratore said. “To give up the lead in the third period and then give up an easy shot in overtime is as discouraging as it gets.”
“This game was like a nice prize fight,” Niagara coach Blaise MacDonald said. “Both teams played pretty determined, and we were fortunate to get a couple of opportunities at the end of the game.”
“We’re really starting to come together as a team,” Niagara’s John Heffernan said. “I really look to our line to score some goals, and it was nice to see that happen toward the end of the game.”
In the College Hockey America opener for both teams, the Falcons and the Purple Eagles seemed evenly matched during the first period, exchanging blows but neither ever scoring a hit.
That is, until 18:05, when strong skating and pure luck combined to give the Falcons first blood. On the breakaway, defenseman Brian Reaney and left wing Justin Hamilton brought the puck into the offensive zone. Niagara was able to break up the play, but Reaney got off a shot on Niagara netminder Rob Bonk, who just missed the save and allowed the puck to creep across the goal line.
Niagara fought back, though, and retaliated just over a minute later. With just 39 seconds remaining in the period and the Falcons on the power play, Niagara forward Chris Welch notched a shorthanded, unassisted goal to tie up the game at 1.
The battle continued throughout the second period. Air Force fought off two penalties, with senior goaltender Marc Kielkucki providing the backbone for a strong defense.
With just over two minutes remaining in the period, Air Force was able to capitalize on a Niagara holding penalty. Falcon defenseman Brian Rogers passed the puck over to Brian Reaney. Center Andy Berg was waiting at the back door for Reaney’s pass to beat goalie Rob Bonk and light the lamp for the Falcons. The period ended with Air Force having once more gained the advantage, 2-1.
Niagara came back early in the third period to tie the game once again. After several rapid-fire shots on Air Force goaltender Marc Kielkucki, Purple Eagle John Heffernan found the back of the net off assists from Sigrist and Hannu Karru.
“This is a difficult place to play in,” said MacDonald. “This win gives us some momentum, some confidence, and some energy to bring to tomorrow night’s game.”
As for the Falcons, Serratore said they will need to take some time to regroup.
“I’m not disappointed in their effort. The guys worked hard, we just didn’t get it done.”