LEWISTON, N.Y. — The new kids on the Niagara team are finally starting to understand that a game against Alabama-Huntsville just isn’t another game.
It’s a full-fledged rivalry that results in spirited, and sometimes dirty, games. Friday’s game was not any different as both teams pounded away at each other until Niagara finally escaped the CHA contest at Dwyer Arena with a 4-2 win.
Nick Kormanyos and John Heffernan scored third-period goals, while freshman goalie Rob Bonk made 11 of his 23 saves in the frame as the Purple Eagles extended their winning streak to four games.
Niagara (3-1-1, 5-7-3) also continued its mastery of Huntsville, defeating the Chargers for the ninth time in 12 games.
“We quite frankly are hoping the players develop more of an intensity toward Huntsville than I think we have,” said coach Blaise MacDonald, whose Purple Eagles defeated the Chargers in the CHA championship game last year. “So many kids are new, they don’t know [about the rivalry]. They think its another game, but it’s not. It’s like the Celtics and the Lakers in the ’80s.”
Kormanyos is a quick study. The freshman followed his shot to the net during a rush on Alabama-Huntsville goalie Mark Byrne. Byrne made the initial save, but junior Thomas Clayton ended up knocking the puck loose when he crashed the crease and Kormanyos put the puck into the open net at 1:16 of the third period.
“I threw the puck toward the net, Clayton ran over the goalie and I had an open net,” said Kormanyos, who scored his second game-winning goal in three games. “It got the job done.”
Heffernan added his first goal in 10 games with 2:36 remaining. The junior left winger overpowered Byrne with a one-time shot from between the faceoff circles. Byrne got a piece of the shot, but not enough.
“I thought we had a lot of scoring chances in the third, which is good to see because we didn’t sit on the 3-2 lead,” Heffernan said.
“We played about a 30-minute game tonight,” said Chargers coach Doug Ross, whose team had been idle since a 3-0 loss to Niagara on Nov. 18. “We came out real slow in the first and third periods. The same thing happened the last time we played these guys.”
Alabama-Huntsville fell to 3-2 in the CHA and 8-3 overall.
Hannu Karru and Shaun Burkart scored goals 22 seconds apart in the opening 2:08 to give the Eagles a 2-0 lead.
Jessi Otis scored shorthanded in the first period to pull the Chargers within a goal at 14:35. Alabama-Huntsville tied things 45 seconds into the second period on a goal by Ryan McCormack.
The Purple Eagles bullied their way to the early lead on the power play. Bernie Sigrist’s pass from the left wing near the goal line found Karru alone at the far side of the net for the easy goal at 1:46.
Niagara increased the lead during a transition rush as Chris Sebastian fired a shot wide, but Rob Bumbaco — charging to the net — reached the puck before the Chargers defense and whipped a pass to Burkart for the tap-in goal with Byrne still out of position.
NU had a chance to increase the lead to 3-0 with 8:35 left with Tallari firing a rebound toward what seemed to be an open net, but Byrne (18 saves) knocked the puck away with a lunging blocker stop — giving his club renewed life.
“I think it sucked a little energy out of us,” MacDonald said of the momentum-changing save. “I’d like to see us get more of a killer instinct there.”
“We started relaxing a little bit. Huntsville preys on that,” Heffernan said. “They’re a very hungry team. They don’t have many systems. They just want the puck and that’s where we have to be better than them. We have to want the puck more.”