LEWISTON, N.Y. — How bad was the Niagara defense Friday night in a 9-6 loss to Wayne State?
A public defender would provide better defense than the Purple Eagles gave freshman netminders Scott Lindsay and Rob Bonk. The Eagles were outworked by the second-year Warriors in a College Hockey America contest played before 901 fans.
Wayne State outscored Niagara 8-3 over the final 40 minutes in ending a two-game losing streak and snapping NU’s three-game winning streak. Both teams combined for nine goals (a Niagara record) in the third period. The Warriors had an 8-4 lead with five minutes left in the game.
Things were so bad that sophomore practice goalie Mike Shannon appeared in his first career game. He played all but 57 seconds in the final five minutes, taking the bench for an extra skater after Shaun Burkart and Bernie Sigrist scored in a span of 1:03 to pull the Eagles within 8-6 with 3:27 left.
But Wayne State captain Jason Durbin scored an empty-netter with 27 seconds left to complete his hat trick. Niagara, the defending CHA champion, lost at home for the first time to a conference opponent.
“We had a little bit of a hard time executing our defensive schemes,” Eagles coach Blaise MacDonald said. “We just are not coachable when it comes to learning how to play defense. We’re incredibly overmatched if we don’t stick to details and if we don’t prepare properly. It was kind of heartwrenching to watch what happened tonight.”
Durbin and Chris Vail each scored two goals in the third period, while Maxim Starchenko and Dustin Kingston added singles.
Kingston finished with two goals and two assists, while Steve Nichols also scored for the Warriors (3-5-1, 11-10-1). Wayne State has won eight of its last 11 games.
“Fortunately for us, our hard work paid off tonight,” Durbin said. “For us to come into their building and for both teams to score a total of 15 goals, it makes for an exciting game. Fortunately for us, we came out on the winning end.”
Burkart scored two goals for the Purple Eagles (6-2-1, 9-10-3), while Sigrist, Jordan Meloff and Randy Harris each recorded a goal and an assist. Chris Sebastian also scored.
It was truly a record-setting performance for the Eagles, who established a new mark for most goals allowed in a period (6) and tied a record for goals allowed in a game. Both teams set Niagara records for most goals in a period (9) and a game (15).
Vail scored at 1:10 of the third period to break a 3-3 tie. Jon Brink passed from behind the net to Vail, who was standing alone in front of Lindsay. Bonk replaced Lindsay 23 seconds later in an attempt to spark the Eagles, and the strategy worked briefly as Harris tied it at 4:04.
The Warriors scored the next four goals, however, as Durbin gave his team the lead for keeps at 8:54, finishing off a 3-on-1 break that turned into a 2-on-0 after a Niagara defenseman committed too soon on the play.
Vail scored at 11:47, while Starchenko buried the eventual game-winner at 14:23. Kingston scored 27 seconds later to chase Bonk.
“We just have a lot of defensemen that have a low panic threshold. They get running around and they have no idea how to play defense when the pressure is on. Something has got to change,” MacDonald said. “When you get knocked down there are two things you can do — you can lay down or you can get up.
“It’s painfully obvious we lack the competitiveness, the true grit of a successful athlete when it comes to our team. We show it in spurts, but we’re just too immature to show it on a consistent basis. This team needs to find a way to get it done, because we just can’t find any other ways to coach them.”
NU carried a 3-1 lead into the first intermission on goals by Sebastian, Meloff and Burkart.
The second period was a different story. Lindsay turned aside 11 shots, but couldn’t do everything by himself as the Warriors scored twice in the final 4:42 to forge a 3-3 knot. Nichols scored on a breakaway shorthanded, while Durbin scored from the right circle after picking off a clearing pass that took a strange bounce off the glass at 18:27.
The guests outshot Niagara 14-4 in the period and 32-21 for the game.
“I thought at the end of the first period we played a good period,” Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson said. “Things can change rapidly in this game. You’ve just got to stay with it and continue to work hard. Fortunately for us, Steve Nichols got that big goal. I thought it kind of changed the complexion of the game.”