LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara played a relentless game Friday night at Dwyer Arena before 1,360 fans.
The Purple Eagles’ offense kept firing pucks at Findlay goalie Jamie VandeSpyker, while the defense limited the Oilers to 19 shots. The result: a 4-2 College Hockey America triumph for Niagara.
Thomas Clayton scored twice, while Chris Sebastian and Bernie Sigrist also scored for the first-place Purple Eagles (9-3-1, 12-12-3), who led 3-0 after 20 minutes. Randy Harris and Nick Kormanyos each recorded two assists.
Niagara has a chance to climb over .500 for the first time this season Saturday when it hosts Findlay in a rematch at Dwyer Arena at 7:05. NU posted its third straight win, all against the Oilers. Niagara also improved to 11-0 all-time against Findlay.
“I liked the way we played on the forecheck and I liked the way we played in our ‘D’-zone coverage. I was pretty happy with both sides of the puck,” Eagles coach Blaise MacDonald said. “One of our team goals was to have 15 shots or more per period, so we were more focused on the process and just getting as many shots as we could.”
Niagara finished the game with 47 shots, and the only period the Purple Eagles did not have 15 shots was the second, when they unloaded 14 on the Findlay net, but replied with 18 in the final 20 minutes.
“Everything starts with defense,” NU junior defenseman and captain Scott Crawford said. “We broke the puck out really nicely and when you do that, you get some odd-man rushes and you get some shots on the net.”
“The by product of getting a lot of shots and quality shots is that you’re going to get a lot of opportunities and carry some momentum,” MacDonald said.
The outcome wasn’t settled until Clayton’s second power-play goal of the game at 10:47 of the third gave the Eagles a two-goal cushion. He tipped in Kormanyos’ one-timer for his seventh goal of the season.
The Oilers had pulled within 3-2 on goals by Aaron Weegar and Ben Patey. The latter goal came at 2:58 of the third period when Jeff Seeds fired a soft shot from the point that hit the skate of a Niagara defenseman and was knocked into the net by Patey.
Findlay had a chance to tie things 22 seconds later, but Seeds could not corral a loose puck in front of the NU net with freshman goalie Rob Bonk out of position.
“We’ve been telling the guys all year, to win in this league you’ve got to play 60 minutes of hockey,” Oilers coach Craig Barnett said. “We can’t afford to spot a team like Niagara or anybody a three-goal lead. The first period just killed us.”
Findlay (4-7-2, 6-9-2) lost its fifth straight game and is winless in its last seven starts.
Sebastian opened the scoring at 4:24 of the first, receiving Harris’s pass from the right corner in the slot and snapping a shot through traffic past VandeSpyker. Clayton scored off the rebound of Kormanyos’ one-timer on the power play at 17:35. Sigrist scored at 19:36 after a neutral-zone turnover by the Oilers, rifling a shot from the right circle into the net off the far goalpost. John Heffernan and Timo Makela earned assists.
Weegar finished off a two-on-one break by redirecting Patey’s pass by Bonk at 3:35 of the second period. Weegar made the goal happen by breaking free of his check and, at the last instant, diving to get his stick on the puck.
The Eagles generated loads of scoring chances on their four power plays, even though they officially only fired eight shots on goal. NU moved the puck well and found open space to create havoc. Niagara has scored 11 power-play goals on 43 chances since returning to action Dec. 30. NU scored only four times on 86 power plays before the winter break.
“It’s nice to play the game when you have a power play,” MacDonald said.
“The power play was clicking well tonight,” said Clayton, who leads the team with four power-play goals. “The key thing is we’re moving the puck, changing sides and making their box rotate. The defensemen are delivering the puck to the net more now, and that’s helping us a lot … getting tips. And we’re getting a lot hungrier in front of the net.”
With the victory, the Purple Eagles clinched a playoff berth after Bemidji State dropped a 3-2 decision at Alabama-Huntsville, which also clinched a playoff berth with that win. NU and Huntsville both have 19 points to lead the conference, but Niagara won the season series from the Chargers.