SAULT STE. MARIE, Mich. — A late power-play goal by sophomore Josh Nightingale was the difference, as Lake Superior defeated Niagara, 3-2, in a non-conference game at Taffy Abel Arena on Saturday.
For a team that’s been decimated by injuries and is struggling just to make the CCHA playoffs, the game was a welcome respite from league play for the Lakers.
“I wondered how it would be to play a non-conference game this late in the year,” said Lake Superior State coach Scott Borek. “It turned out that this was the perfect time to play it. It gave us a chance to relax with no points on the line. It was a fun game for our players to play.”
LSSU, which broke a nine-game losing streak with a 4-2 win over Ferris State last Saturday night, nonetheless dropped to last place during the weekend, as Notre Dame and Bowling Green moved one point ahead of the final playoff spot.
“The bad part about playing a non-conference game is that you have no chance to earn points,” said Borek.
“Watching them both take a point [Friday] night was difficult. I still believe that one of the three teams is going to have to win 10 games, so whether they got points or not, we still need to win 10, I think, to get in.”
After a scoreless first period, the Lakers got on the board with a power-play goal by senior Mike Vigilante early in the second. Vigilante scored from the right side of the Niagara net, off a pass from Aaron Phillips.
“We had a lot of opportunities on the power play,” said Borek. “We definitely created momentum off of our power play. We had some great opportunities at their net and their goalie played very well to keep it 3-2. I was very happy with the way we played offensively.”
At 14:40, freshman Justin Micek scored his third goal of the season to lift the Lakers to a 2-0 lead. With 1:59 remaining in the second, Hannu Karru scored a power-play goal for the Purple Eagles, reducing their deficit to one goal.
Lake State (11-20-0) started the third period shorthanded, but successfully killed the penalty. No goals were scored until the 15:08 mark when Thomas Clayton scored an unassisted goal to tie the game for Niagara (13-13-4).
It looked as though the two teams may head to overtime, but Nightingale ended that possibility with his goal at 17:26.
Scott Lindsay made 36 saves for the Purple Eagles, while Jayme Platt stopped 29 shots for the Lakers.
Lake Superior will entertain Michigan this Thursday before the two teams head to Detroit for a game at Joe Louis Arena on Saturday night.
“We have got a lot of work to do defensively,” Borek said. “Michigan is a team that is obviously going to have the puck a lot when you play them and we need to make sure we are on the right side of it. We really need to work on coming back into our own end.”