LEWISTON, N.Y. — Sophomore Joe Tallari scored two goals to lead Niagara to a 3-1 win over Findlay in a College Hockey America game Friday at Dwyer Arena.
Tallari scored his 10th and 11th goals of the season in the second period to stake the Purple Eagles to a 3-0 lead. Junior Chris Sebastian also scored for Niagara, while sophomore goalie Rob Bonk made 20 saves.
The Purple Eagles (5-2, 12-6) pulled within a point of idle conference front-runner Alabama-Huntsville. NU also improved to 15-0 lifetime against the Oilers of Findlay. The same two teams meet again at seven p.m. Saturday at Dwyer Arena.
Tallari is having an outstanding campaign. The native of Thunder Bay, Ontario, missed his final year of junior hockey due to an injured pelvic area.
“It just happened. They say it comes from soccer,” said Tallari, who finished with three goals and five assists last year. “It’s from all the twisting. A lot of the soccer players get that. I played soccer all my life and it just came out.”
Tallari, who spent last year and the offseason strengthening his lower abdominal area in order to prevent a reoccurrence of the injury, also credits a different mental approach for his success. He’s compiled 14 points and a plus/minus rating of plus-5.
“I think what the difference from last year is not so much the injury, but my frame of mind. Every single game I play, I come in worrying about that game rather than thinking about how many goals I want to get,” Tallari said. “You can’t control what happens in the games to come.”
Tallari’s first goal came at 31 seconds of the second period on the power play. He dove and whacked in the rebound of senior captain Scott Crawford’s point shot over sprawling sophomore goalie Kevin Fines to give NU a 2-0 lead.
“Joe has been so consistent for us effort wise,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Tonight he sparked us. He makes that great play on the power play to dive and put that one in the net. That bails us out because we’re not playing very well at the time. You get what you deserve. The kid fought an almost career-threatening injury and worked hard over the summer.”
Tallari also scored off a nifty behind-the-back pass from sophomore linemate Hannu Karru at 15:06 of the second. Karru took a breakaway pass from freshman defenseman Mikko Miettinen and just as the Findlay defenseman seemed to forced Karru into shooting from a poor angle, the Nokia, Finland, native fed Tallari near the right hashmarks perfectly. Fines, who made 27 saves, did not have a chance.
Mark Bastl scored for Findlay at 8:59 of the third period to make things interesting, but the deficit proved to be too much for the offensively-challenged Oilers (1-4, 5-10). Findlay’s lineup Friday entered the game averaging 2.6 goals. If the Oilers had any good luck, they might have scored more than once. The Oilers forced several turnovers in Niagara’s zone, especially while shorthanded, but often failed to get quality scoring chances off those breaks.
“That’s kind of what we’ve been facing. It’s not just going in for us,” Findlay coach Craig Barnett said. “I think we had some great chances in the first period. With any kind of luck we could of scored two or three goals. We find ourselves struggling with that offensive confidence. We’ve got to take the positives from (Friday) and come back and try and prevent Niagara from being in first place.”
Burkholder said, “I’m glad we play (Saturday). It wasn’t one of our more thorough efforts. We didn’t play a full 60 minutes. We have a lot of room for improvement.”