COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — Niagara goaltender Rob Bonk made 26 saves en route to a 4-0 shutout of Air Force Sunday night at the Cadet Ice Arena. With the win, the Purple Eagles moved into a three-way tie atop the CHA standings with a record of 15-9-0 (6-3-0 CHA), while the Falcons fell to 10-14-0 (1-9-0 CHA).
“We played a real strong road game tonight,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We got great goaltending from Bonkers, especially early in the first period. They had about three Grade A chances in the first 10 minutes that he stopped and helped set the tone and get things going for us.”
“We knew this was a big game coming in,” said Bonk. “This was a four-point game and we know that if we want to contend for the CHA title, we need this in the win column. It was a good win for us after a tough loss last night at Colorado College.”
Bonk’s strong play to keep Air Force off the scoreboard paid off at 8:08 of the first period when Niagara scored what would become the game-winning goal. With Niagara forward Joe Tallari serving a slashing penalty, the Purple Eagles were able to score a shorthanded goal. Forward Nick Kormanyos carried the puck into the Air Force zone and sent wrist shot on net from the right faceoff dot. The shot fooled Falcon goaltender Mike Polidor and bounced off of his glove and into the net. Forward Barret Ehgoetz and defenseman Scott Crawford assisted on Kormanyos’ 10th goal of the season.
Niagara extended the lead just under four minutes later, this time on the power play. With Falcon forward Tom Starkey serving a slashing penalty, defenseman Chris Sebastian fired a point shot that deflected off Air Force forward Justin Hamilton at the top of the faceoff circle and beat Polidor. Forward Matt Ryan and defenseman Mike Bozoian assisted on Sebastian’s seventh goal of the season.
“They out special-teamed and goaltended us,” said Air Force coach Frank Serratore. “Don’t get me wrong, our goaltending wasn’t bad, Poli made some big stops for us, but the other guy [Bonk] pitched a shutout. Our attitude and effort was there tonight, especially in the second and third period, but we needed to score and we didn’t.”
Air Force rebounded and came out strong in the second period, outshooting the Purple Eagles 9-4, and having six power-play opportunities. However, Air Force could not solve Bonk, who stopped all of the shots that came his way. Forward Derek Olson had Air Force’s best opportunity of the period when he rang a shot off the post at 4:20 of the period.
“We pride ourselves on discipline,” said Burkholder. “But we took some bad penalties tonight, some deserved, some not. I though our defensive core persevered pretty well though. They stuck together to kill off all of those penalties. All I know is that we don’t need to practice penalty killing for the next month.”
“I think our maturity showed through tonight,” said Bonk. “We are a young team, but we have experience. We know that Air Force always plays hard and came ready for that tonight.”
Despite a stronger period by Air Force, it was Niagara that extended its lead when defenseman Shane Baylis sprung forward Hannu Karru on a breakaway in the last minute of the period. Karru came in, faked to his forehand to pull Polidor across, then scored on a backhander. Joe Tallari also assisted on Karru’s sixth goal.
The third period was played fairly even, with shots even at seven apiece. Purple Eagle forward Chris Welch scored the period’s only goal when he forced a neutral zone turnover and scored an unassisted empty-net goal at 19:34.
Bonk earned his first shutout of the season and the third of his career. He improved his record to 14-6-0 with the win. Polidor stopped 22 shots in a losing effort. His record dropped to 9-11-0.
Niagara returns to action next weekend with a pair of CHA games at Bemidji State, with which the Purple Eagles are tied atop the standings. Air Force has a week off before traveling to Bemidji State for a pair on February 8 and 9.