LEWISTON, N.Y. — What is it about Wayne State that brings out the worst in Niagara?
The Warriors visited Monteagle Ridge on Friday and dealt the Purple Eagles a 5-2 defeat before 1,081 fans at Dwyer Arena.
Jon Brink, Jack Redwood and Chris Vail (two assists) scored in the opening 6:32 for Wayne State, the top team in College Hockey America. The defending postseason champions improved to 9-2-2 in the conference and 13-11-3 overall.
The Warriors took advantage of Niagara’s early tentativeness and chaotic play to improve to 6-0 lifetime against the Purple Eagles. Wayne State won for the third time in Dwyer Arena.
“If this doesn’t get guys mad, I don’t know what does,” Niagara senior defenseman and captain Scott Crawford said. “We play to win. We play to compete. … We haven’t played the way we’re capable of against Wayne State, yet. As a team, we feel that they haven’t seen our best and that’s going to be our preparation for [Saturday].”
The teams hook up at 7 p.m. again Saturday at Dwyer.
The Eagles dropped their third straight game and fell six points behind the Warriors, who entered the game tied with Bemidji State for first place. Bemidji played Air Force on Friday.
Matt Ryan and Jordan Meloff scored for Niagara (6-6, 15-12 CHA), which played without three regulars. Forwards Barret Ehgoetz and Nick Kormanyos missed the game due to injuries, while Hannu Karru served his one-game suspension for a spearing incident at Bemidji State last Saturday. The threesome has accounted for 25 goals and 60 points this season.
The Purple Eagles also played without head coach Dave Burkholder, who served his one-game suspension issued by the CHA for inappropriate post-game conduct. Assistant coaches Jerry Forton and Nate Handrahan ran the NU bench, while Burkholder watched from the press box.
John Grubb and Maxim Starchenko also scored for Wayne State.
The Warriors used their strength and speed to rattle Niagara right off the opening faceoff.
Brink redirected Tyler Kindle’s shot past NU goalie Rob Bonk at 2:45. Wayne State increased its lead 47 seconds later as Redwood beat Bonk to the stick side after receiving a centering pass from Vail. Standing between the hash marks, Redwood had all the time in the world to pick the left corner.
Vail avoided the hit of an Eagle defenseman and beat Bonk between the pads to make it 3-0.
“The guys were ready to go, looking forward to this on the schedule and just trying to keep this streak going,” said Brink, who also recorded an assist.
“We’re playing for first place and we didn’t match their energy level early,” said Burkholder, who handled the post-game interview. “We just didn’t look like a team that really wanted to get into a battle. If we keep having collective efforts like this, it’s going to be difficult to stay in the race.”
The top two regular season finishers earn byes into the CHA Tournament semifinals.
Niagara pulled within two at 2:46 of the second period as Ryan whacked in a loose puck during a goal-mouth scramble. Crawford and senior John Heffernan earned the assists.
The Purple Eagles had a glorious chance to reduce the deficit later in the period, as Starchenko and Dusty Kingston took penalties within 13 seconds of each other to give Niagara a two-man advantage. Wayne State limited the Eagles to two shots, which came early in the power play.
“We wouldn’t work hard enough to come up with loose pucks. They did a good job on the kill,” Burkholder said.
Grubb scored with 1:14 left in the second period to make it 4-1
Meloff scored at 6:26 of the third to pull NU within a pair. Starchenko scored with 3:49 left.
Warriors goalie David Guerrera finished with 26 save, while Bonk made 16.