LEWISTON, N.Y. — Rob Bumbaco scored the game-winning goal at 16:04 of the third period to lead Niagara to a 4-3 win over Bemidji State on Thursday in a College Hockey America contest.
Bumbaco snapped a shot from between the hash marks past Beaver goalie Grady Hunt to help the Purple Eagles snap a four-game losing streak. Niagara (16-13, 7-7 CHA) also pulled within five points of second-place Bemidji in the standings and moved a point ahead of Alabama-Huntsville for third.
The top two finishers in the regular season receive first-round byes in the conference tournament next month.
“Obviously, it’s a move in the right direction for us,” said senior assistant captain John Heffernan, who scored his 16th goal of the season. “We were down pretty low there after the last two weekends. We wanted to move in the right direction and I thought we did that tonight.”
Matt Ryan and Chris Sebastian also scored for the Eagles, while sophomore goalie Rob Bonk made nine saves.
Though Bonk let in a couple of soft goals, he made four game-saving stops. Niagara outshot its guests 32-12.
“It seemed like every time they did have a shot, it was a Grade-A chance,” Eagles coach Dave Burkholder said. “It’s a very, very tough game (for a goaltender) and he battled through for us.”
Mark Phenow, Clay Simmons and Jared Hanowski scored for the Beavers (12-13-4, 8-3-3 CHA), who had their five-game unbeaten streak snapped.
The key for the Purple Eagles simply was hard work. After looking dreadful in two home losses to Wayne State last weekend, Niagara made sure that did not happen Thursday.
“I thought we competed for a full 60 minutes, which was our game plan,” Burkholder said. “Under the circumstances, it was a real determined effort for us tonight.”
The Purple Eagles played without ailing sophomore forwards Paul Muniz and Jordan Meloff. They did get back two speedsters in freshman Barret Ehgoetz and sophomore Nick Kormanyos.
After missing last weekend’s series with injuries, Ehgoetz and Kormanyos returned to practice Wednesday and decided after Thursday’s pre-game skate they were fit to play. Ehgoetz, who plays on the same line with Kormanyos, finished with three shots on goal and set up Sebastian’s goal at 6:34 of the third period.
“Those two guys know no other way than full out effort and they sparked us,” Burkholder said.
Sophomores Hannu Karru and Joe Tallari earned the assists on Bumbaco’s 11th goal of the season, which resulted from a turnover in the Bemidji zone.
“One of our players just misplayed the puck,” Beavers coach Tom Serratore said. “It’s a situation where you’ve got to get a puck out.”
The same two teams meet at 7 p.m. Friday in search of a win. Niagara needs to win to give itself a chance at earning a bye for the tournament it hosts, while Bemidji needs a win to stay within striking distance of first-place Wayne State. The Beavers entered the game trailing the Warriors by a point and host two games with them next weekend.
“In our eyes it’s a must win,” Serratore said. “If we want to win this league, we have to win (today). If not, Niagara’s back in it. … We’re making a situation pretty easy for Wayne State then, I guess.”
The Purple Eagles held the conference’s best power-play unit in check by staying out of the box. Though Bemidji opened the scoring four seconds into a power play early in the first period, Niagara did not give the Beavers any more chances with the man advantage. Bemidji scored five power-play goals in sweeping a two-game series with the Eagles two weeks ago.
“We had a combative practice on Tuesday and our focus was being tough to play against, but playing within the rules,” Burkholder said. “We have to win the penalty game any time we play Bemidji because they’re going to light the lamp on you. They’re very skilled and have one of the best power plays in the country.”
Phenow scored 3:46 into the game to give the Beavers their only lead. Andrew Murray won a faceoff back to left defenseman Anders Olsson. Olsson passed across to his partner Phenow, who one-timed a shot past Bonk.
Niagara tied things at 16:57 when Ryan skated unabated into the slot and fired a shot over Hunt’s glove after collecting a loose puck along the left boards in Bemidji’s zone. It was Ryan’s seventh goal of the season.
The Eagles took the lead at 3:22 of the second period when Heffernan poked in a loose puck in the goal crease after Hunt stopped sophomore Chris Welch on a breakaway. Niagara held a 22-8 edge in shots through 40 minutes.
The Beavers tied things at 5:40 of the third when Simmons wristed a shot between Bonk’s pads from the right circle off a transition rush.
NU regained the lead 56 seconds later during a 4-on-4 situation. Sebastian took a pass from Ehgoetz behind the net and skated out in front and beat a helpless Hunt to the stick side for his eighth goal. Bemidji tied things at 10:15 when Hanowski tipped Wade Chiodo’s point shot between Bonk’s pads.