DETROIT, Mich. — Niagara was winning after 20 minutes. Niagara was winning after 40 minutes. And then the floodgates opened — for Wayne State.
Down 3-2 heading into the third period, Wayne State (18-11-4, 14-2-3 CHA) scored four goals in just over four minutes to take the 6-3 College Hockey America win at the Great Lakes Sports City. Steve Nichols netted his first two goals of the year and goalie Brett Leone stopped 29 shots to record his second win of the season.
Wayne State is now unbeaten in nine straight games (8-0-1) and 8-0 all-time against Niagara.
“There wasn’t any panic going into the third,” WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson said. “[Leone] kept us in it for the first two and I told the boys to go out and have a period for him. We battled hard along the boards and capitalized on all our chances.”
Niagara’s Dave Hominuk opened the scoring at the 4:16 mark of the first period. Hominuk walked in from the left-wing side after intercepting a WSU clearing attempt and snapped a shot through Leone’s pads for the early advantage. It was Hominuk’s third goal of the season.
Warriors’ co-captain Jason Durbin evened the score at 5:50 on a WSU power play. Camped to the right of NU netminder Rob Bonk, Durbin took a slick cross-crease feed from Nathan Rosychuk for the easy tap-in and his 15th goal of the year.
But Niagara went ahead again on a power play of its own at 13:20. Mikko Miettinen let loose a shot from the left point that fellow Finn Hannu Karru redirected past Leone top shelf. For Karru, the goal was lucky number seven.
The Purple Eagles outshot WSU 13-5 in the first.
Nichols tied the game 5:12 into the second frame on his first goal of the year. Left unmarked in the right faceoff circle, Nichols wristed a floater in on Bonk that Bonk seemingly never saw. Bonk was then replaced by Mike Pataran.
Chris Sebastian gave the visitors their second lead of the game when he jumped on a loose puck and beat Leone on a clear-cut breakaway at 18:36 for his 10th goal of the season.
“Going into the third period, only down by one goal, hey, no problem,” Leone said. “Especially playing at home we knew we could tie it up and then once we did the goals kept coming.”
Tyler Kindle made it 3-3 at 4:43 with his ninth goal of the year. From his own blue line, Kindle skated into the NU zone and beat Pataran five-hole with a slapper from the top of the left circle.
Rosychuk put WSU ahead for good at 6:18. Kindle threaded a pass to Rosychuk, who was cutting to the net, and Rosychuk put it past Pataran for his 10th goal of the year.
Then Maxim Starchenko converted a two-on-one break with Chris Vail at 8:25 for his sixth snipe of the campaign. Bonk was then inserted back in for Pataran, but that wouldn’t last long — 29 seconds to be exact.
Nichols grabbed a loose puck in the slot and put a backhand shot on net that fluttered past a screened Bonk. Enter Pataran, again.
“I haven’t had any breaks all year,” Nichols said. “It’s never really been my role to score, but tonight I was glad to help out the team goal-wise.”
“Steve Nichols is a guy who we don’t expect to score a lot,” Wilkinson said. “He doesn’t have burning speed, so we tell him if you can’t go around their D, just get it to the net and that’s what he did tonight.”
With the loss, Niagara can officially finish no better than third in the CHA standings. Wayne State, the regular-season CHA champs, and Bemidji State have earned byes in the semifinals of the CHA tournament to be held in two weeks at Niagara.
But pride will be on the line for Niagara tomorrow night. And a win wouldn’t hurt, either.
“All the guys have to come to compete tomorrow night,” Purple Eagles head coach Dave Burkholder said. “Tonight we had four guys who weren’t mentally ready to compete.
“We missed something like four breakaways tonight and [Wayne State] capitalized on not some of their opportunities, but all of their opportunities. They weathered the storm with great defense and great goaltending.”
Both teams wrap up the regular season tomorrow night at 7:05 at the Great Lakes Sports City. David Guerrera will be in goal for the Warriors while NU’s goalie will be a game-time decision.