LEWISTON, N.Y. — A complete team effort on offense, defense and special teams led the Air Force to a 5-2 win over Niagara at Dwyer Arena. The game was the College Hockey America opener for both teams.
Air Force improved to 4-3 overall and 1-0 in the CHA. Niagara fell to 2-7 overall and 0-1 in the conference.
“Tonight our guys made a statement,” head coach Frank Serratore said. “The way that we have been playing and the way that Niagara played last week at North Dakota, nobody thought we could come in here and win.”
Air Force opened the scoring at the 7:32 mark of the first period as Tom Starkey scored a rare 3-on-5 shorthanded goal. Starkey poked the puck away from two Purple Eagles, raced up the ice uncontested and scored his second goal of the season.
Five minutes later, Scott Zwiers gave the Falcons a 2-0 lead when he scored at 12:31. Shane Saum and Brian Reaney gave Zwiers the puck through the neutral zone and the senior scored on a rebound of his own shot.
The Falcons held the 2-0 lead into the second period and extended the margin on freshman Carson Strang’s second goal of the season. Strang’s goal from Ryan Wiggins and Justin Hamilton came at 4:39.
In the final three minutes of the second period, the teams combined for three goals. Niagara’s Joe Tallari scored on a breakaway at 16:44 to start the run, and less than two minutes later, the Falcons answered on the first career goal by Steve Cook.
Kyle Fransdal took the puck around the net and found Cook wide-open on the far post; Andy Berg also assisted on the play. Finally, with 58 seconds left the period, the Purple Eagles cut the Falcon lead to 4-2 on another breakaway. Andrew Nahirniak scored from Tallari and Brian Hartman.
Niagara controlled the puck for most of the third period, but the Falcons played solid defense and goalie Mike Polidor stopped all 12 shots. Ryan Wiggins scored his second goal of the season with an empty net to produce the final.
Niagara outshot Air Force in every period and 38-28 in the game. The Falcons were 0-for-3 on the power play, while Niagara was 0-for-6.
“That’s the type of effort we have to have to win,” Serratore said. “When you get good goaltending and win the special teams, you have a great chance to win the game. Mike Polidor was the best player on the ice tonight.”
Air Force and Niagara conclude the two-game CHA series on Saturday at 7:05 p.m. EST.