LEWISTON, N.Y. — Joe Tallari has scored a lot for Niagara. But for now, his 23rd goal of the season is the biggest.
That’s because goal No. 23 enabled the Purple Eagles to secure win No. 1 against College Hockey America power Wayne State.
Tallari snapped a quick shot off a faceoff past Warriors goalie David Guerrera at 2:02 of overtime to lead Niagara to a 3-2 win over the two-time CHA Tournament champions from Detroit. Ehgoetz won a draw at the left circle and Tallari skated in behind him, firing a hard shot over the glove of Guerrera, last season’s CHA Player of the Year.
“I just threw it on net. Barret wins it back and then I just pick it up and throw it on net,” said Tallari, who fired the shot without looking at the net.
“You’ve got your leading scorer who scores. That’s a good shot through a screen and it just finds the back of the net,” Warriors coach Bill Wilkinson said. “I thought it was an even contest. I thought both goaltenders played outstanding.”
It’s ironic Niagara won the game off a faceoff. There have been several times this season the Purple Eagles have lost because they’ve been scored on after losing draws in key moments.
That didn’t happen Friday and on the decisive play, freshman Jason Williamson played a key role in the goal. Williamson, who replaced Chris Welch on the top line to give it more size, fought to the net to create the screen for Tallari.
The Purple Eagles now are 1-10-1 lifetime against Wayne State.
“Any given night, anything can happen and tonight we pulled it off,” Tallari said.
“The monkey’s off a lot of guys’ backs, including mine,” second-year NU coach Dave Burkholder said. “If we can respond with the energy and execution we had the last 40 minutes, I think it’s going to be a great game again [Saturday]. That’s as spirited as I’ve seen this team in a long time. It’s a huge win for us.”
Welch and freshman Brian Hartman also scored for Niagara, which improved to 8-3-4 in the CHA. Junior goalie Rob Bonk made 32 saves.
Derek McKay and Chris Vail scored for the Warriors, losers of three straight games. Guerrera finished with 29 stops.
Wayne State now has 16 points in the conference, trailing second-place Niagara by four. The top two finishers in the standings earn byes into the CHA Tournament semifinals next month in Kearney, Neb.
The Warriors lost senior captain Jason Durbin to a knee strain during the game and may have to play Saturday’s Dwyer Arena rematch at 7 p.m. without their second-leading scorer.
“Just missing him tonight was key,” Wilkinson said. “He’s a key faceoff guy, especially in our own end.”
Bonk, who played with a minor groin strain, prevented Wayne State from turning the game into a rout early. Bonk made 14 of his 32 saves in the first period as Niagara escaped the first 20 minutes tied at 1.
“He made some key saves for us at the right time,” Burkholder said.
“I had a feeling they were going to come out flying because they didn’t do too well against Alabama-Huntsville [last weekend],” Bonk said. “Just weathering that storm is huge for giving our team confidence and I thought we took it to them the next two periods. It’s a good feeling to finally get a win against them.”
NU took a 1-0 lead at 4:29 on a broken play as Sigrist scored on a shot that caromed in off a Wayne State player. The Warriors tied it on the power play as McKay deflected Tyler Kindle’s point shot past a helpless Bonk at 15:00.
The Purple Eagles regained the lead during a 4-on-3 power play at 15:49 of the second period. Hartman received a pass from freshman Jason Williamson at the point, skated in a couple strides and rifled a shot over the glove of a screened Guerrera. The Warriors tied things on the power play 1:34 later, Vail firing a shot over the glove of Bonk after receiving the back-door pass from Nathan Rosychuk.
Niagara had the better of the chances in the third period and came close several times to beating Guerrera, but failed. NU’s best chance came during a scramble in which junior defenseman and captain Dave Hominuk cranked a shot off the crossbar with Guerrera out of position.
“I think that’s been our problem playing against Wayne State. Hummer hit the crossbar. Those kinds of bounces we didn’t get in the past. In this game, we got those bounces,” Tallari said.
The Purple Eagles’ luck changed in front of several distinguished Niagara alumni, including Bob Dwyer — who donated the money to build Dwyer Arena. The Purple Eagles caught a break when the Warriors went offsides during a 3-on-2 break with 18 seconds left. NU then survived a giveaway by Tallari in the closing seconds of regulation to get into overtime.
“Our theme for the week was living in the present. You can’t worry about your last shift. It was just win your next 30-second segment. I thought for a young team we did,” Burkholder said. “We were very patient. Lucky for us, Joe got one through in the OT.”