Kearney, Neb — Wayne State scored a CHA tournament-record five goals in the third period to overcome a 3-1 deficit to defeat number two-seed Niagara, 6-4, in the first semifinal of the 2003 College Hockey America tournament.
Seniors Marc St. Jean and Dustin Kingston each scored two goals to pace the Warriors offense, which had to overcome three power-play goals by the Purple Eagles in the second period. Kingston scored the first goal of the period to spark the rally and then picked up the game-winner.
Kingston described his first goal as a bit of a jumble on a power-play faceoff.
“We’ve got a new faceoff play that we’ve been working on,” he said. “It kinda got jumbled up and it came to me and I shot it five-hole. [Assistant] Coach [Erik] Raygor’s been on me all season about shooting five-hole, and I did it today.”
Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson praised his team for getting its second goal:
“If we don’t score there and they kill the penalty, that takes the momentum to their side,” he said. “I knew if we could score somewhere in the first five minutes that the game would get a lot tighter.”
Kingston scored the game-winner when he won the puck through neutral ice, left the puck for Jason Durbin, and went to the net, receiving the puck and putting it past Niagara goaltender Rob Bonk.
“Four years playing with Durbin, and I knew the puck was coming to me,” Kingston said. “I shot five-hole again and it went in. I guess I’ll be shooting five-hole tomorrow. I thought the guy would stay with me. I just went to the net and Durbin got it back to me.”
Wilkinson noted that his height is a “short-coming” on the bench.
“I didn’t even see who got the game-winner,” he said. “I’m just 5-7, and on our bench, when our guys stand up, I can’t see a thing. I was darn glad to see the red light come on. I’ve not seen a better college hockey game involving our program.”
Niagara clearly controlled the second period in both even-strength and power-play opportunities. Purple Eagle coach Dave Burkholder praised his team’s play in the second.
“When it was time to play five-on-five, we kept on winning shifts in the second period,” he said. We had the better power play in the second period.”
Wilkinson addressed how big special teams were for his team:
“Yesterday we talked about special teams,” he said. “In the first period, Marc got us a big period. They made some nice plays on us and got good puck movement. They got two five-on-three goals on us, and it’s really hard to defend those.”
St. Jean, who had a four point night, was a big force for the Warrior power play on the point.
“My job’s pretty simple as a defenseman: Coach Wilkinson wants me to throw it at the net,” St. Jean said. “The guys up front are out there paying the price and they’re doing the hard work. The first one came to me on the puck coming out, and the second one was a lucky bounce that just also came to me.”
Goaltender David Guerrera was big in net for Wayne State, making several big saves down the stretch in the third while his teammates were dominating offensively.
“David made some key, key saves,” Wilkinson said. “He was just huge for us out there, and moved the puck well out of the zone.”
No team has ever won three games in the CHA tournament, and the Warriors have a tall task ahead of them.
The Warriors’ third-period outburst was the first time this season to score five goals in a period. The Warriors are 16-1 on the season when they score four goals or more.
“We’re ready for any type of game, high-scoring or low-scoring,” St. Jean said. “We’ll battle through no matter what kind of game it is.”
Some doubted that Wayne State could get back after struggling early in the season.
“I wouldn’t say that we doubted that we’d get back here, but we had to work to figure out what pieces we had to put together to win,” said Wilkinson. “I think it’s hard to win three years in a row on a consistent basis. Every team was playing us harder, and in our league, you have to battle every night.”
The win seems to be the start of a culmination of a very experienced Wayne State squad.
“They’ve been the best team in the CHA for three years, and they showed it in the third,” Burkholder said. “When they needed it, their 11 seniors showed up in the third. We’re a young team. We have three freshmen defensemen that came out and played as well as they could.”
“After the game, I felt horrible for our two seniors, ” Burkholder added. “They’ve been great ambassadors for our program and are going to graduate on time. I like where we’ve come from the second semester.”
Wayne State will face Bemidji State, who beat Alabama-Huntsville, 2-1. in the second semifinal.