LEWISTON, N.Y. — Western Michigan, playing its fifth consecutive road game, garnered a hotly contested victory over homestanding Niagara by a 3-2 margin at Dwyer Arena Friday.
The cornerstone of Western’s victory came from an opportunistic offense and the near-flawless positional play of sophomore goaltender Scott Foster.
And while the Broncos never relinquished the lead during the game, there were enough momentum shifts to keep things interesting down to the final moments, when Niagara threatened to tie things up after Joe Tallari’s one-timer cut the lead to 3-2 with ten seconds remaining.
Both coaches were quick to trade praise afterward.
“Their top two lines are as good as any we’ve faced so far,” Western Michigan coach Jim Culhane said. “It helped that we had the lead tonight. I think that gave us the confidence we needed on the road.”
“They’ve been hovering near the Top 15 all season and we think they deserve the ranking,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “They’re that good. And offensively, they are as good as any team we’ve faced.”
That’s not faint praise from an opposing coach who’s faced UNH and Michigan in the last month.
Jeff Campbell opened the Bronco scoring when he beat Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten on a low drive from the point on the power play. The shot just snuck by VanNynatten’s pad and ricocheted off the post before going in.
Niagara responded in the final minute of the first period. Nick Kormanyos’ hard work behind the Bronco net paid off when he found Ryan Gale in the slot. Gayle, who played solidly all night, beat Foster with a wrist shot to tie the game at 1.
The Broncos owned much of the second period. VanNynatten was fooled on a 3-on-2 when Paul Davies broke in on the wing and elected to shoot rather than pass, handcuffing the Niagara goaltender for the go-ahead goal.
WMU extended its lead in the third when Vince Bellissimo received an excellent setup pass from Brent Walton and drilled a close-range wrist shot to push the lead to 3-1.
What didn’t show up on the scoresheet for Western, but was no less crucial to the outcome, was the play of their defensemen, in particular Mike Jarmuth and Ryan Mahrle.
“I felt that we played much better tonight defensively than we did last week,” Culhane said. “I’m worried about our team. We’ve traveled to Ithaca, N.Y., Fairbanks, Alaska, and then back to Niagara. That’s a lot of miles and it has started to take its toll on our bodies.
“I told our team our goal was to come out .500 on this road trip, and if we win tomorrow night we will actually have a winning record for the trip — so that’s our goal.”
The two teams will meet again at Dwyer at 7:05 p.m. Saturday.