LOWELL, Mass. — Seniors Chris Welch and Joe Tallari each scored two goals for Niagara as the Purple Eagles climbed over a seemingly-insurmountable five-goal deficit to defeat UMass-Lowell 6-5 Sunday evening in front of 1,465 shocked fans at the Tsongas Arena.
“It’s a pretty good feeling we have right now,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “We were down 5-0 midway through the game, and our guys didn’t give up. There’s obviously a special bond between our team and (UML head coach) Blaise MacDonald. I’m happy for our players getting the win, but we owe Blaise a lot. He’s one of the fiercest competitors I’ve ever faced.”
It was the first-ever win for Niagara (9-7-1, 6-0-0 CHA) over UMass-Lowell. This season, the River Hawks had beaten the Purple Eagles 6-1 on October 24 at the Punch Imlach College Hockey Showcase.
A conservative first period saw UML open the scoring at 6:38, as sophomore Mark Pandolfo picked up from where he left off last week, when he scored three goals.
Classmate Elias Godoy won the draw in the Purple Eagle zone that set up the scoring opportunity, as the puck made its way back to a well-positioned Pandolfo. In the blink of an eye, Pandolfo sent a laser shot high past Niagara sophomore Jeff VanNynatten, giving UML a 1-0 lead.
Pandolfo has now scored in six of the last seven outings for UML, going 6-1-7 during that span, and has four goals in his last three appearances. Both teams had opportunities to score through the remainder of the frame, but the one-goal lead stood for the River Hawks as the two teams entered the first intermission with UML outshooting Niagara 10-7.
The second period saw a flurry of goals from both sides, as UML built its lead to 5-0 through the first half of the frame only to watch Niagara mount a four-goal counterattack before the intermission.
Peter Tormey started the scoring in the second at 3:13 after he one-timed an Andrew Martin pass from between the dots. Godoy made it 3-0 River Hawks at 7:15, skating into the Niagara zone with the puck and placing it high past VanNynatten.
The next goal of the game was a memorable one. Junior Niklas Storm buried the puck at 8:33 thanks to a faceoff win by freshman Jason Tejchma. For Storm, it was his first collegiate goal in his 68th appearance in a River Hawk sweater.
Niagara opted for a change in net after the marker, but it didn’t seem to stop the River Hawks — for the time, at least. Just ten seconds after scoring its fourth goal, UML made it 5-0 with Martin’s third marker of the season from the left side face off dot.
Control of the contest took a 180-degree turn midway through the game, as it was Niagara the rest of the way. Welch scored a pair of goals at 14:10 and 16:00 of the second period, and was followed shortly afterwards by tallies from sophomore Luke Parillo at 17:24 and Tallari’s first of the game at 19:13.
Of the eight shots that Niagara took in the second period, the Purple Eagles scored on four to make it 5-4 entering the second intermission.
“After the goaltending change, the theme during the timeout was, ‘Whatever you bring to the table, we need now,’” said Burkholder. “We made a change in net, and even though UMass-Lowell scored ten seconds after that, the team didn’t quit. The two goals within two minutes to get us into the game really changed the whole attitude of the bench.”
Tallari tied the game at five at 5:19 of the third, and the game-winner went to sophomore Justin Cross at 15:49, after he collected a Parillo rebound in front and scooped it over junior Chris Davidson.
Niagara freshman Allen Barton made 14 saves in net for the win, while VanNynatten stopped 19 through his half-game of work. Davidson made a total of 15 saves, allowing all six goals. Only two penalties were called in the contest, both to Niagara, though the River Hawks could not capitalize.
“It was a goofy and almost unexplainable game, a comedy of errors on our part,” quipped MacDonald. “We showed our true colors in the game as a young and inexperienced team. The glaring mistakes we made, every one of them ended up in the back of our net. I give Niagara a lot of credit — they played hard, and have come a long way in development.
“Six goals on 21 shots is a little misleading; it wasn’t all our goaltender’s fault. However, we needed big saves to weather the storm. Niagara’s goaltender made those saves in the end, but ours didn’t.”
UMass-Lowell (8-8-3, 4-3-1 HE) enters the holiday break, returning to action on December 27 at the Badger Showdown against Ferris State. Niagara will play Denver in the first round of the Wells Fargo Denver Cup on December 27.
UML sophomore Ben Walter, who left the game after the first period with a shoulder injury, is listed as day-to-day.