LEWISTON, N.Y. — Score round one for the Purple Eagles.
In a matchup of CHA heavyweights, Niagara capitalized on consecutive first-period power plays and did not look back, defeating the visiting Bemidji State Beavers by a 6-3 margin at Dwyer Arena.
This was not the anticipated tight-checking game many expected from the conference’s top teams. Rather, Niagara’s first-period blitzkrieg of four goals had a stunning cumulative effect on Bemidji, leaving the Beavers dazed and undisciplined for the better part of two periods, until they regrouped and made it a contest in the third.
“I don’t know what it is about the first period, this building, and our first games here,” Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. ” But that’s been our M.O. all season. We’ve had a hard time getting it going early. But give Burky’s team credit. They came out flying.”
Niagara and Bemidji traded early goals in the first, but the Purple Eagles put some distance on the scoreboard by tallying three more goals to close out the period.
“When they converted on their very first two power plays,” Serratore said, “that was tough. In games like this, especially on the road, the first goal is critical.”
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder liked what he saw from his special teams.
“We changed up the power play a little,” Burkholder said. “I thought we had some good puck movement, and good puck luck. We know we’ll see Bemidji’s best game tomorrow night, but we’ve become a good Saturday night team, so it will be interesting.”
Bemidji tightened up in the second period and crept back into the game. Forward Rob Sirianni took a clearing pass from Bill Methven and found himself all alone behind the Niagara defense, beating Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten to close the gap to 4-2.
However, Niagara senior Joe Tallari scored his second goal of the night in the waning moments of the period giving the Purple Eagles a three goal cushion heading into the third. Tallari’s goal was the result of excellent passes from linemates Hannu Karru and Justin Cross, both of whom Burkholder singled out.
“I thought Justin had a great game,” Burkholder said. “And as far as Karru, that was his finest college hockey game. We need him to win the battles along the boards and he did that tonight.”
Bemidji struck early in the third when Brendan Cook located Rob Sirianni alone in front of the Niagara slot, narrowing the lead to 5-3.
Sirriani’s second goal lead to a frantic Bemidji effort throughout the period, but Niagara goalie VanNynatten shut the door, especially after Bemidji pulled the goalie with two minutes left for the extra attacker.
Barret Ehgoetz scored the empty-netter to punctuate the Niagara victory.