LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara shouldered the burden of high expectations this weekend in convincing fashion, defeating Wayne State by a 3-0 margin and earning its first four-game sweep of the Warriors in school history.
Saturday’s stat sheet did not reveal the entire story of Niagara’s dominance. Missing from the numbers was the Purple Eagles’ ability to come out on top in the battle for loose pucks that sprang offensive opportunities and, just as importantly, nullified the Warriors’ attack.
“That’s when you know Niagara is playing well,” Purple Eagles coach Dave Burkholder said. “We won the faceoff battle and when we are finishing our checks, winning the puck, we are a very hard team to play against.”
Niagara centerman Barret Ehgoetz, who pushed his team-leading goal total to 21, concurred.
“That was the best collective effort by our defense tonight” Ehgoetz said. “As forwards, we made a conscious effort to backcheck more, rather than look forward and try and to get on the rush.”
Perhaps sensing a few ghosts in the Niagara machine, Burkholder tweaked his lineup from the night before, inserting more experienced upperclassmen, and reshuffling his second line.
The changes paid immediate dividends when senior Nick Kormanyos scored only 31 seconds into the contest after he put back a rebound from an Andrew Lackner slapshot.
Ehgoetz scored shorthanded a few moments later. The stat sheet reads “unassisted” on that goal, but credit Joe Tallari’s dogged pursuit of the Wayne State defender for setting the stage for Ehgoetz as he pounced on the Warrior defender in front of the net and roofed the puck past Marc Carlson.
Carlson would surrender one more goal in the second period to Niagara forward Justin Cross, but then became the game’s most dominant player as he stonewalled the Niagara attack.
During a difficult second period, in which the Warriors seemed to lose their composure, Carlson was tested on four consecutive power plays. The Wayne State netminder turned away a total 32 shots and his gutsy performance drew praise from Warrior head coach Bill Wilkenson.
“The bright spot in tonight’s game was the performance of Marc Carlson,” Wilkenson said. “The penalties killed us tonight, and wore us down We’re young, beat up, and it takes its toll when you don’t score goals.”
Jeff VanNynatten earned the shutout for Niagara. Burkholder put his goaltender’s effort into perspective: “I thought Jeff played a mistake-free weekend Maybe he wasn’t tested as much but timing is everything and he made some huge saves tonight
With the wins, the Purple Eagles narrowed their gap with CHA-leading Bemidji State and gained momentum heading into next week’s crucial series against Alabama-Huntsville, which trails them by two points in an increasingly tight conference race.