LEWISTON, N.Y. — Findlay served notice Friday, by means of a 6-2 thumping of Niagara, that while the program faces certain extinction at season’s end, there’s still plenty of life left in the Oilers. And that makes this scorned team from Ohio a particularly dangerous bunch down the stretch and a force to be reckoned with in Kearney, Neb., site of the CHA playoffs.
“With the scenario about the team being disbanded and all that’s been going on,” Oilers coach Pat Ford said, “I told our team this could either gel us, or blow us apart. We seemed to have gelled. … Since Christmas our goal has been to go down to Kearney and win the CHA tournament.”
The Oilers took a significant step toward that goal by handing the high-flying Purple Eagles their worst home defeat all season, and doing so by beating Niagara at its own game. A solid Findlay defense neutralized Niagara’s aggressive forecheck and sprang the Oilers forwards on odd man rushes, resulting in a wave of scoring during decisive moments of the second and third periods.
Findlay senior Brian Sherry notched the hat trick, and his linemates Kurtis Peterson and Mike Batovanja came out on top in their match-up against Niagara’s top line of Barret Eghoetz, Joe Tallari and Justin Cross.
“Because Niagara is so aggressive, we found that our defensemen had to jump in on the rush to try and create a number of 3-on-2 situations and tonight we were fortunate to accomplish that,” said Ford.
“We have a lot of confidence,” Sherry remarked. “Their top line is such a great line but we got some bounces tonight and capitalized on them. I just hope we can continue it again tomorrow.”
“We were flat, from start to finish,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We weren’t very thorough. We lost the energy game. I guess I’m a little dismayed that we were this bad at this time of the year. Good teams just don’t do that.”
Niagara surrendered the momentum early on when Joe Tallari gave away the puck in the defensive zone and Oilers forward Justin Perry found teammate Kris Wiebe alone on the Niagara doorstep for 1-0 lead.
The Purple Eagles evened things up later in the first on a goal by Ryan Gale, and actually lead the contest early in the second when Brian Hartman scored on a fluke deflection from the point.
But Findlay goaltender Will Hooper made a series of spectacular point blank saves on Niagara rushes and the Oilers regrouped for a 3-goal outburst that closed the period.
Findlay extended the lead in the third on goals by Sherry and Mark Bastl. Niagara enjoyed three straight power play opportunities, but could not solve Hooper and once play resumed at full strength the Purple Eagles seemed to languish.
The two teams meet again Saturday. Niagara needs at least one point to secure second place in the CHA standings, thus securing a first round bye in the playoffs.