LEWISTON, N.Y. — Suddenly the CHA is no longer a two-horse race.
Findlay made that emphatically clear after pummeling Niagara 8-3, sweeping the Purple Eagles in a weekend series that astounded many observers by its one-sidedness, and imbued the hard-charging Oilers with an indelible sense of confidence and purpose.
Niagara was left grasping for answers, as its anticipated season finale showdown with Bemidji State diminished in importance with every scoring rush Findlay capitalized on, leaving the Purple Eagles a beaten team.
“I stand behind the team,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Everyone’s disappointed with what happened … but we still have a lot to play for, including a bid, and we’ll have to find a way to regroup and start fresh on Monday.”
“Everything we shot went in. That’s my assessment of the weekend,” said Findlay coach Pat Ford. “We have tremendous leadership with Chris Wiebe, Brian Sherry and Nate Markus … I told Burky (Dave Burkholder), I hope we see them in the final at Kearney.”
Ford’s understated view of his sweep of Niagara belied a total team effort that resulted in six different Findlay players accounting for goals. The Oilers did all the little things defensively that enabled them to light up the scoreboard, such as rendering Niagara’s breakout play indecisive and squatting on their blue line and daring Niagara to sustain possession in the offensive zone.
In the pivotal second period, Findlay erupted for four consecutive goals. As if this were not enough, Ford wanted to make sure he kept Niagara off-balance by changing tactics in the third.
“We know what type of team Niagara is,” he said. “We adjusted our forecheck a little bit because we knew they were capable of getting on a roll.”
Once again, Findlay neutralized Niagara’s big line that includes the nation’s leading scorer, Barrett Ehgoetz. But just as importantly, the Oilers received huge contributions from their fourth line of Andrew Radzak, Kurt Wright and Kyle Ukraniyc.
“You’ll notice I tried to get them out there on as many offensive zone face-offs as I could,” Ford noted in praise of his fourth line. “They were able to take some pressure off our defense and cycle the puck well.”
Tallying for Findlay were Kris Wiebe, David Vogt, Mark Bastl, Mike Batovanja, Ukrainyc, Brian Sherry, and Nate Markus chipped in two. Niagara received goals from Chris Welch, Jordan Meloff and Hannu Karru.
Both teams close out the regular season next week. Niagara, by virtue of an Alabama-Huntsville loss earlier in the day, clinched second place in the CHA and a first-round bye at the league tournament. Findlay finishes at home against Air Force and can improve its seeding by winning out.