KEARNEY, Neb. — Niagara ended Wayne State’s run of eight straight CHA tournament victories with a 2-1 win in a gritty, hard-fought semifinal Saturday.
The second-seeded Purple Eagles scored in the third period to halt another upset by the sixth-seeded Warriors.
“Wayne State plays a great team defense,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said. “It’s what playoff hockey is all about. I don’t think we played our best tonight, but we haven’t lost a game all season when leading or tied going into the third.”
The Warriors opened the scoring at the 4:35 mark when freshman Mark Cannon sent the puck over the shoulder of Niagara goaltender Jeff VanNynatten for the Warriors’ score.
With just over two minutes remaining in the first period, the Purple Eagles evened up the score when Jordan Meloff won a faceoff in the Wayne State zone and Paul Muniz’ shot from the top of the right circle found its way through traffic and into the back of the net.
Although the score didn’t change following the second period, it wasn’t for lack of trying. Both teams chipped away at the goal. Wayne State aimed 10 shots at the net, while Niagara added seven.
Solid goaltending by both teams highlighted the beginning of the third period, but at 8:59, Niagara’s Nick Kormanyos was credited with the game-winning goal when his pass from behind the Warrior net hit the skate of Wayne State’s Travis Rycroft and deflected past Kelly.
VanNynatten and Kelly remained solid in goal, as both teams fired away at the net. Both goalies stopped 32 shots on the night, including a combined 26 in the third period.
“You couldn’t ask for these kids to play any harder or any tougher tonight,” Wayne State head coach Bill Wilkinson said.
Niagara will face Bemidji State Sunday at 7 p.m. CST for the CHA championship and the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament that goes with the title.
The Beavers, who defeated Findlay 6-2 in the day’s other semifinal game, will be playing in the CHA championship game for the second year in a row, having lost 3-2 to Wayne State last season.
Niagara is making its first trip to the title game since winning the inaugural CHA championship in 2000, when the Purple Eagles earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tourney.