KEARNEY, Neb. — In the longest game in league history, No. 2 seed Niagara defeated top seed Bemidji State, 4-3, in overtime to claim the CHA championship. Joe Tallari, a Hobey Baker Memorial Award finalist a year ago, scored the winner for Niagara at 13:27 of the extra session to put the Purple Eagles in the NCAA tournament.
Down 2-1 after two periods, Bemidji State rallied late in the third. At 14:46, the Beavers evened it up as Jean-Guy Gervais scored off a helper from Ryan Miller and Sirianni.
With a chance to put the Beavers ahead, BSU’s Brendan Cook hit the crossbar with 3:19 left in regulation, and instead Aaron Clarke gave Niagara a 3-2 lead at 17:54, scoring on a pass from Sean Bentivoglio and Andrew Lackner.
Seconds later, Bemidji’s Riley Riddell won the draw to the left of Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten. Wade Chiodo moved the puck off the right boards to John Haider, who ripped a slapshot from the top of the slot for his fourth goal of the tournament at 18:08.
That sent the title game into overtime, and Bemidji controlled the early portion, but Niagara kept counterattacking until finally, at 13:27, Tallari took a pass from Barret Ehgoetz and bypassed a BSU defender to score the game-winning tally.
“What a game,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said following the championship celebration. “Sixty minutes just wasn’t enough to decide this game. It was a heck of a hockey game.”
The first period, although scoreless, proved that this game was going to be a game decided by a goal. Evenly matched, both teams chipped away at the net, with just one shot separating the two teams.
Niagara opened the scoring at 4:04 of the second, when Chris Welch tipped in a pass from Aaron Clarke and Dave Homiuk. The Purple Eagles notched another score on the board seven minutes later, as Ryan Gale scored from Hannu Karru and Pat Oliveto on a due to a five-minute major power play.
At 17:07 in the second, Bemidji pulled within one as Andrew Murray took a pass from Rob Sirianni and Haider to put the puck between the pipes, making the score 2-1.
VanNynatten made 31 saves and was named the tournament’s most valuable player while his Bemidji State counterpart, Grady Hunt, had 33.
The CHA All-Tournament team was announced after the game and VanNynatten was named the tournament MVP. Billy Collins (Wayne State), Kris Wiebe (Findlay) and Aaron Clarke (Niagara) were selected as the top forwards, while Andrew Lackner (Niagara) and John Haider (Bemidji State) were named on defense. Wayne State’s goaltender Matt Kelly earned goaltending honors.