ORONO, Me. — The Niagara Purple Eagles battled tough and were able to fight within a few inches of tying the heavily favored Black Bears of Maine, but fell, 4- 3.
“The period’s not over until it’s over. They learned that and we learned that and they swung the momentum in the third period,” said Maine Coach Tim Whitehead, “and before you know it, boom, they get two goals.”
Early in the first period Niagara came out playing rough, taking two penalties in the first five minutes. The Black Bears didn’t respond and were only able to show a pair of lackluster power plays taking no shots on either.
Throughout the first period Niagara played stellar defense, not even conceding a shot on goal until 5:11 remained in the period. Both teams failed to show desire throughout the period and the puck bounced from zone-to-zone and back again with no one ready to take over the game.
With less than two minutes remaining in the first period Niagara took another penalty and this time the Black Bear power play made them pay. The Bears got some good opportunities and finally, as the buzzer sounded at 20:00 of the period, defenseman Jeff Mushaluk ripped a shot along the ice that Michel Leveille tipped into the top corner of the net giving Maine a 1-0 lead as time expired.
The goal gave the game some life in a period that saw many penalties and few shots. The Bears had seven and Eagles had five shots and the teams had five penalties combined.
The Bears came out surging from the start of the second period. Off a draw in the Niagara zone Derek Damon retrieved a loose puck and let fly a wrist shot through a crowd that snuck past Niagara goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten, and lit the lamp giving the Bears a 2-0 lead at 1:18 in to the period.
Niagara continued to take penalties as it took its fourth penalty of the game. On the ensuing power play the Bears set up the zone letting fly shot after shot but Van Nynatten was able to keep them from notching another goal. The intensity of the game picked up with the Black Bears and Purple Eagles each taking more shots. The amount of power plays added to the scoring and the teams began to put pucks into the twine halfway through the second period when the Bears notched another goal.
Brent Shepheard picked off a pass from the top of the circle and let fly a missile of a shot that caught the right post and found the back of the net giving Maine a 3-0 lead. The goal was Shepheard’s first of the season coming with 11:36 remaining in the period.
The Bears began to take penalties however, conceding a two-man advantage with 8:21 remaining in the second period. It was just what Niagara needed. 12 seconds into the power play a puck was played with a cross to defensemen Andrew Lackner who then passed the puck to Barrett Ehgoetz, unleashing a one-timer off the top of Maine goaltender Jimmy Howard’s glove and under the crossbar cutting the lead to 3-1 with 8:09 remaining in the period.
Maine was able to kill off the second penalty and a few minutes later Niagara took another penalty giving Maine another power-play chance with 4:32 remaining in the period. The Black Bears set up a few scoring chances but Niagara was able to thwart all their attempts.
The Black Bears made ending the period with last second goals a habit by scoring with three seconds remaining in the second period. Brent Shepheard broke free down the left side of the ice and took the puck to the net with a Niagara defensemen on his heels. He fired a low shot that Van NyNatten kicked aside but Maine forward Greg Moore scooped up the rebound and slid the puck along the ice into the open net giving Maine a 4-1 lead.
The third period started out with some end-to-end hockey and Maine taking two penalties early on. Jimmy Howard continued to showcase why he is already being considered for the Hobey Baker making huge saves left and right as the Black Bears returned unharmed to even strength.
Halfway through the period with 10:07 remaining and with Niagara on the power play, the Purple Eagles moved the puck around the outside of the net into the corner. Ehgoetz attempted a pass to the front of the net that hit Maine’s goaltender Howard and tallied an unassisted goal that just trickled over the line making it a 4-2 game.
Only 30 seconds later the Eagles were at it again as they powered through the Maine defense. Sean Bentivoglio played a pass to forward Aaron Clark who put the puck past the Black Bear keeper making it a 4-3 game. The tension rose in the air and Maine began to sense the game was slipping away at 9:34.
“We’ve got a lot of respect for Niagara and that game could have gone either way,” said Whitehead, “but that is what we expected.”
The excitement began to rise as Maine desperately looked for a goal to get a larger lead, Ryan Gale took the puck splitting the defense and beat Howard and the only thing that kept the Eagles from tying the game was the post.
Niagara pulled its goalie with a little over a minute remaining in the game. Howard was able to fight through a skirmish in front of the Maine net to stop Bentivoglio from setting up another goal and tying the game up for the Purple Eagles. But the Eagles couldn’t get the goal they needed and fell 4-3 to the Black Bears.