POTSDAM, N.Y. — Niagara turned back a relentless third-period attack by Clarkson and claimed a hard-earned road victory over the Golden Knights by a 5-3 margin at Cheel Arena.
The Purple Eagles spoiled Clarkson’s home opener and the debut of highly-touted freshman Shawn Weller, who received NCAA clearance to play only hours before faceoff.
Weller, a high draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, tallied twice and created headaches for Niagara’s defense down low, but the Purple Eagles persevered in the final stanza when Sean Bentivoglio sent Aaron Clarke away on the empty-netter to seal the game.
“I thought we played an almost perfect road game,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “And it was a lot of the little things that won us the game tonight. The dump-ins, faceoffs, our man high in the slot intercepted a lot of passes. I’m not thrilled with the message we sent Clarkson in the third period, but I’ll take the win.”
“For whatever reason, the first period has been our worst this year,” remarked Clarkson coach George Roll. “Obviously, Niagara is very talented team and they were able to create on the transition. In the third we started working harder and that’s what we need to do.”
After a ragged opening 10 minutes, Niagara broke on top when Barrett Ehgoetz won a corner battle and sent a pass to linemate Ryan Gale in the middle slot. Gale rifled the puck high over Clarkson goaltender Kyle McNulty’s blocker for a lead the Purple Eagles did not surrender.
A Niagara miscue led to a too-many-men infraction which Clarkson promptly took advantage of when David Cayer threaded a pass to Weller, who emphatically announced his arrival to college hockey by slamming the puck home.
But Niagara struck right back early in the second. Pat Olivetto’s home-run clearing pass set the stage for Justin Cross on the far Clarkson blue line. Cross went in on net and deftly dropped the puck for Gale, who notched his second of the evening.
Niagara pressed the lead to 3-1 soon after Gale’s goal when Clarke and Bentivoglio combined on a pretty two-on-one.
Golden Knight freshman Nick Dodge breathed life into his team after catching a Niagara defender flatfooted on the pinch. Dodge raced in alone on Niagara goalie Jeff Van Nynatten and beat the Purple Eagle goalie with a rising backhander.
Clarkson, however, could not sustain momentum and Niagara’s Cross drew a penalty which the Purple Eagles converted into their fourth goal, by Kris Wiebe on a skillful redirect of a pass by Matt Caruana.
The third belonged to the Golden Knights, who kept play in the Niagara zone for most of the period. Weller tallied again on the power play with an assist from centerman Jay Latulippe With the score 4-3, Clarkson pressed hard but could not solve Van Nynatten.
It was the second game in a row where the Niagara netminder was called upon in the clutch to preserve the victory.
The two teams meet again Saturday night to conclude the series.