NIAGARA, N.Y. — Composure.
Niagara kept its composure down the stretch, and came away with a much-needed 4-2 victory over Wayne State.
During the final frantic moments of the third period, Niagara killed off a Wayne State man advantage and withstood the Warriors’ determined effort to tie the score, before Purple Eagle defender Andrew Lackner won a scrum near center ice and sent Sean Bentivoglio away for the empty-netter with one second remaining.
“It’s been a while since you’ve seen that Niagara wave,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said, “where it was hard to tell our first line from our fourth. We finally got the result we needed and it was huge for us. It was a great weekend of college hockey.”
Throughout the contest, Burkholder and Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson engaged in a subtle chess match of line pairings. The Purple Eagles’ top duo of Barrett Ehgoetz and Ryan Gale found themselves pitted against the Warriors’ fourth line for most of the night, and they took advantage of the matchup by factoring on all four Niagara goals. Conversely, Wayne State’s top line was held in check for most of the contest by the Purple Eagles’ third and fourth lines.
“Last night we hung around long enough to steal the game,” Wilkinson said. “But tonight Niagara had the jump, and they held on in the end. Overall, we played better defensively this weekend than we have been playing … but we still need more patience, especially on the forecheck. We’re a young team and hopefully will learn from tonight.”
Ehgoetz opened the scoring for Niagara in the first after he attacked the Wayne State zone and drew a Warrior defender to the ice while he held the puck inside the right faceoff circle. His shot was stopped by Warrior goalie Will Hooper, but Ehgoetz deflected Gale’s putback for the score.
Later in the first, Niagara staked the lead to 2-0 on a bang-bang play as Gale fed Ehgoetz in the slot as time expired on a Purple Eagle power play.
Wayne State crept back into the contest on a pure effort goal by Jason Bloomingburg, who fought his way through traffic behind the Niagara net and beat goalie Scott Mollison between the pads. Mollison had the angle but did not get his stick down in time.
Play tightened in the second as both teams enjoyed spurts of momentum. Hooper turned away Niagara center Tim Madsen on a shorthanded breakaway that could have opened the game up. Finally, Niagara scored the crucial third goal after Burkholder got the final line change on a faceoff with less than two minutes in the period, leading to Gale’s tally.
“It’s just confidence,” Gale explained of his ongoing senior season. “When you are making plays you can take a few more chances and hold the puck a little longer. Playing with Barrett has made such a difference.”
Midway through the third, Wayne State found new life after it capitalized on a turnover by Purple Eagle defenseman Trevor Mallon at the blueline. Mollison stopped the initial Warrior shot but mishandled the puck on a clearing attempt and forward John May rifled it into the open net to cut the lead to 3-2.
But that was as close as Wayne State came. The intensity of the final minutes of the game was evidenced by a series of big hits traded by both squads.
“A couple less mistakes tonight, and that was the difference,” Gale summed up the Purple Eagle effort. “Our record is one thing … but were trying to get our team right and build up leading to the CHA tournament.”