NIAGARA, N.Y. — Alabama-Huntsville goaltender Scott Munroe picked an opportune time to play some of his best hockey of the season.
The junior netminder turned aside 34 Niagara shots, many from point-blank range or in crucial shorthanded situations, providing the Chargers with near-flawless execution in leading his team to a 4-2 victory over the Purple Eagles Friday night.
“I’m going to say this was my best performance in this rink (Dwyer Arena),” Munroe said. “History has not been so kind to me here, so it was very nice to come in and get a win over Niagara, especially since we are battling Bemidji for first place in the CHA.”
UAH exhibited all the hallmarks of a hard-working team that seems to be gelling when games count the most. The difference for this version of the Chargers, however, has been speed.
“We have a lot of speed,” Munroe said. “We’ve been stressing taking the body. We’re not a very big team, but when we commit to the physical game on the road our speed helps us to create opportunities and space.”
For the Purple Eagles, a haunting laundry list of miscues and missed opportunities stymied their frantic attempt to even the score late in the third period, masking what has been perhaps their single most nagging deficiency all season — playing from behind.
“We outchanced them dramatically,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said. “What hurt us tonight was, well, they’re just not going in. It turned into one of those NCAA special-teams games.”
Burkholder was referring to a total of 58 penalty minutes, from which neither team could capitalize on the man advantage. Ironically, both teams scored shorthanded goals, and while the shot sheet painted a Niagara story, the Chargers made the most of their scoring opportunities and maintained a constant physical pressure that eventually wore down the Purple Eagles.
Tyler Hilbert staked the Charges to a 1-0 lead after Mike Salekin scooped up an open puck and drove into the Niagara zone. Salekin was stalemated by the Niagara defender but managed to feed Hilbert for a one-timer that appeared to be tipped just in front of the Purple Eagle net.
Niagara struck back on the penalty kill when Barret Ehgoetz fed Ryan Gale for his 19th goal of the season. Moments prior to Gale’s goal, Munroe stopped Tim Madsen on a breakaway, but Niagara jumped the Chargers on a line change, setting the stage for Gale’s goal.
Brett McConachie pushed UAH’s lead to 2-1 moments after surrendering the shorthanded goal when he capitalized on a Niagara turnover deep in its zone.
Alabama-Huntsville broke the game open with a shorthander later in the waning moments of the second period. There aren’t many one-on-one battles that Charger leading scorer Jared Ross loses, and his clearing pass at the blue line against a pinching Niagara defender allowed Bruce Mulherin to set up Jeff Winchester for the Chargers’ winning goal.
Niagara made the game interesting when Mike Novosad’s slapshot beat a screened Munroe late in the third. But UAH kept its composure when Niagara pulled its goalie for the extra attacker, and Ross scored the empty-netter.