GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — The Niagara Purple Eagles used a three-goal second period to blow open the first quarterfinal game of the 2005 College Hockey America Championship, and topple the Robert Morris Colonials, 5-1.
The first period was quickly-played and up-tempo. The Colonials dominated the shots on goal, out-shooting Niagara, 16-8, in the period, but the Purple Eagles were the only team able to find the back of the net. After a shoving match at the left dot in front of RMU goaltender Christian Boucher at 11:47 of the period, RMU’s Brett Hopfe and NU’s Ryan Gale drew matching penalties to send the teams to five-on-five. Niagara took advantage just 1:05 later.
After Niagara won a faceoff in the RMU zone, Purple Eagle forward Kris Wiebe scored on a wraparound in the midst of a scrum in front of Boucher. He was credited with his 11th goal of the season with assists from C.J. Tozzo and Trevor Mallon to put NU on top, 1-0, at 12:52 of the first.
Niagara came out of the first intermission flying and put the game out of reach with three goals in the first eight minutes of the second period. Justin Cross took a pass from Brian Hartman and fired off the right leg pad of Boucher. He could not control the rebound, and Cross was there to put the carom home behind Boucher to put the Eagles up, 2-0, at 1:58.
Barret Ehgoetz needed just 53 seconds to put Niagara up 3-0, scoring his 16th goal of the season at 2:51. Trevor Mallon chased Boucher at 7:56 of the second, scoring NU’s third goal of the period on a dump-in from beyond the red line. Mallon took the puck and flipped it towards Boucher, who tried to stop it with his right skate. It tipped off Boucher’s toe and got behind him, crossing the goal line before he could turn and fall on the loose puck.
After the goal, Boucher was lifted for Joe Tuset with Niagara up 4-0, although Tuset played just 45 seconds and recorded two saves before Boucher returned to the ice.
Robert Morris broke up the shutout when Jeff Gilbert scored a shorthanded goal, unassisted, at 7:42 of the third. But Tim Madsen scored on an empty Robert Morris net at 17:31 of the third to put Niagara up by the game’s final 5-1 margin.
“I’m very pleased,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said. “I can’t single anyone out who played poorly. For the most part we controlled the game from start to finish. We’ve come in here with an edge. We haven’t had the kind of season that maybe we wanted to have, but we’re still the defending champs. Our guys have swagger.”
“That was a very good hockey game,” Robert Morris head coach Derek Schooley said. “I don’t think it was indicitive of the score. We caught some unfortunate lapses in the beginning of the second period, but we didn’t quit. We had our chances. I’m proud of our team. They’ve come a long way. The future of Robert Morris hockey is very bright.”
Jeff Van Nynatten earned the win in goal for Niagara; he saved 27 of 28 shots faced and evened his season record at 10-10-2 in a complete-game victory. Boucher played 55:54 for the Colonials, saving 27 of 31 shots faced. He took the loss and fell to 8-18-4 on the year.
“It wasn’t about me tonight,” Van Nynatten said. “The guys stepped up around the net. Jumping out to a lead was important to us, and we had some luck around the net. We’re happy to get to the next round.”
Niagara advances to the CHA Tournament semifinals, where it will face No. 2 seed Ala.-Huntsville in tomorrow afternoon’s first contest. Opening faceoff is slated for 3:35 p.m. Central time at the IRA Civic Center. The Purple Eagles improved to 15-18-2 on the season, while Robert Morris sees its inaugural season of NCAA Division I hockey come to an end at 8-21-4.
NOTES: Niagara improved to 6-3-0 all-time in the CHA Tournament, but won a quarterfinal game for the first time in its history; Niagara dropped its only other quarterfinal appearance, 5-3, to Air Force in the 2002 Tournament… RMU falls to 0-1 all-time in the CHA Tournament… Niagara and semifinal opponent Ala.-Huntsville have met just once previously in the CHA Tournament; the Purple Eagles downed the Chargers, 3-2, in the championship game of the inaugural CHA Tournament in 2000.