GRAND RAPIDS, Minn. — The Alabama-Huntsville Chargers used two first-period power-play goals to build a 2-1 lead they would not relinquish, holding on for a 4-2 victory over the Niagara Purple Eagles to advance to the CHA championship for the first time since 2002.
Niagara closed to within 3-2 at 9:06 of the third period when Mark Norrington picked up his fourth goal of the season from Kris Wiebe, but could get no closer.
Niagara pulled goaltender Jeff Van Nynatten for an extra attacker with 2:17 to play, but the Chargers iced the game when Keith Rowe scored his third goal of the season, unassisted, with 52 seconds to play for the game’s final 4-2 margin.
The Purple Eagles were not able to capitalize on a quick start, as penalties would help the Chargers rally from an early one-goal deficit. NU’s Ryan Gale needed less than five minutes to put the No. 3-seeded Purple Eagles on the board, scoring his team-leading 24th goal of the season from Sean Bentivoglio and Matt Caruana to put Niagara up 1-0 just 4:53 into the game.
“We actually felt pretty good,” UAH defenseman Brett McConnachie said of the early deficit. “We knew that if we came out and continued to play our game it wouldn’t be a problem.”
And play their game the Chargers did, using their CHA-leading power-play units to take a 2-1 lead heading into the first intermission. Alabama-Huntsville scored goals on each of two first-period Niagara penalties.
NU’s Tim Madsen drew an interference penalty at 10:38, and the Chargers needed less than a minute to draw even. Craig Bushey scored his 12th goal of the season with assists from defensemen Jeff Winchester and Jeremy Schreiber to make the score 1-1.
Less than six minutes later, Niagara’s Travis Anderson was called for interference. On the ensuing power play, Alabama-Huntsville’s Shaun Arvai picked up a puck from Grant Selinger at the blue line and found Brett McConnachie in the faceoff circle to his left. McConnachie unleashed a shot which got past Niagara netminder Jeff Van Nynatten to put the Chargers on top, 2-1.
The Chargers didn’t even need two minutes of the second period to run their lead to 3-1. Steve Canter took the puck on a breakaway and fired a one-on-one shot on Van Nynatten. The shot hit Van Nynatten low in the leg pads and he could not control the rebound, which was scooped up by McConnachie.
He fired behind Van Nynatten and staked the Chargers to a two-goal lead at 1:43 of the second.
“I hated to get down in the first period,” Alabama-Huntsville head coach Doug Ross said. “But we fought back and a couple of power-play goals helped us a lot. In the second period, penalties hurt us and took us out of the game, and in the third Niagara came out storming and basically caught up.
“Niagara played well enough to win this game.”
Alabama-Huntsville, which entered the game leading the nation in penalty minutes per game, committed five penalties for 10 minutes in the second period and finished the game drawing seven minor penalties, but was not called for a single infraction in the third period as it held off the Purple Eagles.
Scott Munroe saved 32 of 34 shots, including 13-of-13 in the second period, to earn the victory in goal for the Chargers. He improved to 16-9-4 on the season, outdueling Niagara’s Jeff Van Nynatten.
Van Nynatten allowed three goals on 30 shots, including 4-of-4 in the third period as the Purple Eagle defense stiffened and Niagara attempted to fight back into the contest.