NIAGARA, N.Y. — Niagara continued its fast start by downing Western Michigan on Saturday at Dwyer Arena.
The Purple Eagles rallied in the third period for the second week in a row, cashing in on a key power-play opportunity and winning enough of the one-on-one battles to send the Broncos to a 3-2 defeat.
“Tonight it came down to – win the final twenty, and you win the weekend,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Having only one game to play and being tied up at the end of the second, it was a real test for us again. The shift that our top line had to open the third period got us going, and we were then able to roll all four lines after that.”
No sooner had the fans settled into their seats then Niagara forward Sean Bentivoglio streaked in alone on Bellisimo and scored at the ten second mark. The goal marked the first of two Bentivoglio first-period tallies, as he found the back of the net with less than two minutes remaining in the opening frame as well.
Western Michigan entered the second period down 2-0 and did the things necessary to get back into the contest. It dominated faceoffs, dictated tempo, and finally capitalized on the power play with a Brent Walton goal.
Ryan Mahrle evened the score at 2-2 with assists from Matt Clackson and Sean Weaver.
Toward the end of the second period controversy erupted when Bellisimo robbed Bentivoglio of his first-ever hat trick with a stabbing glove save that referee James White initially ruled a goal. White reversed his decision after conferring with the linesmen and the goal judge and deciding that Bellisimo’s arm had not extended past the plane of the goal line.
Freshman Les Reaney’s power play marker midway through the third period proved the difference for Niagara. The Saskatchewan native planted himself in front of the Bronco net and tipped in a Sean Bentivoglio rebound past goalie Daniel Bellissimo.
Niagara re-established control of the game as the third period wore on.
“Obviously the Niagara coaches must have had some words at the end of the second because they took it to us in the third,” Western Michigan assistant coach Brendan Kenny said. “Playing on the road with a young team is tough. We took that penalty, Niagara got the bounce, and that was the difference in the game.”
The other difference in the game was Niagara goaltender Jeff Van Nynattan. At times Van Nynattan acted like a third defenseman, clearing many Broncos dump-ins and frustrating the visitors with his superb play.
“I told Jerry (Forton) this week I’ve noticed a difference in him,” Burkholder said of his senior goalie. “He’s just seeing the puck so well. He’s watching a ton of video and he’s giving us the senior goaltending we need. If you give him the lead in the third period he’s tough to beat.”
Niagara (3-1-0, 0-0-0 CHA) will play host to Hockey East opponent No. 15 Vermont next weekend for a pair of games. Meanwhile, Western Michigan (0-2-0, 0-0-0 CCHA) begins league play by welcoming No. 3 Ohio State for two games.