NIAGARA, N.Y. — Freshman Les Reaney slammed home a rebound with nearly a minute remaining in overtime, lifting Niagara to a 5-4 victory over Wayne State, as the Purple Eagles clawed their way to their first set of points in CHA league play at Dwyer Arena.
This was not a contest of style points. In fact, the momentum shifted throughout the game while each team surrendered the lead at key junctures.
Niagara could have won it in regulation, but Wayne State gamely executed a faceoff play in the Niagara zone with the extra attacker, and tied the score 4-4 with 38 seconds remaining when Adam Krug ripped a blast high past Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten
“The second period seems to unglue us,” Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson said. “I give our guys credit for getting the tie late. But we made a bad clear, Niagara grabs it, we have poor defensive coverage, and suddenly it’s in our net. It’s game of opportunities.”
Credit Niagara co-captain Jason Williamson for seizing that overtime moment. The Purple Eagle forward was fresh on the ice from a line change, read the Wayne State defender’s attempt to clear the zone, and intercepted the pass. Williamson drove to net with authority and his initial shot was stopped by Matt Kelly but Reaney jumped on the rebound for the game winner.
Wayne State opened scoring on the power play with another soaring shot, this one by Mike Forgie which seemed to startle VanNyanatten.
Niagara answered moments later when Vince Rocco scored his first collegiate goal demonstrating a quick release in a wrist shot that cleanly beat Kelly.
As the first period drew to a close, Wayne State cycled the puck behind the Niagara net leading to another power play opportunity. The Warriors made the Purple Eagles pay again on the advantage. Mike Forgie benefited from an odd bounce off the boards and scored on the wrap-around.
Niagara rebounded in the second period after Sean Bentivoglio fed Ted Cook with a perfectly timed pass and Cook scored on an uncontested tap in. This was the first of five points for Bentivoglio whose confidence has soared with his quick start to the season.
“After last year the coaches emphasized that I have to shoot more,” Bentivoglio said. “It helps playing with Les (Reaney) and Justin (Cross). We’ve developed chemistry and I’m trying to get the puck to the net more.”
“I look at what Bentivoglio did tonight,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He took a knee on his first shift and had to ice a charley horse all night, but he persevered. In the end, our top players got it done in what was kind of a funny game with a lot of momentum shifts. Our freshman came through for us big time tonight.”
With the score tied 2-2, Wayne State went on the power play but it was the Purple Eagles who scored. Matt Caruana and Bentivoglio hooked up on a pretty give-and-go as Caruana potted the goal to extend Niagara’s lead to 3-2.
Wayne State came out for the third period with a renewed determination. The Warriors swarmed the Niagara zone and ended up tying the game on a Mark Nebus slap shot that VanNynatten mishandled.
Bentivoglio answered for Niagara after Reaney grabbed a clearing attempt off the boards with his feet and set up Bentivoglio in front of the net for the go ahead, 4-3.
As the third period wore on, Wayne State enjoyed a 5-3 man advantage but could not convert. VanNynatten stopped Jason Bloominburg point blank as the Warrior’s consistently worked the backdoor shot on the power play.
Having killed off both penalties, Niagara appeared headed to victory in regulation. Krug’s late bid silenced the crowd but in the end Niagara prevailed after Reaney sensed an opening in the Warrior defense. The freshman from Saskatchewan has shown a true goal scorer’s instinct, knowing what he can and cannot do at any given moment, and positioning himself for opportunities like tonight’s game winner.
“I’m just trying to keep up with Sean (Bentivoglio) and Justin (Cross)”, Reaney said. “They’re doing all the work and I’m getting the garbage.”
Niagara and Wayne State meet again tomorrow at 7:00 p.m.