NIAGARA, N.Y. — To call Saturday evening’s game between Niagara and Wayne State an epic affair or a titanic struggle would be a stretch.
But it was a typical CHA conference game, as the clubs skated to a 3-3 draw in a spirited battle highlighted by power-play conversions and quality goalkeeping. The throng of 915 in attendance at Dwyer Arena on an unusually warm evening in Western New York got their money’s worth.
After it was over, the Purple Eagles stood at 4-3-1 overall (1-0-1 CHA) while the Warriors (0-5-1) remained winless but earned their first point of the season.
“[I was] frustrated with some of the chances late in the game, but I thought the final 15 minutes was our best of the weekend,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, who took time to talk about the game while hosting a sizable group of in-laws in his office. “But we couldn’t get one at the end. Coming from behind. … That shows a lot of character.”
At the other side of the rink, Wayne State coach Bill Wilkinson meticulously studied the official box score, and seemed somewhat pleased with his club’s intensity — and more paramount — the fact that his team got a point to show for a solid effort this weekend.
“We had our chances, no question, I thought we got a great effort from the team,” he said. “We battled pretty hard last night, and it was frustrating not to come out with any points. We would have liked to get a win, but it’s nice to get a point on the road. I told the team after it is a building block for us, and we have to keep putting blocks on top of each other.”
Taylor Donohoe, Nate Higgins and John May scored for Wayne State.
Ted Cook, Sean Bentivoglio and Marc Norrington scored for the Purple Eagles. Niagara goaltender Jeff VanNynatten was given a rare night off, and Burkholder called upon Juliano Pagliero for the start. The freshman did not disappoint, playing a solid game in finishing with 39 saves. Afterwards, he was relieved in getting his first collegiate start out of the way.
“Obviously there were a little bit of jitters there, playing in my first game as a freshman,” he said. “I think the game went fairly well. I’m just happy to get my legs underneath me. It’s always nice knowing you have done it before. I will be a little more confident before games. Today I was wondering and a little nervous.”
Actually, if not for some atrocious luck, the Warriors could have won this game.
After Donohoe’s goal halfway through the first period gave the Warriors a 1-0 lead, Niagara got a huge break — with Donohoe again involved in the scoring. When he tried to clear the puck around the boards, the puck skidded behind the Wayne State goal, but struck something and bounced right out in front, where Cook popped it home for a gift goal.
After Bentivoglio scored the give Niagara a 2-1 lead early in the second period, next came a test for both clubs, and special teams was the venue. Niagara’s Andrew Lackner was assessed a five-minute major and the subsequent game misconduct for hitting from behind and the Warriors capitalized — and in lightning-quick fashion.
First Higgins, standing the side of the Niagara net, one-timed a slick pass from Steve Kovalchik past Pagliero to knot the game at two. Just 33 seconds later, May skated into the middle of the Niagara zone with relentless purpose and used a rare backhander to score and give Wayne State a 3-2 lead.
With just under five minutes to go in the period, Wayne State’s Mark Nebus was whistled for hitting from behind, and he made the melancholy and lonesome skate back to the Warrior dressing room.
With just under a minute left in the penalty and the period, Norrington’s shot — a blast with an abundance of velocity — beat Wayne State netminder Matt Kelly and the score was again tied, this time at 3.
Both teams had quality chances in the third period as the Purple Eagles had a slim 10-9 shots advantage, but neither team could convert. The same scenario occurred in the overtime, and both teams left the ice fatigued while having to be content with the tie.
Wayne State hosts Bemidji State next weekend in its first home games of the season.
“It is going to catapult us going into next weekend against Bemidji,” said Warrior goalkeeper Matt Kelly, who finished with 29 saves. “Practice this week should be very enthusiastic. It should be very good going into next weekend.”
For the Purple Eagles the exact opposite is true — they will embark on their initial “real” road trip of the season next weekend when they travel south to take on Alabama-Huntsville. Niagara opened with seven of its first eight at home.
“I’m excited to get on the road with these guys,” Burkholder said. “It’s a chance to grow together as a team. We have a lot of new faces and we are a young team in some areas. It will be nice to get on the road.”