NIAGARA, N.Y. — The CHA may lack resources and prestige, but it is not a league lacking in great college goaltending.
Niagara’s Jeff Van Nynatten and Robert Morris’ Christian Boucher locked in a goaltender’s duel, trading big saves during short handed situations and one-on-one confrontations, as the Purple Eagles emerged victorious over the Colonials by a narrow 1-0 margin at Dwyer Arena.
In an odd bit of Purple Eagles trivia, this was the first time in Niagara’s entire history that they had prevailed in a 1-0 contest. After splitting with league rival Bemidji State last week (surrendering eight goals in a lopsided loss to the Beavers), Niagara regrouped to press its record to 8-7-1, while Robert Morris dropped to 4-8-1.
Niagara’s lone tally came from the surprising re-insertion of Sean Bentivoglio into the Purple Eagles lineup. The junior forward was in the midst of a breakout season when he injured his sternum against Cornell and was forecasted to be out for at least a month. But two weeks later, the gutsy assistant captain from Thorold, Ontario was back on the ice creating havoc against the opposition.
Bentivoglio one timed a Jason Williamson fronting pass from behind the Colonials net for the game-winning goal with slightly more than four minutes remaining in the first period.
“I was definitely tentative to begin with, “Bentivoglio said, “but I took a big bump on my second shift and was alright after that . . . Matt (Caruanna) chipped the puck low, Willy (Jason Williamson) grabbed it and fed me short side. I was able to one time it past Boucher.”
The rest of the game belonged to the goaltenders. While the final stat sheet revealed relatively modest shot totals for both teams, Van Nynatten and Boucher were called upon to preserve whatever fragile momentum swung their team’s way. Niagara killed ten Robert Morris power plays and the Colonials stalemated the Purple Eagles on all six of their man advantages.
“Both goalies played very well,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “We had a week off so some of the rust showed in the first period. We competed hard, I am not displeased in any way with our effort . . . I just think we need to be a little bit more thorough tomorrow night.”
“In spurts we didn’t take care of the puck enough,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder commented. “We got a little to fancy in the neutral zone that gave them momentum. But we shut down their power play which is ranked nationally, and Jeff was perfect.”
Van Nynatten was quick to credit the play of Niagara’s defense for earning his first shutout of the season. “As a defensive core, this was by far the most complete game they have played. . . . Our shot totals against have been high this season but I think the defense is gaining momentum. We’ve seemed to gain confidence defensively as the season progresses and tonight was a big step forward in handling a good forecheck.”