LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara completed the first half of its season by earning its first series sweep of the year, defeating Robert Morris, 3-0, Saturday at Dwyer Arena. The shutout came one day after senior netminder Jeff Van Nynatten earned a 1-0 blanking of the Colonials, which marked only the second time in the program’s history that the Purple Eagles swept an opponent without giving up a goal. Niagara remains in first place in the College Hockey America standings, improving its record to 9-7-1, 5-2-1 in conference play, while Robert Morris fell to 4-9-1 and 1-3-0.
“Every CHA game is a battle from start ot finish,” head coach Dave Burkholder said. “Most of the guys around the country talked about how this league was up for grabs and today was nothing different. I love sitting back and watching a goaltending dual like that. But first and foremost we shut down their power play again which was huge. We worked on that every day because after last weekend, we didn’t like where we were nationally on the penalty kill.”
Van Nynatten turned aside all 32 shots to pick up the fifth shutout of his career, moving him into a tie for second with Rob Bonk on Niagara’s all-time list. He also helped it to back-to-back shutouts for the first time since Feb. 7-12, 2004, when the Purple Eagles defeated Wayne State, 3-0, and Alabama-Huntsville, 8-0. Meanwhile, the last time Niagara swept an opponent with two blankings occurred Feb. 11-12, 2000, when it topped Findlay 4-0 and 8-0.
Six penalties flooded the first period but neither team could take advantage. Robert Morris’ Joey Olson had the best chance to get the Colonials on the board, racing in on a shorthanded breakaway with 13:48 left. After seeing Van Nynatten make the inital save, Olson rang the rebound off the post to keep the game scoreless.
Niagara then committed the second period’s only three penalties, but this time the Purple Eagles had the best shorthanded opportunity. On a 2-on-1 break, freshman Les Reaney delivered a pass from the left side with 9:00 left to sophomore Mike Novosad, who sent a shot just off Christian Boucher’s stick and into the corner.
After two periods of scoreless action, junior Sean Bentivoglio ended the drama, capitalizing on a scramble in front only 55 seconds into the third for the 1-0 lead. Niagara quickly padded to its lead on a costly mistake by Colonial defenseman Bryan Mills at the 2:19 mark. Sitting in front of his own net, Mills lost control of the puck with sophomore Matt Caruana pestering him, and as it trickled away, Caruana jumped on it and put his shot past Boucher for the two-goal cushion.
To seal the victory, Bentivoglio picked up his ninth goal of the season on an empty-netter with eight seconds remaining. Senior Jason Williamson picked up an assist on the play, his second of the night. In all, Niagara’s second line of Bentivoglio (2-0–2), Williamson (0-2–2) and Caruana (1-1–2) picked up all of the game’s points as each had two.
Both teams finished with 0-for-6 marks on the power play, and Robert Morris managed 32 shots compared to Niagara’s 23. However, the Purple Eagles posted a 51-36 advantage in the face-off column.