NIAGARA, N.Y. — Tyler Hilbert’s startling opening statement for Alabama Huntsville led to an even more dramatic conclusion by the Chargers’ Brett McConnachie.
In between those two goals, however, it was netminder Scott Monroe who authored Alabama Huntsville’s 4-3 victory over Niagara, turning aside forty shots (twenty seven in shorthanded situations), and keeping his team in contention long enough for the Chargers to win a key CHA contest the old fashioned way — they earned it.
“We got off to a good start,” Alabama Huntsville coach Doug Ross said. “Then we took some penalties and they had us down 3-1 by the end of the first. Our goal was to win the second period and we did it. In the third we just let it hang out and sent three on the forecheck. We’re on a roll right now. We have to learn how to play without taking so many penalties.”
“They bussed fifteen hours,” said a dismayed Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “And they outplayed us in the third period. Obviously, they wanted first place more than us. We had twenty nine shots on the power play and only one rebound goal. That tells you something.”
The Chargers stormed to a 1-0 lead on Hilbert’s goal as the sophomore was sent away by a beautiful McConnachie clearing pass. Hilbert had Niagara defenseman Pat Olivetto draped all over him, but the Charger forward maintained control of the puck and sent a backhand past Niagara goalie Jeff Van Nynatten.
Niagara forward Randy Harris dipsy-doodled past the Charger blueline, dropped a pass for linemate Cliff Ketchen, who then returned it to Harris for Niagara’s first tally a short while later. The Chargers took a series of penalties, and the Purple Eagles responded by potting two more goals (Marc Norrington and Vince Rocco) to push their lead to 3-1 to end the first period.
Munroe claimed the crease back in the second period as he stymied Niagara on 19 more attempts. The Chargers slowly regrouped and started to win the energy game. Jeremy Schreiber scored the lone second period marker when his slap shot from the point was deflected high in front of a scrum of bodies and came down behind Van Nynattan and dribbled into the net.
Mike Salekin knotted the score at 3-3 early in the third for the Chargers. His unassisted tally occured on the power play after he paid the price by crashing the Niagara crease and put back his own rebound.
As time waned, the game appeared headed for overtime. But the Chargers again created their own good fortune by drawing a penalty with 43 seconds left, setting the stage for McConnachie’s game winner with just six seconds left.
“It was a text book breakout play,” McConnachie explained. “Schreiber passed it to Mulherin and he got it to Galerno. I was streaking on the wing. He gave it to me on the back hand, and I wasn’t sure if I could beat him (Van Nynatten). I just kept it low and to the short side, and luckily it went in.”
“I call him pretty boy,” Ross said with a laugh. “He’s got that hair thing going for him. He plays the game hard. We have a lot of guys coming together right now. It’s good to see.”
With the victory, Alabama pushed its win streak to five. Niagara, meanwhile, has stumbled since its defeat of New Hampshire, losing four of its last five. The two teams meet again at 2:00pm at Dwyer Arena to conclude the season series.