NIAGARA, N.Y. — Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville locked horns in a near carbon copy of their meeting Friday night. The major exception to this contest came from the play of Purple Eagle goalie Jeff Van Nynatten, who broke the Niagara all-time career record for saves (2639) and led his team to a 4-3 victory at Dwyer Arena.
Niagara jumped out to an early lead 2-0 lead in the first period on goals by Dan Sullivan and Matt Carruana. Midway through the second, with the score in favor of Niagara 3-1, Alabama-Huntsville started to want back into the contest. Just as they did the night before, the Chargers clawed their way into contention with timely goals.
The third period featured a sea change of momentum swings. Niagara righted the ship and sustained enough effort to quell the Chargers in a few key stretches and, in doing so, skated back into contention for first place in the CHA.
“My hats off to them (UAH),” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “They’re great on the transition. They keep coming at you. But tonight I thought our Williamson, Carruana, Rodgers line won a key shift in the third, cycling the puck and we were able to piggyback off that momentum to take the pressure away.”
“If we get down we have the ability to come back,” Alabama-Huntsville coach Doug Ross commented. “We were in the position to win the game in the third. Mulherin missed a clear cut breakaway in the second, but that’s hockey. Their goalie played better tonight. .That’s what athletics is all about, being the best you can be and we were pretty close with the exception of the penalties.”
For Van Nynatten, the victory was sweet redemption in what has been an hyper-active season in the crease. The Niagara goaltender regularly sees a lot of shots and he realizes that the fate of his team often hinges on his ability to maintain focus.
“I knew going into the season I had a shot at it (the Niagara save record),” Van Nynatten said. “But I didn’t think it would come with ten or twelve games left in the season.”
The other big story for the Purple Eagles tonight was their power play. Niagara converted on three of five opportunities. Senior captain Jason Williamson and freshman Les Reaney played key roles in setting up the Niagara power-play goals, and Randy Harris quarterbacked the Niagara point with exceeding poise.
UAH received goals from Derek Conter, Tyler Hilbert and Steve Canter. The Hilbert and Canter goals were sensational individual efforts and drew the Chargers closer to the lead, but Harris’ power-play marker at the twelve minute mark of the final period provided the Purple Eagles with the decisive cushion.
Niagara travels to Quinnipiac next weekend for an out of conference series. Alabama continues down the road to Wayne State for a pair in Detroit.