NIAGARA, N.Y. — A near sell out crowd at Dwyer Arena witnessed a cavalcade of highs and lows of an entire hockey season all packed into three distinctly different periods. By the time it was over, Niagara had secured a 6-2 victory over Air Force, repositioning the Purple Eagles toward second place in the CHA, while the Falcons were left to ponder the what-ifs of a game they initially taken control of.
The contest featured every imaginable combination of power play opportunities (five-on-three, five-on-four, four-on-four, three-on-three, and six-on-four), controversial even strength situations (a disallowed goal, a genuine melee toward the end), and a barrage of penalties — some bizarre in nature (a double minor on Air Force’s goaltender for improper equipment and hooking).
Ultimately, it was the Purple Eagle power play that carried the day, factoring in three consecutive second-period goals that led Niagara out of a precipitous start to the game that had the home team down by a 2-0 margin within a 23 second span of the opening period.
Air Force winger Brian Reese erupted for those first period tallies, both on the power play, and the Falcons matched the intensity of their Friday night triumph with a relentless fore check that pinned Niagara back on its heels.
In the second, Niagara turned the tables on Air Force. It started when freshman Kyle Rogers made a play along his wing and took the puck to the Falcon net with authority. Rogers’ wrist shot at the middle of the faceoff dot fooled Falcon goaltender Ian Harper, and Niagara’s confidence, along with its commitment to finishing checks, began to rebound.
“He (Rogers) had a very good weekend,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He actually used their defenseman as a screen. He led us in hits last night, and his goal tonight seemed to break us out.”
Niagara senior Marc Norrington was next in line to make a play that led the Purple Eagles back on the power play. The versatile forward from Michigan has been asked to play in almost every situation for Niagara this year, including a regular shift on defense. Even though Norrington’s driving breakaway on Harper was stymied, Ted Cook made sure that Niagara capitalized by tapping in the puck on an Air Force coverage breakdown on the ensuing power play.
“I fish hooked their defenseman and was able to get around him,” Norrington said. “The only way they could have stopped me was to take me down. I’m just glad Cookie (Cook) was able to get it on the power play.”
The score tied 2-2, Sean Bentivoglio scored the game winner for Niagara on a beautiful deke of Harper. Niagara fans have grown accustomed to Bentivoglio creating opportunities for his teammates, and it was heartening to see how he has elevated his puck skills while on the breakaway and has learned how to finish his opportunities.
Niagara then carried the 3-2 lead into the third and received goals on the power play (Matt Carruana), on an empty net (Marc Norrington), and finally shorthanded during the waning moments (Tim Madsen) to secure the 6-2 lead.