NIAGARA, N.Y. — Senior night arrived a game early for Niagara, as a quintet of seniors willed the Purple Eagles to victory over Bemidji State by a 6-5 margin in overtime.
Led by Randy Harris’ spectacular hat trick performance, Niagara received key minutes and points from Jason Williamson, Justin Cross and Andrew Lackner, while goaltender Jeff VanNynatten wrote himself into the Niagara record books again, this time for passing Greg Gardner’s single season save record recording the most career victories (50) in CHA play.
This quintet of determined Purple Eagles refused to allow their teammates to get discouraged after Bemidji carried the lead for almost the entire game while Niagara played catch-up. As time ticked away in the third, Lackner drew two Beavers to the ice with a fake shot then rifled a pass to Harris who redirected the puck past Bemidji goalie Layne Sedevie to knot the score at 5-5.
Sean Bentivoglio notched the game winner in overtime on an assist from Les Reaney.
“It’s the biggest win of the season so far,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Early in the game we got into some penalty trouble but we kept battling backIt’s probably the best individual effort in ten years by a Purple Eagle in what Randy Harris did tonight.”
Each of Harris’ goals proved to be decisive in allowing Niagara back into the contest. After Bemidji erupted for three goals in less than a minute span of the first period two by way of consecutive five-on-three power plays Harris went end-to-end and beat the Beaver goaltender with a wrap around shot.
Harris’ second goal came on a hard won puck from linemate Jason Williamson behind the Bemidji net. Harris appeared to pass the puck to himself as he skated from behind the net into the slot, turned 360 degrees, then roofed the puck past the startled Beaver goaltender.
When asked the key to his performance tonight, Harris deadpanned: “Age. Age and desperation. We needed this game more than anyone else, more than they needed to win it. Going into the game we were two points behind them (Bemidji) and we don’t want to go into the CHA tournament having to play three games. We want that top seed.”
In the visitor’s locker room coach Tom Serratore bemoaned his team’s failure to preserve a third period lead. “We’ve got to hold the lead better. We have to play lock down hockey and deliver,” Serratore said. “We’ve had a bad disease with surrendering the lead in the whole second half of the season.”
The Bemidji defeat overshadowed a stellar night by Beaver junior Luke Erickson. Erickson’s five point performance allowed him to capture a bit of Beaver glory as he surpassed the 100 point career mark for only the third time in the program’s Division I history.
With such prolific play by Harris and Erickson, it might have been easy to overlook the play of Van Nynatten in the Niagara net. Burkholder didn’t forget to talk up his goaltender after it was over.
“He (Van Nynatten) is in excellent physical condition,” Burkholder said. “You need your most competitive guy to be the backbone of your team, and that’s your goalie. That’s what Jeff is for us.”
Niagara pulled even with Bemidji in a tie for second place in CHA standings. The two teams will meet again Saturday night to conclude the season series.