NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y — Click, Click, Boom.
Saliva’s rock anthem heard during warm-ups in college hockey arenas throughout the nation summarized Niagara’s runaway 5-2 victory over visiting Quinnipiac.
What was a close game mid-way through the third period ruptured into a decisive Purple Eagle victory after Niagara scored three goals and extended their undefeated record at home to nine games.
Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder’s mad chemistry experiment yielded a thoroughly entertaining effort by the Purple Eagles. First, Burkholder switched centermen on his top line, replacing Les Reaney with Matt Carruana, and that new combination didn’t miss a beat by factoring in Niagara’s first three goals.
The kicker came late when Reaney, playing tentatively on the second line, finally clicked with linemate Kyle Rogers for back-to-back tallies that put the game out of reach for the visiting Bobcats.
“I said to Jerry Forton (Niagara assistant coach ) that I thought this would be a bounce back game, ” Burkholder said in reference to Niagara dropping a two game series to Denver the previous weekend. ” I just liked the demeanor of the team, the way we preparedeven in practice I thought it all started on Tuesday for us.”
Tuesday is conditioning day at Dwyer Arena and the Purple Eagles remarkable record of outscoring their opponent in the third period by a 38 – 21 margin seems to have the players buying into to those brutal anaerobic skating sessions.
“I definitely think we are a better conditioned team this year,” Ted Cook said. “Those Tuesday practices are great. Gardsy (assistant coach Greg Gardner) has us going and now we have the mentality to put people away in the third period.”
Niagara’s first goal was purchased at the expense of some gritty puck work along the boards by Purple Eagle captain Sean Bentivoglio. The senior forward battled two Bobcat defenders for a quarter rotation of the offensive zone before finding his favorite safety valve, Ted Cook, who beat goalie Bud Fisher on the short side.
A failed clear by Niagara defender Dan Sullivan led to Quinnipiac’s first goal when David Marshall ripped a wrist shot past Juliano Pagliero’s glove side after a heads up assist by Bryan Leitch.
Niagara’s second tally was a case in point on why Ted Cook continues to lead the nation in goal scoring. Most forwards would have resisted an attempt on net from such an improbable angle, but Cook took his chance near the far goal line on Fisher and beat the Bobcat goalie five hole for his twenty third goal of the season.
The seesaw battle continued after Quinnipiac tied things up, 2-2, a minute into the second period. Pagliero made an initial stop on Jean-Marc Beaudoin’s shot but could not hold on for the rebound as the Bobcats celebrated the tying goal.
“Niagara was little bit more hungry than us tonight, and a little bit more competitive,” Quinnipiac coach Rand Pecknold said. “We struggled in the first and third with our energy level. We were flat, and then in the third we made simple, stupid mistakes on the third and fourth goals that cost us the game.”
A series of Bobcat power plays led to a decidedly quicker tempo for the rest of the second period in which Quinnipiac piled thirteen shots on Pagliero. The Bobcats stuck to their dump-and-chase methodology but Niagara’s defenders did a good job of jumping on the puck and clearing it away.
Niagara countered by cycling the puck in the Bobcat zone for consecutive shifts. Quinn’s defense kept the Purple Eagles turned to the boards and out of harm’s way as the period came to an end.
Early in the third, Leitch missed a point blank opportunity to give Quinnipiac the lead when he was robbed by a glove save from Pagliero. Niagara defender Travis Anderson, never one to shy away from contact, played the game with an even more decided edge and he led Niagara’s defense in hits and clears.
The game winner came when Bobcat defender Dan Henningson misplayed the puck at his blueline and Matt Carruana pounced on the opportunity.
“I heard Benty calling for it,” Carruana said. ” I just waited for the right moment and put it on his stick.”
Bentivoglio, when asked if he was nervous about finishing Carruana’s pretty set up, nodded in acknowledgement, leaving Ted Cook with the final thought on his game winner.
“His eyes were HUGE,” Cook said.