NIAGARA, N.Y. — Maybe this was a breakout game that Nick Pitsikoulis desperately needed and finally got.
The St. Lawrence junior scored twice and added an assist as the Saints easily defeated Niagara, 7-2, on Friday before 1,020 patrons in Dwyer Arena on an arctic-like evening on the Niagara Peninsula.
St. Lawrence improved to 10-7-2 overall. The Saints, who got a goal and assist from defenseman George Hughes, are 6-4-2 in non-league action and have won both games against Niagara this season.
“I am never surprised what I see anymore in this game,” said St. Lawrence coach Joe Marsh, whose team outshot the hosts 38-21 and dominated the game throughout. “We made some nice plays early and that got our confidence going.”
The Purple Eagles are still sinking – now 4-12-2 overall.
Pitsikoulis has struggled this season offensively with just one goal and four points in 13 games before Friday’s outburst. In this game, he was a lethally dangerous force, and he hopes it catapults him to an industrious second half of the season.
“It feels great actually,” he said of his performance. “It feels weird because in prep school, it is pretty easy to put up points and it is frustrating (when you don’t score). All you can do is work through it.”
Pitsikoulis gave the Saints a 1-0 lead just 58 seconds into the game when he and Rick Carden streaked in on their second two-on-one in a 30-second span. Pitsikoulis’ shot from the right side in close was stopped by Niagara goaltender Chris Noonan, but he swooped around the net and banged the rebound in.
After Niagara’s Tyler Gotto tied the game at one, Pitsikoulis gave the Saints a 2-1 lead when he jammed a rebound in from just outside the crease off of Kyle Flanagan’s slap shot from point.
St. Lawrence led 3-2 when Pitsikoulis set up Mark Armstrong’s goal for a two-goal lead and the strike which virtually decided the game four minutes into the second period.
“He has been playing pretty well; he struggled in the first half,” Marsh said of Pitsikoulis. “You see that happen at this level. He is a kid who had a lot of success in prep school. He is a skilled kid, and it took him awhile to adjust to the intensity and maybe the battle aspect of the (college) game. We had some heart-to hearts with him this fall and I think he has come around.”
For Niagara, a possible big story wasn’t another non-league loss, but a situation where Niagara coach Dave Burkholder thought he had a problem solved — just to see it apparently reappear again — in the absence of a number-one goaltender.
Noonan, who started and surrendered only six goals in Niagara’s last four games and seemed to be Niagara’s number one netminder, was very shaky on Friday. He gave up five goals on 21 shots and was pulled when George Hughes’ goal beat him to gave St. Lawrence a 5-2 lead.
“No, not at all,” Burkholder said about being disappointed about Noonan’s poor performance, and whether the goaltending situation was still unsolved. “He has come a long ways. He is a competitor. I think he is on the right track.”
The two teams meet again Saturday at 7 p.m.