LEWISTON, N.Y. — Despite an equalizer in the final 80 seconds of regulation, 12th-ranked Union saw its eight-game road winning streak snapped at Niagara’s Dwyer Arena on Friday night.
Ask new coach Rick Bennett, and things could have been worse for the Dutchmen.
“They deserved to beat us. I think we got lucky. We got very lucky,” Bennett said after his team salvaged a point, and remained unbeaten on the season (1-0-3) by virtue of a 3-3 draw before a crowd of 1,176 at Niagara.
Greg Coburn snapped a shot from the point that eluded Niagara netminder Cody Campbell with just 1:16 remaining after Bennett had pulled goalie Colin Stevens, who was making his first collegiate start.
Stevens fared well in his debut, turning aside 27 of Niagara’s 30 shots.
“I thought we left him out to dry a lot,” Bennett said. “For your first game, in an environment like that, it’s tough, but he deserves to be in. I’m proud of him, he did a good job.”
Coburn’s marker came off a faceoff, with Mat Bodie and Josh Jooris credited with assists.
Niagara coach Dave Burkholder incessantly warned his team prior to the contest that one of Union’s strength came on draws.
“The scouting report coming in is that they’re a very good faceoff team and they’re going to try to run a play on every dot,” Burkholder said. “Unfortunately, with a minute left, they get a faceoff goal.”
Although he only earned a tie, Campbell shined in net for Niagara (0-2-2), stopping 45 shots, including eight in the extra session.
Carsen Chubak had started the season in net for the Purple Eagles, but was pulled in a lopsided loss at Michigan. Campbell, who had originally committed to the University of New Hampshire, seems to have now wrestled the starting job from Chubak and junior Chris Noonan.
“Three very solid games,” Burkholder said of Campbell’s recent run. “Every game he’s played, we’ve had a chance to win and that’s what you want out of your goalie. For a young guy to play in these pressure situations bodes well for his future. I thought his rebound control was really good. He got some whistles when we were under some pressure. Overall, I was really happy with Cody.”
The visitors started the scoring when Kelly Zajac notched his first of the year, and 30th of his career, from Wayne Simpson just over 12 minutes into the opening period while working with an extra attacker.
Scott Arnold responded for Niagara with a power-play goal of his own, his first of two on the night after being blanked through the opening three games of the season. The line of Arnold, Patrick Divjak and Ryan Rashid was clearly Niagara’s best and presented some issues for Union.
“I thought their line had a lot of chances,” Burkholder said. “(Arnold) is coming off a 16-goal season as a freshman. That’s what he does. With his speed, he was a problem for their D.”
Arnold’s second goal gave the hosts a 3-2 edge with just over eight minutes to play, at which time Bennett called a timeout. The rookie head coach’s speech worked as Coburn’s tally followed.
“You just keep putting pucks to the net and hopefully something goes in. The onus is on us to work hard,” Coburn said, echoing his coach’s sentiments. “It was good to get some pressure on them, but we need to do it for a full 60 minutes.”
It appeared Union might have the winner in overtime as a shot by defenseman Shawn Stuart beat Campbell cleanly and clanked off iron. The Union coaching staff asked officials to review the play, but since there was no TV broadcast, the play stood as called.
“We were asking for it, but they don’t have it, so there’s not much you can do about it,” Bennett said. “It is what it is. We don’t have X-ray vision on this team.”
The tie pushes Union’s record to 40-5-7 against Atlantic Hockey teams all-time, and leaves Niagara without a win in four quality starts against opponents Michigan, RIT, Air Force and now Union.
“It’s four games and we don’t have a W, but there’s a lot to like with our team at this juncture,” Burkholder said.