LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said he’d been worried about keeping tabs on Colgate’s No. 9 all Friday night. With the game in an extra session, senior Austin Smith proved he warranted that attention, sneaking behind the Niagara defense and providing the evening’s decisive play.
Smith’s second tally of the night — the 50th of his illustrious career — lifted No. 16 Colgate to a thrilling 7-6 victory in front of a shocked crowd of 1,219 at Dwyer Arena.
The fifth-round pick of the Dallas Stars in 2007, Smith was on the right side of a wild break as Niagara’s Ryan Rashid, who had scored twice for the hosts, stumbled in his own zone during a breakout. Colgate (4-1-1) capitalized quickly, as the puck found its way into the corner, and after a quick pass, Smith stuffed it past backup goalie Chris Noonan.
It was the senior’s seventh goal in his last five games.
“On the bench, and with the headset, we wanted to know all night when nine’s line was up,” Burkholder said. “I just can’t believe there were two guys that wide open. And of all guys. He’s a prime-time player, and he’s off to a great start.”
For Rashid, the gaffe overshadowed a sterling performance. The sophomore had a pair of goals and an assist for Niagara (0-3-2), which rallied from two goals down in the final five minutes to force the extra session.
“That was the last thing I wanted to happen,” Rashid said. “I picked off the pass … I turned, had it on my stick and went to pass it to [Patrick] Divjak. It just hopped my stick, I lost an edge, they picked it up and scored. Tough break.”
Rashid started a late rally in the third when he buried an even-strength goal for Niagara on a feed from Divjak with 4:42 to play, pulling the Purple Eagles within one at 6-5. Freshman Isaac Kohls evened things just 16 seconds later with a brilliant shot from just inside the blue line ripped high over the glove of Colgate goalie Erik Mihalik.
“It was a wild game’ I give them a lot of credit, there were a couple times where I thought, ‘OK, we finally got that two-goal cushion,’ and they never folded, they just kept coming at us,” said Colgate coach Don Vaughan, after picking up his 298th victory. “We had a lot of trouble winning one-goal games last year, so we’ll take this one.”
The difference for Colgate was a rejuvenated power play. After scoring just four times in 29 tries through their first five games, the Raiders equaled that total by notching four markers with the extra man on seven attempts. Austin Mayer had half of those four, the first time in his 88-game collegiate career he’s posted two goals.
“More than anything, we were just trying to get pucks to the net,” Vaughan said. “I think the power play was probably the highlight of the game for us tonight.”
For Niagara, the line of Rashid, Divjak and Scott Arnold continued to shine, as the combination finished with a total of seven points. Also, freshman Sam Alfieri added a big showing, finishing with a goal and an assist for the Purple Eagles, who have now played in four straight overtime games.
Chris Wagner had three assists for Colgate, including one on the game-winner, while Thomas Larkin, Robbie Bourdon and Christian Long also added goals.
The two teams finish off a home-and-home series on Saturday at Starr Rink, marking the fourth game in six starts for Niagara against a ranked team.
Colgate hopes to keep its motor running high before opening ECAC play next weekend on the road at Brown and No. 10 Yale.
“That’s a win that maybe we didn’t get in the past,” Mayer said of the victory over Niagara, “and we’ve got to if we want to be a top team.”