LEWISTON, N.Y. — All season long, Niagara has shuffled three goaltenders as starters, a tumultuous situation indeed, especially for the goalies, but also the players and coaching staff.
It took awhile, but maybe — just maybe — the Purple Eagles have one starting goaltender. Conventional wisdom says that in most cases a club needs to have one.
Maybe Niagara will prosper regardless, whether it has one or not. Who knows? It is still only the middle of January.
However, Chris Noonan made 29 saves while Marc Zanette, Scott Arnold and Clark MacLean scored goals as Niagara completed a weekend of sweep of Army with a 3-0 triumph Saturday night on a frighteningly frigid Niagara Peninsula evening.
Noonan made his fifth straight start and looked exceedingly distinguished in doing so, making big saves at opportune junctures and getting whistles when the Purple Eagles were discombobulated and need a stoppage.
“You couldn’t ask for a better game,” said Noonan, who was notified shortly after Friday’s game that he would be the starter on Saturday. “I had to make a few saves early, but as the game went on, I think our team got better, and it really helped me out.”
So for the time being — and things could change during the course of the coming week — it looks like Noonan is the number one goaltender for the Purple Eagles.
“The first period, we were under attack, and they played hard and outhit us,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He (Noonan) made a lot of saves look real easy, and got us whistles when we were in trouble.”
After returning home following a two and a half month road trip, Niagara had an opportunity to better itself against one of the weaker clubs in Atlantic Hockey. The Purple Eagles did what they had to do in getting all four possible points, and raised their record to 6-4-5 in Atlantic Hockey and 7-8-7 overall.
Zanette scored the only goal Niagara needed in a short-handed situation late in the second period.
He stripped Army defenseman Marcel Alvarez of the puck in front of the Cadets’ net and calmly flipped it over goaltender Ron Tadazak’s glove for a 1-0 lead at 15:26.
“Coach (Tim) Madsen has been on us all year to not let them get set and break out,” Zanette said. “I kind of cheated a little bit; I just caught the guy on his backhand and lifted his stick, and it went straight up.”
The Cadets were outclassed on Friday, but showed grit and fierce industriousness on Saturday in an effort to redeem themselves.
For a while it looked like they might, but Zanette’s goal was a killer.
“That has been kind of the story of the year for us,” said Army coach Brian Riley, whose club fell to 1-11-4 in Atlantic Hockey play and 2-13-6 overall. “We are really struggling to score goals. We talked about trying to do some of the things you need to do to score goals, but it is just not happening.”
Not to be overlooked was Tadazak, a freshman who recorded 33 saves and could be a potential bright spot for the Cadets in going forward.
“He gave us a chance to win this game,” Riley said. “It was 0-0 and we make and awful mistake to give them the short-handed goal. It’s tough on our goalies, because they are basically going into every game knowing they can’t make a mistake.”
Niagara outshot Army, 36-29. Both teams were scoreless in four power play attempts.
The Purple Eagles host conference opponent American International College Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m.
Army hosts Air Force next weekend.