LEWISTON, N.Y. – Too early in the season to judge teams … way too early.
In a sold-out Dwyer Arena Saturday evening, the quandary was after the game – is Niagara really good or is Army really that bad?
The Purple Eagles had not exactly been great this season.
Niagara – at least for now – was better after blasting the Black Knights 8-3.
Four of Niagara’s goals (consecutively) came from defenseman, including two from Niagara Falls native Vince Muto. Kevin Ryan and Kevin Albers were the other Niagara defenseman who scored.
Niagara sophomore center Hugo Turcotte registered a hat trick.
“It is a big part of the game,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder in reference to his defensemen scoring. “We need to get pucks through from the point. I thought our forwards did a great job of stacking the crease and making it tough on their goalie.
“Four in a row from the ‘D.’ I can’t ever remember it happening.”
The Purple Eagles (3-1-1 Atlantic Hockey, 3-6-1 overall) came limping into the weekend games after losing their last four straight by a combined score of 22-7. As bad as the Purple Eagles were before this weekend, the Black Knights were – and still are – even worse. They are now 1-5-0 in conference play and 1-8-0 overall.
Niagara outscored the Black Knights 13-3 in the two games.
Trailing 1-0 early in the second period, the Purple Eagles decided the issue in a brief yet deadly flurry.
Muto started the rally by beating Army goaltender Rob Tadazak with a shot from the point at 1:50. It was Muto’s first career goal.
Just over two minutes later, Albers’ shot from just outside the right faceoff circle gave the Purple Eagles a 2-1 lead.
Then, only 56 seconds later, Muto’s snapshot from the high slot beat Tadazak to put Niagara in command at 3-1.
“Finally, our ‘D’ put up some points,” Muto said. “Our forwards were feeding our ‘D’ all night and the points were open and we had good puck movement all around.”
Later in the period, Ryan and Turcotte scored goals just under three minutes apart to give the Purple Eagles a 5-1 lead. It looked like the game was over at that juncture, but Army’s Andrew O’Leary and Clint Carlisle scored just 33 seconds apart to make it 5-3.
Later, Turcotte scored his third goal with 1:23 left in the game.
“I’m not going to lie, it feels good,” Turcotte said. “Since the beginning of the year, I have been struggling a little bit. I have a lot of chances every game, but they didn’t go my way. Tonight was a good night.”
Ryan Rashid also scored for Niagara, while Patrick Divjak and Isaac Kohls each had three assists.
Luke Jenkins scored the other Army goal and Tadazak made 28 saves.
Freshman goaltender Adrian Ignagni made 16 saves for Niagara, which now plays it next eight straight games on the road. The Purple Eagles don’t return home again until Jan. 10, 2014.