LEWISTON, N.Y. – The timeless old adage says, “That’s why they play the games.”
Conventional wisdom said that Niagara should defeat Holy Cross twice this weekend. Although the Purple Eagles are not nearly as good as they were predicted to be — and are unequivocally flawed at least statistically — they entered a lot higher up in the Atlantic Hockey standings than the Crusaders.
Then came this weekend, where the Crusaders ascended further with a 3-2 victory on Saturday in Dwyer Arena for a weekend sweep. The Purple Eagles? They are still stuck in the mud.
In the end, the sweet victories made the seven-hour bus ride back to Worcester a little more palatable for the Crusaders.
“It is a huge boost for us, because we have been struggling for a while now,” said Holy Cross’ Tommy Dwyer, who scored the game-winner. “We just needed to get one Atlantic Hockey win to get us back going in the right direction. So, it was huge.”
What was especially painful for the beleaguered Purple Eagles is how they lost this latest one. In falling to 5-14-3 overall and 5-7-3 in Atlantic Hockey, Niagara appeared to be in good shape when it led 2-0 after two periods.
However, things descended from there which resulted — if you look at the big picture — in another lost weekend for them.
“From start to finish this weekend we were all over them, it wasn’t even close,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “But give them credit, they fought to the bitter end and swept us at home. It has been a tough little stretch here. Two nights in a row we put over 40 shots on their net, and have nothing to show for it.
“You can’t blow a two-goal lead at home.”
After Niagara took a two-goal lead on goals from freshmen Patrick Conte and Brock Edwards in the first period, the Crusaders fought back when Matt Vidal and Tim Driscoll scored just under three minutes apart to tie the game at two midway through the second. Driscoll’s shot was a particularly impressive laser from the low slot which whizzed by Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb.
That set the stage for Dwyer, who turned out to be the hero for a Crusaders squad that improved to 6-15-2 overall and 5-9-2 in conference play.
Dwyer scored the winner when he jammed in a rebound during a tumultuous scramble in front of the Niagara net with just 2:18 remaining.
On the official score sheet, the goal went into the books as an unassisted goal. Chuckling, Dwyer elucidated.
“Jake (Youso) and Sean Gustin should get assists,” said Dwyer. “There was mad scramble right at the net. I think everyone got their hands on it, and somehow it went in. I didn’t even see it, to be honest.”
Holy Cross goaltender Matt Ginn, who was bombarded all weekend in recording 79 stops, made 38 saves on Saturday and was under constant pressure. He was one of a few Crusaders who helped Burkholder reflect positively on the victors and what they achieved this weekend.
“Their goaltender is an all-league goalie; he’s really good,” Burkholder said. “And, Shayne Stockton and (Adam) Schmidt could be 100-point seniors when they leave Holy Cross. They are pretty solid and play hard. It was a good series, but we have nothing to show for it.”
NOTES: Niagara senior defenseman Kevin Ryan was listed as a coaches’ decision on the lineup sheet, but after the game Burkholder said he is day-to-day with an undisclosed injury; it’s the first time he has not suited up this season. Niagara’s Isaac Kohls had an assist, giving him eight points in his last five games. Niagara fell to 4-5-0 at home this season after going 27 straight games without a loss at home before the season started.