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Niagara’s Barret Ehgoetz scored with just three seconds left in regulation, and two disallowed overtime goals for the Purple Eagles added to the brew as Niagara and Alabama-Huntsville finished in a 3-3 tie Saturday night.
Back-and-forth play highlighted the contest, in which the goaltenders for both teams turned in superior performances.
“As expected, today’s game was an unbelievable battle right to the end,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We had some great chances in overtime; that sets up what should be a great afternoon of effort tomorrow.”
Seeing his first action in three weeks, Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten made several big saves early on Charger opportunities from the slot.
After Niagara failed to capitalize on two power-play chances, Alabama-Huntsville struck. Tyler Butler intercepted a pass in the neutral zone and fed Jason Hawes, who cut across the slot and wristed a shot top-corner short side for the 1-0 lead.
Trailing 1-0 to start the second, the Purple Eagles took advantage of their fourth power play of the game. Ryan Gale redirected a Joe Tallari shot for his first of the season.
The Chargers quickly regained the lead when Mike Funk stuck the puck into an open net at the 8:36 mark after VanNynatten was buried underneath a pile of bodies.
Niagara weathered Charger pressure to close the second, and utilized a timely line change to catch the Chargers unawares and knot the game up at two. Jason Williamson took a feed from Gale and then fed a beautiful backdoor pass to Tallari, who buried his nation-leading 16th of the season.
The third again featured back-and-forth action, with the teams combining for 35 shots on goal, highlight-reel scoring opportunities and game-saving defensive plays.
Tied at two for 18 minutes-plus, the Chargers benefited from a redirected shot off a faceoff. Steve Charlebois potted his fourth of the year into an open net for a 3-2 lead.
But reminiscent of its performance against Michigan State, Niagara again displayed the knack for late-game heroics.
With three seconds remaining, Ehgoetz stuffed home a rebound off a Tallari shot to send the game into overtime.
“We drew up a faceoff play with 10 seconds left, trying to get the puck to Tallari for a shot,” said Burkholder. “Barret made a great play on the rebound.”
The Purple Eagles carried play in the extra session, outshooting the Chargers 4-1, but were on the receiving end of two controversial calls by the officiating crew. Not one, but two Purple Eagles goals were disallowed in a 30-second span in overtime.
In a stellar display of goaltending on both sides, VanNynatten made a career high 41 saves while counterpart Mark Byrne had 38.
Niagara and UAH finish the weekend series Sunday at 2 p.m.