Playing its first home game in more than a month, Niagara team rode the support of the boisterous 1,159 in attendance at Dwyer Arena to a 3-2 victory over CHA rival Bemidji State, breaking a five-game winless streak dating back to Nov. 8.
The Purple Eagles used a balanced scoring attack that saw three different lines score goals in winning for the first time all season when they have been outshot or trailed after the first period.
Despite having play in their defensive zone for much of the early first, it would be the Beavers who would strike first. Jeff McGill took advantage of a redirected puck and fired a quick slap shot from the right faceoff circle that surprised Niagara goalie Jeff VanNynatten high to the glove side.
The Purple Eagles reeled off three straight goals in a 2:30 span midway through the second to capture momentum. Hannu Karru and Justin Cross scored even strength goals on bang-bang plays just 10 seconds apart. Barret Ehgoetz followed two minutes later with a power-play goal, extending his point-scoring streak to seven games. Joe Tallari added an assist on the play, making this the 12th straight game in which he has scored.
Bemidji drew within one at the 16:44 mark of the second on Brendan Cook’s second goal of the season after some lengthy pressure in the Niagara zone.
Ahead 3-2 entering the third, Niagara used a timely defensive play by Casey Handrahan in breaking up a 3-on-1 to help preserve the lead. Bemidji State had opportunities over the final 20, but was unable to capitalize. VanNynatten made 26 saves to earn his first victory since opening weekend.
“We got a much needed win in a game that saw momentum change hands numerous times,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “Our goaltending and defense played very well as a group in shutting down the Bemidji attack.”
Niagara moves to 5-11-1 (2-2-1 CHA) on the season and moves just two points behind second-place Bemidji in the CHA standings. The Purple Eagles return to action tomorrow night when they host the Beavers in the second of two (7 p.m.).