One of the youngest teams in college hockey relied on its two seniors to pick up its first two-game sweep of the season.
Senior Chris Sebastian had a goal and two assists and classmate Bernie Sigrist scored once and set up the game-winner as the Purple Eagles edged Air Force, 3-2, in front of 1,493 fans at the Cadet Ice Arena on Saturday.
The win was Niagara?s second in two nights against the Falcons and fourth against its CHA rival this season. The Purple Eagles improve to 7-13-2, 4-2-2 in conference play, while Air Force, winless in five straight, fall to 8-13-1 overall and 2-7-1 in the CHA.
“We knew it would be a 60-minute battle tonight,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “Our skill players made some big plays tonight.”
Niagara, which never trailed, opened the scoring 11 minutes into the contest. Junior Hannu Karru fired the Purple Eagles? first shot of the game from just inside the blue line that was stopped by Falcons? goaltender Mike Polidor. The rebound bounced out to Sigrist in the left face-off circle, who wristed one into an open net for a power play goal.
The Falcons responded two minutes later with a power play tally of their own. Senior Andy Berg one-timed a cross-ice pass from defenseman Brian Reaney through the legs of Niagara netminder Jeff VanNyanntten. The goal was Berg?s 12th on the power play this season, tops in the nation.
With just 30 seconds remaining in the first period, the Purple Eagles regained the lead. Sebastian picked off an errant Air Force pass in its own territory and rifled a slap shot that nicked off Polidor?s glove and into the top corner of the net.
The second period featured outstanding play from both goaltenders, who each recorded 13 saves in the frame. Polidor had the two biggest saves of the period, thwarting a Niagara breakaway early in the stanza and making an incredible save with the end of his stick on an attempt by Sebastian.
The Falcons, reacting to head coach Frank Serratore?s massive lineup changes before the game, tied the score 6:31 into the third period. Sophomore Ryan Wiggins skated across the blue line in a four-on-four situation and fired a shot from outside the face-off circle that beat a screened VanNyanntten glove side.
“Talk about responding to (Serratore?s) challenge,” said Burkholder, referring to the fact that Serratore changed all four offensive lines and all three defensive lines from the night before. “That?s Air Force hockey, and they played great.”
Niagara, however, took the lead for good midway through the final period. Just 20 seconds after Air Force?s Seth Pelletier was whistled for hooking, Sigrist, stationed behind the net, found an open Karru just outside the crease. He one-timed a shot past Polidor, who lost sight of the puck.
The Falcons could not muster an attack in the final minutes of play, as the Purple Eagles controlled the puck in its offensive zone.
VanNyanntten stopped 30 shots for his second win in as many nights, while Polidor finished with 29 saves in defeat.
“This is the first time in seven years we?ve swept a series here,” said Burkholder. “This was a very important weekend for us.”