LEWISTON — Members of the Niagara University men’s hockey team insisted prior to Saturday’s season opener that they didn’t want to start the 2010-11 campaign like the last — when they let a school from a high-profile conference off the hook, finishing in a tie after holding a two-goal lead.
Unfortunately, with a new lineup, and now as members of a new conference, the Purple Eagles turned the same old trick, racing out to a 3-1 lead before settling for a 4-4 tie with Merrimack of Hockey East in the non-league opener for both at Dwyer Arena on Saturday.
Aside from a short stretch in the second period in which the visitors scored three times, the Purple Eagles did a solid job against a talented Merrimack roster that’s expected to have the best season in school history. A year ago, Niagara led Colgate 3-1 before falling into a 4-4 tie, and the Purple Eagles didn’t manage a win until their 11th start.
But Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said he was pleased with the team’s effort, especially considering the fact that Niagara had five freshmen and eight sophomores in the lineup. Ryan Rashid, one of those freshman, got the tying goal early in the third after the Purple Eagles had frittered away the lead.
“I really liked our game. Other than that three-minute span in the second period ... start to finish I thought we did our gameplan,” Burkholder said. “We wanted to win the dump game, forecheck on their D and I thought we did that. I thought we outworked them and outhit them for most of the game.”
Senior Ryan Annesley led the offense, scoring early in the first period to give the hosts a 1-0 lead, then adding an assist later on the goal that gave NU a 3-1 lead.