LEWISTON - Despite giving up a two-goal lead in the third period, Niagara held on to beat Air Force, 4-3, in exciting fashion on Eric Cooley’s overtime goal.
The Purple Eagles (4-8-1, 4-4-1 Atlantic Hockey) have now won four games in a row. They play the Falcons (4-8-1, 4-4-1 AHA) tonight at 7 p.m. at Dwyer Arena.
After the game, head coach Jason Lammers said he wasn’t sure if the team knew it had won four games in a row.
“The guys are just 200 feet, one foot in front of the other,” he said. “They've been really committed to each other, really connected. Our practices have been been excellent. I thought this was perhaps the fastest game we played this year. And that's what we want to do - put that kind of pace on people.”
While Air Force tied the game with just over a minute left in the third period, the team never got down on the bench, said defenseman Jared Brandt.
“It just shows what kind of team we are,” he said. “We all trust each other. We all come every day during the week and compete, and we just know we have it in the room. It just shows our resilience as a team.”
On the overtime winner, Cooley took a pass from defenseman Noah Delmas and threw it to the net. He didn’t see it go in, but saw his teammates celebrating.
“I knew time was ticking,” he said. “I was honestly just trying to get the puck to the net and I knew ‘Trust’ (Alex Truscott) was in front creating chaos and it just slipped through.”
Niagara led 1-0 after the first period on a power-play goal by forward Ludwig Stenlund. Delmas fed a laser-pass from the point to Stenlund, who was positioned at the side of the Air Force net. Stenlund blew a rocket past Falcons goaltender Alex Schilling for his fourth goal of the season.
Defenseman Chris Harpur made it a 2-0 game just 35 seconds into the second period, with Niagara’s second power-play goal of the game. Sneaking down from the point, Harpur banged in a pass from Luke Edgerton for his second goal of the season.
Air Force made it a 2-1 game after Max Harper put a rebound past Niagara goaltender Brian Wilson. Less than a minute later, forward Brandon Stanley gave Niagara a 3-1 lead with a wrist shot from in between the hash marks, beating Schilling up high for his third of the season.
Air Force came back in the third, with Marshall Bowery scoring to make it 3-2, and Trevor Stone tying the game.
Wilson made 29 saves on 32 Air Force shots, and was again solid in goal for the Purple Eagles.
“I thought we gave up some chances that were ‘hold your breath’ type chances and he bailed us out on a lot of those,” Lammers said. “It’s a credit to him. He's been working so hard on his craft and what he does with the puck after it hits him. I didn't think he gave up a lot of second chances to them. He did a real good job with his velcro and the puck stuck to him.”
Heading into the rematch tonight, Lammers said he liked the way his team stuck to the game plan. He’ll make some adjustments, but is looking for more of the same.
“Our job is to out-science them and make sure we take care of our bodies and eat right and do the little things that are going to help us,” Lammers said.