The Niagara Purple Eagles battled back from two goals down and earned a hard-fought 3-3 tie with Atlantic Hockey Association-leading Mercyhurst on Friday night in conference action at the Mercyhurst Ice Center.
The Lakers (17-12-6, 15-4-5 AHA) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after 20 minutes of play, but the Purple Eagles (10-16-5, 10-9-5 AHA) were able to fight back into the contest first from a pair of goals down, and then from a goal down in the third period to send the contest into extra time.
The Lakers had a power play opportunity in the opening minutes of overtime, getting five looks on net, but the NU penalty killing unit kept its opponent at bay while a man-up for the third consecutive game.
“We weren’t happy with our first period. We told the guys after during intermission that it wasn’t a good effort from us despite getting 11 shots on goal,” said NU coach Dave Burkholder. “After challenging the team after the period they came out ready to go in the second. If we play like we did in the last 40 minutes can win every game in Atlantic Hockey. The work ethic was there. The hitting was there. Second opportunities were taken advantage of. It was a very good hockey game from both ends. I’m very pleased with the effort.”
Starting Niagara goaltender Jackson Teichroeb pushed his record to 4-10-3 on the season with 33 stops on the evening. For the second consecutive game NU was able to muster a 40-shot effort, firing a season-high 47 shots on Mercyhurst goaltender Jimmy Sarjeant.
Niagara went 0 for 1 on the power play, and stopped all three Mercyhurst man-up opportunities.
“I told Teichroeb at the start of the game that it was his net,” Burkholder added. “I think this team could jump on his back for the rest of the season. I thought he made a few huge saves, especially during Mercyhurst’s power play in overtime. That’s exactly what we need back there.”
Niagara found itself in an early hole just 3:58 into the contest as Daniel Bahntge picked up his 15th goal of the season. Senior center Daniel O’Donoghue spotted Bahntge streaking toward the net, and connected with the junior, who beat Teichroeb over the shoulder.
Despite the Purple and White picking up play as the period wore on, outshooting the Lakers 11-10, NU saw its deficit extend to a pair of goals in the waning minutes of the stanza. Stephen Hrehoriak picked up a missed opportunity by Randy Cure behind the net and found Chris Bodo at the top of the slot whose shot snuck through the traffic and found the back of the net.
It only took 1:03 into the second period for Niagara to slice Mercyhurst’s lead in half as freshman Vincent Muto grabbed his fourth goal of the year to make it 2-1. The play started with Hugo Turcotte’s strong play behind the cage as he was able to fight off a Laker defenseman and push the puck to Muto at the top of the right faceoff circle, where he held the puck before firing a wrist shot top shelf past Sarjeant.
The Purple Eagles continued to press and saw their efforts pay off again less than four minutes later as an initial shot by Stephen Pietrobon was blocked by Philippe Drouin in front of the net, but the freshman made sure he cashed on his second attempt to even the game at two apiece.
Turcotte came close to giving NU its first lead of the contest just minutes later as the sophomore raced in on Sarjeant on a breakaway, but his forehand attempt was stymied by the outstretched pads of the goalie. On the other end, Teichroeb was just as solid, coming up big in the later stages of the frame to keep the score even heading into the final period. Nardo Nagtzaam corralled a cross-ice pass from Kyle Dutra just outside the crease, but he saw what appeared to be the go-ahead goal robbed by Teichroeb with a sliding stop.
The third period saw the squads trade goals in the opening four minutes. The Lakers regained their lead just 54 seconds into the period off the stick of Hrehoriak, but Niagara’s TJ Sarcona knotted the game at the 3:22 mark off his 11th of the year. Isaac Kohls began to play, racing into the Mercyhurst zone and keeping control of the puck despite pressure from the Lakers’ defense. The junior skated behind the cage and spotted an open Sarcona whose short-range blast beat Sarjeant up high.
Hrehoriak had a golden opportunity to give the Lakers the lead with less than 10 minutes left in regular, but his breakaway opportunity was thwarted by Teichroeb.
Mercyhurst and Niagara complete the season series tomorrow evening at Dwyer Arena. Puck drop is scheduled for 7:05 p.m.