LEWISTON — Niagara hockey put the brakes on a five-game winless streak Sunday evening, ringing in the new year with a dominating 7-2 win over visiting Air Force.
The Purple Eagles (2-5-2, 1-4-2 Atlantic Hockey) were strong in nearly every facet of the game, scoring on the power play as well as shorthanded. The game was Air Force’s (0-5-0 AH) first since an exhibition against the U.S. National Team Development Program on Dec. 13.
“I’m really thankful for the group, and what we worked on here, and sticking to the plan that we put in place for them and the process they’ve worked on,” NU head coach Jason Lammers said after the game. “Then you get the product of that game.”
Ryan Cox scored twice, with Josef Mysak, Ryan Naumovski, Croix Evingson, Eric Cooley and Brandon Stanley making up the rest of the Purple Eagles’ goals. Leading scorer Ludwig Stenlund is out with an upper-body injury suffered against Robert Morris on New Years Eve, and captain Chris Harpur was kicked out of the game in the first period for contact to the head.
With a 3-1 lead when Harpur was assessed the five-minute major and the game misconduct, the team could have buckled. Instead, Cox scored a shorthanded goal on the ensuing penalty kill, and Niagara continued to put pressure on the Falcons.
“I don’t think we stopped all night,” Lammers said. “That was a big turning point. We have some tough luck, let’s call it, and that could have been another tough spot for us. We found a way, and scored a shorty, and that’s one of our goals, to lead the country in shorthanded goals.”
After a rough outing against RMU on New Years Eve in which he gave up four goals on 17 shots, goaltender Michael Corson made 32 saves on 34 shots, including several big, timely saves to keep Air Force from closing the gap. Lammers said he spoke with Corson after the RMU game.
“I thought it was a great bounce-back effort for him,” Lammers said. “He and I had a nice chat about the Robert Morris game and obviously he wasn't real pleased with his outing that night. But he just talked about how the pressure was off, and you could see it tonight. He looked a lot more calm, a lot more relaxed. I thought he did a nice job handling the first shot.”
Niagara went 2 for 6 on the power play, with both goals coming on tic-tac-toe passing. Lammers said associate coach Mark Phalon made some changes to how the power-play units operate.
“It would be real easy to get frustrated right now,” he said. “We maybe haven’t gotten the bounces we would have wanted on the ‘pp.’ They’ve (Phalon and the players) stuck with the plan, and I thought they did a nice job on some adjustments tonight and how we entered the zone. We were much faster and much cleaner, and that really helped us tonight.”
Despite missing Stenlund and Harpur for most of the game, Lammers said he liked how his team responded, and was especially impressed with the leadership Jack Billings showed after Harpur was sent off the ice.
“I love our group,” he said. “I think they did a great job with it. We just get a ton of adversity all of the time. I think we’re used to adversity, and I thought the guys just did an unbelievable job.”
Niagara takes on Air Force again at 5 p.m. today at Dwyer Arena.