LEWISTON — A late third-period goal by Lancaster native Ryan Cook wasn’t enough to stave-off Sacred Heart Saturday afternoon, as Niagara lost, 3-1, losing the two-game series against the Pioneers.
Niagara moves to 0-4-0, 0-2-0 in Atlantic Hockey, on the year. The team heads to Colorado next weekend to take on Denver University in a two-game set.
Head coach Jason Lammers said that Sacred Heart (2-3-1, 2-1-0 AHA) lived up to their reputation over the course of the game.
“I thought that Sacred Heart were all they're cracked up to be,” he said. “They're big, they're heavy, they're strong. They're committed. I thought they were good again tonight.”
Despite giving up a shorthanded breakaway goal less than two minutes into the game to give Sacred Heart a 1-0 lead, Niagara played a strong period, generating chances and taking the play to the Pioneers. The Purple Eagles had 13 shots on goal in the period, compared to 11 shots on goal for Sacred Heart. Sacred Heart’s Jason Cotton recording the shorthanded goal 1:32 into the period. Niagara finished with a 34-26 edge in shots on goal.
The teams exchanged power-play opportunities throughout the second period, with Sacred Heart’s Matt Tugnutt taking a five-minute major with just over two minutes left in the period. However, Sacred Heart’s Cotton scored his second shorthanded goal of the game, wristing a puck by Niagara’s Brian Wilson and giving the Pioneers a 2-0 lead with 20 seconds left in the period. Niagara finished the game going 0-for-9 on the power-play.
“When you give up two shorties and don’t score on the power-play, that’s not good on the numbers side,” Lammers said. “I liked when we tweaked it a little bit. It felt like the energy changed on it so I liked the energy change, but I didn't like the results.”
Sacred Heart’s Austin McIlmurray added a power-play goal in the third period to make it a 3-0 game. Cook’s goal came with about six minutes left in the game. Driving to the net from the blueline, he fired a backhand shot on Sacred Heart goaltender Josh Benson. Cook followed up on the rebound, and tucked it by Benson. Niagara was unable to put anything else past Benson, who allowed only one goal over the series.
Ludwig Stenlund, Niagara’s top-scorer last season, had several chances, and hit a goalpost. He hasn’t been on the scoresheet yet this season. Second-leading scorer Noah Delmas has one assist on the year, and Eric Cooley, who finished third in scoring, hasn’t recorded a point.
Lammers said the players may be putting too much pressure on themselves to get things done, instead of just playing the games.
“As a staff, this is one of the things we talked about,” he said. “This is one of our challenges we have. You know, what's going to be our hardest thing this year? It's Niagara versus Niagara. Where do we thing we are? How good do we thing we are? How much pressure are we putting on ourselves?”
This weekend should alleviate some of that, Lammers said.
“It’s a big year for some of the guys and they want to show everybody how good they are,” he said. “I think they put a lot of pressure on themselves. So hopefully this weekend, we can kind of relieve some pressure and get back to just being who we are.”
Heading out of town should be good for the team, Lammers said. The team played well in Minnesota to open the season.
“We’re just going to tell them that we believe, and we just need to keep doing what we’re doing, which is continuing to get better each and every day,” he said.
Lammers said he expects things to even out for the team, despite the losses.
“Listen, we all want the season to go like this right?,” he said. “We go undefeated, we get a trophy and everybody's happy and there's a big parade. But realistically, that's not the way it goes, outside of maybe the New England Patriots. So this is just natural, and there's ebbs and flows and this is a tough month. We have a heavy, hard schedule and I think we’re going to be just fine.”