By Karl Henkel/Wayne State Men's Beat Writer
While the finale may not have been the fairy-tale ending for Wayne State's final regular-season home game, the Warriors could at least take solace in that they were able to knock off No. 20 Niagara on Friday night.
The opener, a tight, highly physical affair, which was tied at the end of regulation, ended with Derek Punches firing home the game winner 79 seconds into overtime for a 3-2 victory.
“It was a good confidence builder (for the tournament),” WSU head coach Bill Wilkinson said. “The last two times we lost to them 6-5 and 3-2, two one-goal games, and tonight another one goal game. It was good to have us come out on the right end of it.”
Back in the first period, Brock Meadows got the scoring started when he sped down the left wing and fired a shot past Purple Eagles netminder Adam Avramenko. Niagara knotted the game in the second, with Ted Cook one-timing a pass from Tyler Gotto past Warrior goalie Brett Bothwell on the power play.
Mike Forgie and Egor Mirinov then traded goals, sending the two squads into the final period tied up at two apiece.
After a scoreless final frame, the game proceeded into an extra session, where just over a minute in, Stavros Paskaris fired a shot that was blocked, but Punches alertly gathered the ricochet and buried the game-winner, sending Wayne State home winners – for one final time.
“Our record doesn’t say much, we have a great team here,” Tylor Michel said after the game. “They are a great team as well, we just worked hard and it was a good night for us.”
WSU defeated a nationally-ranked team for the first time this season, and ironically, the last time they beat a ranked opponent was last February, when Niagara was ranked 17th.
Saturday night’s emotional contest started off with Niagara jumping out to a 3-0 lead after just twenty minutes of action. Paul Zanette and David Ross sandwiched a power play goal by Cook for the trifecta of first period Purple Eagle goals.
The second period, however, was a completely different story, as Wayne State would fire 24 shots at goaltender Juliano Pagliero, one shy of the team-record 25 they fired in one session against Bowling Green back in 2004.
Three of those shots would find their way in, with the first coming on the power play, courtesy of Derek Bachynski. After Punches added another power play goal, Niagara’s Mirinov fired a long slapshot that trickled though Bothwell, putting the Purple Eagles up 4-2.
“The excitement was high on the bench; we thought we were going to come back,” Punches said of the team’s emotion after his goal brought them within one. “Then the long shot goes in and it kind of put us back down.”
Late in the period, with Wayne State on a 5-on-3 man advantage, Michel took the puck from the top of the left circle, dragged it across to the right circle, then drew it back to his left before launching a slapper through a crowd, pulling WSU to within one.
Just 1:18 later, though, Zanette deflected home a Derek Foam shot, once again putting Niagara up two goals.
“It seemed like we scored a goal and they came right back down and put another in the net,” Paskaris said after the game, “That’s going to kill you – when you score a goal and they come back the next shift and put one back in.”
Ross and Cook (empty-net) added third period markers, and the Purple Eagles took the last game for WSU at the Michigan State Fairgrounds Coliseum, 7-3.
The Warriors (10-24-2, 6-14-0 CHA) head off to Niagara next weekend for the CHA Tournament, and will take on fifth-seeded Alabama-Huntsville (6-20-4, 3-13-4 CHA) Friday night. WSU took three of four regular-season games from the Chargers. The winner of that game will take on CHA regular-season champion Bemidji State the following afternoon.
Photo of WSU's seniors (l-r Derek Bachynski, Mike Forgie, Stavros Paskaris and Tylor Michel) by Matt Mackinder