LEWISTON — With just over two minutes left in regulation, there was a scramble in front of the Niagara net. Players were missing assignments. Jackson Teichroeb couldn’t find the puck.
Tommy Dywer picked up the loose puck and fired it in the net.
And just like that Holy Cross earned a sweep of Niagara at Dwyer Arena.
The Purple Eagles let a two-goal first period lead and strong effort fade in a haze of penalties and defensive zone breakdowns in a 3-2 loss to the Crusaders in front of 1,037 Saturday night.
Holy Cross entered the weekend second-to-last in the Atlantic Hockey standings. The Crusaders (5-9-2) took the first game of the series, 4-2, on Friday.
For the defending regular season champion and preseason favorite to repeat in the league, losing twice at home while fighting for playoff positioning is frustrating. With the loss, Niagara fell to 5-7-2 in conference play.
“This is one of the more frustrating times of the season for sure,” Teichroeb said. “I feel like that’s a team we should beat.”
Niagara dominated the first period, coming at Holy Cross with offensive zone presence while getting pucks on the net. The Purple Eagles outshot Holy Cross, 17-8, and more importantly got two of those past Crusaders’ goalie Matt Ginn.
Patrick Conte, a freshman from Niagara Falls, gave Niagara a 1-0 lead midway through the first. Later in the period, Brock Edwards put home a beautiful pass from Isaac Kohls across the slot for a 2-0 advantage.
The Purple Eagles started the second with 1:30 of power-play time, but failed to cash in. And then the penalty box door started to get its workout.
There were eight minor penalties called in the second period and a 10-minute misconduct on Niagara’s Vince Muto.
Holy Cross first got on the board with an even-strength goal from Matt Vidal. The Crusaders then tied the game with a power-play tally from Tim Driscoll at 14:39. They took advantage of an interference penalty on Hugo Turcotte called as he got tangled with Ginn and some Holy Cross players behind the net.
In the final tally, Turcotte and TJ Sarcona each took three penalties, putting pressure on the team’s penalty killing unit which, all things considered, did a good job of holding off the attack of Holy Cross.
Holy Cross went 1-for-8 while Niagara finished 0-for-6.
The Purple Eagles ran into a pair of problems – they couldn’t stop complaining about the officiating and they couldn’t get pucks past Ginn.
On Friday they fired 43 shots at Ginn. On Saturday they threw 40 pucks at him. But the goals weren’t forthcoming.
“He was seeing most pucks whenever they did get on net,” Kohls said. “We were losing battles to get to the second and third rebound.”
Then there were the penalties. While Holy Cross only scored on one power play, the repeated need to go back on the penalty kill eventually wore down the defense.
“We were getting caught up in what the refs were calling,” Kohls said. “We didn’t agree with some of them. Every night there are calls you don’t agree with. We have to stop letting that affect us. We got caught up ... with the refs and the other team too much.”
On the game-winner, the scramble in front of the net was followed up by a hard drive by Dwyer, something Niagara was trying to focus on all night.
“We said all night, when they come at us, they come to the front of the net hard,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “We were losing puck battles at the top of our crease and that’s where the winning goal came.
“It’s just been a tough, little stretch. Two nights in a row we put over 40 shots on a goalie and we don’t get anything to go in. ... Start to finish this weekend we were all over them 5-on-5. It’s not even close. But give them credit. They fought to the bitter end and swept us at home.”
Niagara has a home-and-home with RIT next weekend, hosting the Tigers on Friday and visiting Rochester on Saturday.
The Purple Eagles and RIT met back on Dec. 14 as they played to a 2-2 tie at Frontier Field.