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Defending champs top Niagara

Moral victories aren't the way to start the season.

But there were bright spots for the Niagara women's hockey team in its 6-2 season-opening loss to Minnesota Duluth.

The Purple Eagles, who had six freshmen and four sophomores in the lineup, had taken a 2-0 lead on the defending national champions in front of 401 at Dwyer Arena on Friday night.

But the Bulldogs physically dominated the third period, scoring four goals to earn the victory and extend their winning streak to 11 games.

"I think the defending national champions came to life in the third period," Duluth coach Shannon Miller said. "They learned the lesson that nothing comes easy. I loved that we were down 2-0. We deserved to be down early in the game. We were not competing in foot races, we were losing faceoffs, they were wining battles.

"I wanted them to score. Sometimes it takes that to wake you up."

While the Bulldogs were waking up, the Purple Eagles were executing their game plan.

"We asked for energy and we asked for simple, smart hockey and we got that," Niagara coach Margot Page said. "We were successful getting some early goals but with a team like Duluth, a couple is never enough."

Both goals were scored by freshman Jocey Kleiber, one of the bright spots in the loss. Kleiber's shot from the point on a five-on-three power play made its way through some screens and beat Duluth goalie Kim Martin for a 1-0 lead halfway through the first.

About a minute and a half later, Kleiber scored again, putting in a rebound of a shot by Ashley Riggs.

Then there was the steady of play of sophomore goalie Jenni Bauer. Though the transfer from Bemidji State took the loss, she was solid over the first two periods. Steady and confident, she held Niagara in the game, making 21 saves through the first 40 minutes.

"Starting the game, I tried to focus on watching the puck and following where it was going," Bauer said. "And the defense did a good job of clearing out in front."

Duluth made it 2-1 when Jaime Rasmussen scored on the power play with 2:53 left in the first.

Just a minute into second period, the Bulldogs tied the game on a goal by Saara Tuominen.

Duluth took control in the third period when Emmanuelle Blais scored during a four-on-four. The puck trickled by Bauer, who found herself out of position during a series of Bulldogs shots.
Just 31 seconds later, Pernilla Winberg scored on a breakaway to give Duluth a 4-2 lead.

The flood gates opened for the Bulldogs, who got goals from Laura Fridfinnson and Tawni Mattila for the 6-2 margin of victory.

"In the third period there were times when we were playing not to lose instead of to win and it's natural for a young team like ours to do that," Page said.

The same two teams play at 7 tonight in Dwyer Arena.


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