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NIAGARA WOMEN'S HOCKEY GETS DEPTH CHARGE

No Brooke Bradburn?

No problem.

The Niagara women's hockey team passed its first test without its leading scorer last weekend, sweeping Findlay on the road to start the season 2-0.

With Bradburn sidelined for a month with a high ankle sprain and chipped bone, the Purple Eagles needed results from those four lines of scoring depth they keep talking about.

They got it, from seniors to freshmen, which gives them needed momentum heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. home opener against Minnesota, which is ranked No. 5 in the USA Today/American Hockey Magazine poll released Tuesday. Niagara remained just outside the top 10, with 13 votes in the "others receiving votes" category.

Two highly touted freshmen -- Teresa Marchese-Del Monte and Candice Moxley -- scored the first goal in each game while the upperclassmen filled the rest of the Bradburn void. Junior Val Hall scored twice and senior Stephanie Romain netted a game-winner with four seconds left in overtime.

"We all know we have to step up," Romain said. "Of course we miss Brooke. She's a great player. But we have so much depth. . . . This was our first weekend (of games) but it feels like we've been playing together for a month. I don't know what it is, but we have better team chemistry than ever before."

Minnesota will be an early challenge for the Purple Eagles. The Gophers, last year's Western Collegiate Hockey Association's regular-season champions, are 2-1-1 on the year.

But the Purple Eagles seem to save their best hockey for the nationally ranked teams. Last year, they lost just 4-2 to Minnesota -- at Mariucci Arena -- while the Gophers were the then-defending national champions.

An upset this weekend could possibly launch Niagara into the national rankings, where in the past they've been rated as high as ninth.

"Every year we're disappointed because we think we should be higher," Romain said. "The polls come out and we think that we did this and we beat those teams and we deserve a better ranking. But it's just what the coaches think. It doesn't mean that much, but it does give us some extra motivation."

If it's broke, fix it

You can question Tom Zabawa's sanity, but don't question his heart.

In Saturday's loss to Fairfield, the senior wide receiver for Canisius got his hand caught between his face mask and a Fairfield defender's helmet. He spent the second quarter at the hospital. Turns out he broke the second metacarpal on his left hand.

But Zabawa wasn't finished.

He pulled into the Demske Sports Complex parking lot as the horn sounded to end halftime. With a cast and padding three-quarters of an inch thick, Zabawa returned to the game to catch five passes for 122 yards and three touchdowns in the Griffs' 63-44 loss. His 18 points set the Demske record for most scored in a half.

"I love the guys I play with," Zabawa said after the game. "I'll do anything for these guys. . . . When I came out I knew it was broken but I just said, get me back in. No matter what it takes, I just want to go back in. What the score is doesn't matter. I just want to play for my brothers, play for the guys who bleed, sweat and cry with me every week."

Zabawa is probable for Saturday's game at undefeated Dayton.

Big step forward

It's not quite a worst-to-first story, but it's close enough.

The Hilbert women's soccer team set a school record for wins in a season, finishing with a 12-4 overall record, 7-2 in the Northeast Athletic Conference. The Lady Hawks lost in the NEAC championship game this past weekend, 1-0, to Keuka.

Jessica Marci (Niagara Falls) ranks third in the nation for assists per game in Division III, racking up a school record 17 assists in 16 games. Her sister, Vinnita, the goalkeeper, set a school record with 10 wins with four shutouts.

Then there's records in goals and points, both set by Shannon Bieniek (West Seneca West) with 15 goals, six assists for 36 points.

"Since Hilbert went Division III in 1991-92, I don't think we had 12 total wins before this year," Athletic Director Richard Walsh said. "I'm really proud of what they've accomplished. . . . Obviously, it's a very popular sport and we've found a coach willing to recruit. (Third-year coach Jamie Ruggiero) has really been very motivated to go out and find great athletes. And he's a part-time coach."

Around campus

St. Bonaventure tore through the fall golf season, finishing with a dramatic, come-from-behind win at the Binghamton tournament. Freshman Jay Lindell (Southwestern) won his fourth Atlantic 10 Rookie of the Week honor, ending the fall with a 73.9 stroke average. As a team, Bona averaged 77.3 strokes per round, won two tournaments and finished in the top three in four others.

"Without a doubt, this is the deepest team I've had," coach Steve Campbell said. "We've had great chemistry and camaraderie. You wouldn't think that's a big part of college golf, like it is in basketball, but it has a lot to do with how you perform."

Nate Handrahan may be the second all-time leader in career points for defensemen at Niagara. He may have helped anchor the Purple Eagles' Final Eight NCAA tournament team. But in his first weekend back at Dwyer Arena as Niagara's newest assistant coach, he was introduced as "Nick" by the public address announcer. Then again, Handrahan did win the unsung hero award his senior year so he should be used to toiling in relative obscurity.

Granted, it's only the first weekend of the season, but the Canisius Ice Griffs continued their trend of deciding games in the second period. In their opener against Alabama-Huntsville on Friday, the Griffs gave up four second-period goals en route to a 5-4 loss. The next night, Canisius turned the tables, scoring five second-period goals to solidify a 9-3 romp over the Chargers. No need to worry about arriving to games late.
e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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