The Niagara men's hockey team has had one glaring weakness so far this season: the power play.
The Purple Eagles went 1 for 13 with the man-advantage Friday, dropping a 5-3 decision to Bemidji State in front of 818 in Dwyer Arena. It was the College Hockey America opener for both teams, who are favored to slug it out for the CHA's automatic bid to the NCAAs.
Not only were the Eagles scoreless for their first 13 power plays, they had difficulty even setting up a play in Bemidji State's zone.
"We had no energy, no poise, no one making plays," said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. "We're usually a good transition team, and we didn't have anything going. It was the first time in 12 games I called them out on poise. We looked way too tight for whatever reason."
In part, credit Bemidji's penalty kill for blocking shots and generally making it difficult for Niagara to generate anything at all.
"We block shots. We front well and get in lanes," Bemidji coach Tom Serratore said. "We did that well. When you have so many power plays like Niagara, it works both ways. If your offense is clicking you can get a lot of momentum, but when it's off it can be very deflating. . . . (Still) I was scared the whole time. I'm a coach, I'm always nervous."
After a scoreless first period, the Beavers took a 2-1 lead in the second. Sean Bentivoglio scored his fourth goal for the Purple Eagles.
The Purple Eagles fell behind, 3-1, midway through the third but kept themselves in the game. Brian Hartman snapped a shot under the crossbar with 4:41 left to make it 3-2, but freshman goalie Scott Mollison later couldn't handle a rebound and gave up a goal to Luke Erickson to put the Beavers up by two goals.
Niagara tallied its only power-play goal with 1:35 left, when the Purple Eagles pulled Mollison for a six-on-four advantage. Hartman scored his second goal of the game and season on a rebound from a Kris Wiebe shot. An empty-net goal with 38 seconds left sealed the win for Bemidji.
At times, Niagara looked slow, sluggish and perhaps tired from its eight-game road trip and relentless early season schedule. Still, the Purple Eagles aren't prepared to use that as an excuse.
"I don't think it was anything to do with our conditioning, it was more mental," Hartman said. "We didn't have our mental edge from the get-go. When you play a good team you can't get away with that. We kept turning over the puck and getting outworked.
"As a team, our best guys were out there for our power play and it helps to build momentum, but it can let a little out. I think if we just come out together with some heart, we should be all right."
Mollison suffered his first loss, recording 22 saves, while the Beavers went 1 for 4 on the power play.
The Purple Eagles dropped to 5-7 overall while Bemidji improved to 4-3. The teams will complete the weekend series at 3 p.m. today in Dwyer Arena.