NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — Niagara concluded an unbeaten home season-but just barely as it tied Robert Morris, 3-3. The Purple Eagles squandered an opportunity to clinch the top seed in the CHA tournament, but may still do so by securing a single point in next week’s season-ending series versus Alabama Huntsville.
“It’s a pretty empty feeling,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “For the second week in a row we enter the third period with a two goal lead and come away with a tie.Give them (Robert Morris) credit. They played the perfect game. They played possum all night.”
Niagara’s Kyle Rogers rang two posts on breakaways, and the Purple Eagles’ Les Reaney may have even scored the game winner on a blistering shot from the slot that appeared to slice open a hole in the twine of the net that was only discovered later in the period. But the Colonials persevered, and kept their post season hopes alive on two back-to- back third period markers by Ryan Cruthers and Brett Hopfe.
“We didn’t get the start we wanted,” Robert Morris senior Doug Conley said. “But during the second intermission, the guys who weren’t getting it done, myself included, we all stepped up. Our focus was on getting a better forecheck to start the third and take it from there.”
The Purple Eagles opened the scoring on Ted Cook’s power play goal, his nation-leading 31st, that provided the sellout crowd at Dwyer Arena with a perfect snapshot to Niagara’s sizzling power play. As has been the case all year, Cook finished what Reaney and Sean Bentivoglio started by connecting on a beautiful fed that beat Colonials goalie Christian Boucher.
Sean Berkstresser evened the score to start the second period on a nifty behind-the-net set up from Aaron Clarke.
Niagara went ahead 3-1 later in the period on goals from Reaney and Vince Rocco.
Reaney’s phantom goal occurred after a bizarre sequence of events. Reaney raised his arms in celebration after releasing the shot but no goal light illuminated and play carried on. Niagara protested the play at the next whistle and eventually referee John Murphy did find a hole in the net, but it was already too late for the Purple Eagles.
Not so for the Colonials.
Robert Morris stormed out for the final period and peppered Niagara goalie Allen Barton with twenty-two shot. The Colonials’ evener came on an odd bounce off a shot from Hopfe which bounced off a Niagara stick and struck Barton in the back before trickling into the net.
Burkholder could only shake his head.
“If you would have told me at the start of the season that we would go undefeated at home, I’d take it,” he said. “This is something the guys in the locker room can be very proud of. Now we’re loading up to go down to Huntsville this weekend. Hopefully, we can still get that number one seed in the tournament.”