NIAGARA, N.Y. — Rust spots from a slow December were starting to show early for Niagara in their home CHA match-up against Robert Morris.
With only two games scheduled the entire month, Niagara could have found itself heading into the holiday season break on either side of a .500 record. Luckily for the Purple Eagles, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder kept things positive between the first and second periods and his team responded with a 3-0 victory.
“My hat’s off to this team,” Burkholder said. “It’s been a messed up schedule. We only practiced three times this week. With everything that goes on during finals, our guys forgot about their lives and committed to sixty minutes of hockey.”
Robert Morris came to play with a simple plan of attack on the Niagara zone: get it deep and get after it.
Niagara’s defense had a hard time adjusting to this strategy in the first period. Most of the good scoring opportunities, and precious real estate, belonged to the Colonials for the last half of the period.
“They did take it to us,” Burkholder conceded. “Our ‘D’ was amazing. They (Robert Morris) had a lot of puck possession time, but most of it was to the outside. We were blocking shots and ‘Pags’ (Juliano Pagliero) made everything look easy.”
Pagliero was called upon three times at point-blank range to keep Robert Morris off the scoreboard.
“At the end of the day, they had more opportunistic than us,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “Our team worked hard and to not be rewarded by finding the back of the net is tough. Pagliero made the saves; he was the difference.”
Niagara started the second period in focus. The Purple Eagles took advantage of the Colonials over-aggressive penalty kill, as Vince Rocco connected on assists from Chris Moran and Ryan Annesley.
After that first tally, Robert Morris abandoned their disciplined style and did not have the legs to run-and-gun with Niagara. Dan Baco’s shot on Colonials’ goaltender Wes Russell was put back in by defenseman Jim Burichin, extending Niagara’s lead to 2-0.
David Ross sealed the game in the third period.
The story of the season for Niagara thus far has been the play of Pagliero.
“This is the deepest we’ve been in the four years I’ve been here,” Pagliero said. “We’re not relying on a big power play; we have to beat teams with speed. Our third and fourth line guys determine the outcome of the game more than ever before. We need to pounce on opportunities and wear teams down. I’m sure we’ll figure out the power play soon.”
Niagara starts off the second half of the season on the road; that’s OK with Burkholder.
“I don’t like playing at Dwyer during the break,” he said. “That’s why I scheduled Sacred Heart and Cornell away. I’m happy with the way we are progressing.”