NIAGARA, N.Y. — The struggling Niagara Purple Eagles desperately needed a big-time performance from somebody — anybody — to finally win a hockey game. They actually received two from freshmen, and it couldn’t have happened at a better time.
Brent Vandenberg scored twice and Giancarlo Iuorio added a goal and an assist as the Purple Eagles finally got their first victory of the season in a 4-1 non-conference victory over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in front of 920 patrons at Dwyer Arena.
The Purple Eagles, who have already played four ranked teams this season, improved to 1-8-2 overall this season.
“I am just happy for the guys in there,” Burkholder said of his club. “I’ve said it all along — every day, Monday through Thursday, when nobody is here they work really hard. To play a full 60 minutes against a great team against RPI feels really good.”
The Engineers — who were badly outclassed at times in this one — fell to 7-5-1 overall.
“Their power play was very good tonight,” said RPI coach Seth Appert, whose club surrendered three power-play goals. “Our penalty killing was very poor. We gave them a really easy goal with a turnover and three power-play goals. We fell right into their trap.”
The game was basically decided in a small window of 1:23 late in the second period.
With the score tied at one, Vandenberg, standing at the edge of the crease, banged the puck past RPI goaltender Allen York after Iuorio had two whacks at it for a 2-1 Purple Eagles’ lead at 16:15.
“‘Oli’ (Iuorio) made a great pass, and I was just in the right place at the right time,” Vandenberg said.
Shortly thereafter, the duo hooked up again. This time, Vandenberg slid a slick pass across the crease where Iuorio slapped it in before York could slide over and Niagara had a 3-1 advantage at 17:38.
The two players came together in an audition held by Burkholder during the week in search of a potent power-play combination.
Vandenberg’s first goal gave the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead when he took an errant pass from RPI defenseman Jeff Foss and jammed the puck past York midway through the first period.
Egor Mironov scored the other goal for Niagara, his third tally in four games. He skated through the slot and blasted the puck with velocity between York’s legs and finally, finally, it looked like Niagara was on the way to its first win with a commanding 4-1 lead late in the final period.
Paul Kerins scored the only RPI goal and York finished with 25 saves for the Engineers, who were outshot 29-20.
Niagara also got a tremendous performance from goaltender Adam Avramenko, who has been shaky at junctures this season but was solid in this one. He was exceedingly sharp in the third period when he faced only eight shots, but six were golden opportunities.
“It feels amazing,” Avramenko said of his victory. “I haven’t had a win in over a year. Yeah, he (Burkholder) has beaten up on me, but it was for the best; . . . constructive criticism.”
The win upped Avramenko to 1-2-2 this season.
“I have been tough on him,” Burkholder said. “I badmouthed him to the papers last Friday and in front of the team Saturday at Robert Morris. It was good to see him respond.”