NEVILLE ISLAND, Pa. — The Niagara Purple Eagles refuse to end up in last place in College Hockey America, without at least putting up a fight.
The Eagles used a solid road game recipe including timely saves, relentless back checking, and opportunistic goal scoring en route to a 3-1 victory over the Robert Morris Colonials at the Island Sports Center, assuring themselves a chance to finish in third place with a victory and an Alabama-Huntsville loss on Saturday night.
The Eagles were outshot 34-28 for the game and never found the back of the net on their three power play chances, but managed to shut down the Colonial power play in their five opportunities.
“It came down the fact that we played one period tonight,” head coach Derek Schooley said. “We were excellent in the first period and we reverted from that in the second and third. Our power play needs to keep it simple and to the basics. Our power play had a chance to extend the lead and it failed to do it.”
From the first drop of the puck, it was clear this game was going to be a physical affair with crunching checks being thrown by both teams on almost every shift. The offense was fairly sparse in the opening minutes and limited to just a few perimeter shots. The games first great scoring chance coming at 10:56, of the first when Eagle goaltender Chris Noonan stopped a pointblank shot in the crease from Colonial forward Stefan Salituro.
The Colonials managed to tilt the ice for much of the second half of the first, and got rewarded for the forchecking presence when forward Ron Cramer put his team in the lead redirecting a Brock Meadows shot at 15:09, beating Noonan for the first and last time of the game. The Colonials kept the pressure up for the remainder of the period and held a 14-8 shot advantage after one period.
In the second frame, the Eagles ramped up their intensity and their focus as they forced one Colonial turnover after another while disrupting the Colonials in the neutral zone. Robert Morris found themselves the recipients of three straight power plays in the second, the first being a holdover from very late in the first. However, other than Nathan Longpre’s shot that clanked of the post, they couldn’t find a way to beat Noonan who stopped the shots from all angles.
And then, the third period offensive explosion began for Niagara.
Senior defenseman Tyler Gotto put the Eagles on the board at 8:57 of the third when took a rebound from a Ryan Oldis shot in stride and buried it past Colonial net minder Brooks Ostergard, tying the contest at one.
The game seemed destined for another overtime finish for the two teams when Noonan robbed Colonial defenseman Brock Meadows who nearly finished a 3-on-2 with a wrister from the slot and all four corners to pick. However, the Eagles would not settle for another unsatisfying overtime loss or tie.
Senior Egor Mironov redirected a Jim Burichin shot at 18:17 to give his team the lead, and with extra attacker on for the Colonials in the final minute, freshman Jeff Hannan outraced Longpre down the left wing boards and added the empty net tally at 19:45 to seal the victory.
“I thought it felt like it was a playoff game from the start tonight,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “That was a huge win tonight, it’s as good as it’s felt in a long time. I liked Noonan’s rebound control tonight, if he saw it, he made the save. His game management was outstanding tonight with regards to getting us whistles at key moments.”
The two teams finish their regular season tomorrow night at Niagara’s Dwyer Arena with a 7:00 p.m. start time.