LEWISTON, N.Y. — Dave Burkholder sat behind the desk in his office late Friday evening with a grin as wide as a country mile. His office was crowded with family and friends. A party atmosphere — for sure — was prevalent. It was loud in there.
Why not? Burkholder sweated a little late in the game, but by and large enjoyed the proceedings in Niagara’s 4-2 victory over Mercyhurst. Why did he like it so much?
On Senior Night, three seniors scored.
Niagara’s home unbeaten streak is now 20, two short of the school record. The Purple Eagles finished 13-0-2 at home, improved to 20-6-5 overall, and finished 19-3-2 in Atlantic Hockey. In the PairWise Rankings, Niagara apparently is in good shape, at least on this evening. The Atlantic Hockey regular season championship is old news.
Perhaps one play epitomized how this season has gone for Niagara at Dwyer Arena. A defensive breakdown in the second period allowed Mercyhurst to have a rare two-on-zero. Not only did the Lakers not score, their player shot the puck wide.
“It is a big win for us for a number of reasons, obviously, for our senior class on Senior Night with their families here,” said coach Dave Burkholder, who accepted the trophy after the game for Niagara’s winning the Atlantic Hockey regular season championship. “We kept the unbeaten streak alive, and it shouldn’t hurt our PairWise.”
Fittingly, seniors Giancarlo Iuorio, Jason Beattie, and Dan Weiss scored for the Purple Eagles. Hugo Turcotte scored the other goal, while Carsen Chubak made 31 saves.
Other seniors honored were Marc Zanette, Jeff Hannan, and C. J. Chartrain. Hannan is injured and did not suit up.
“Danny had a big goal, Jason had a big goal, and Giancarlo scored,” Burkholder said. “We are going to go as far as our seniors will take us, and they were terrific.”
Turcotte gave the Purple Eagles a 1-0 lead just 1:45 into the game before Iuorio made it 2-0 near the end of the first period, and it looked like Niagara would sail along smoothly.
Weiss and Beattie made it 4-0 in the second period. Weiss’ goal — the eventual game-winner — came in front of his parents, who watched him play at Niagara for the very first time. His shot from the point sailed through a maze of players.
“That was the first time my parents got to watch a game here, so it was extra special,” said Weiss, who is from St. Louis. “That was definitely special.”
In the third period, the Lakers ascended while Niagara seemed to sag a little, with sometimes disheveled play and a predictable result.
Daniel O’Donoghue got the Lakers on the board 38 seconds into the period before Ryan Misiak cut Niagara’s lead to 4-2, and all of a sudden the sellout crowd got nervous. Mercyhurst outshot Niagara, 14-7, in the third.
“They are a good hockey team,” Beattie said. “You know they are going to be desperate. Attention to details, and that is something we will work on.”
For now, Niagara could be looking past Atlantic Hockey in the rearview mirror and instead at national implications, with the all important PairWise rankings paramount. The Purple Eagles have three regular season games left.
“It is momentum, it is about confidence, and moving on to the next thing,” Beattie said. “We have a room that believes it can win. So it is just coming out every night and doing it.”
The two teams play again tonight at Mercyhurst. Faceoff is 7:05 p.m.