LEWISTON, N.Y. — Some might have thought this Atlantic Hockey series might be one in which the proverbial “last shot wins.”
It could and should be that close, some proclaimed.
If Friday night’s game was any indication, it might very well be.
The final saw Niagara defeat Rochester Institute of Technology 3-2 in a spirited, tense game that fulfilled the prophecy of what this series could be like, at least on this night in boisterous Dwyer Arena.
The top-seeded Purple Eagles, who came in ranked 15th in the latest USCHO.com Division I Men’s Poll, took one precarious step closer to their first NCAA appearance in five years. But if Friday night’s game was any indication, they still have a very long way to go.
“That was a great playoff hockey game, two teams playing hard,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “It comes down to the final horn. That game was up for grabs both ways. It takes four wins for a NCAA bid – one down, three more to go.”
Niagara, which was eliminated in excruciating fashion by the Tigers in last season’s AHA semifinals – and has stumbled in the postseason recently – improved to 21-5-2 in conference play and 22-8-5 overall. The Purple Eagles also stretched their home unbeaten streak to 22 games.
Eighth-seeded RIT fell to 15-16-5 overall, but showed this is not a typical one against eight series.
“They were first because they found ways to get the job done and we were eighth because that’s where we belonged,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “Our league is so tight and close that I don’t think there is that big a difference between, I would say, one and ten this year.”
Giancarlo Iuorio turned out to be the hero for Niagara, scoring twice, including the game-winner at 11:28 of the third period. He scored the winner when he authoritatively zoomed to the RIT net and redirected Marc Zanette’s precision pass past RIT goaltender Jordan Ruby to give Niagara a 3-2 lead.
“It got out to the point, and [Dan] Weiss did a great job of getting it through on net,” said Iuorio, who has 19 goals this season. “Marc did a great job of finding the rebound and he gave it to me back door and I had pretty much an open net.”
The goal was Iuorio’s 100th career point.
Earlier, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the second period when Matt Garbowski beat Niagara goaltender Carsen Chubak on a two-on-one, but Niagara tied it just under nine minutes later when defenseman Jason Beattie followed up on Iuorio’s shot which went wide. The puck bounced rigidly off of the boards right to Beattie, who whacked the puck past Ruby to tie the game at one.
Early in the third, Iuorio gave the Purple Eagles a 2-1 lead when he tipped defenseman C.J. Chartrain’s shot from the point high over Ruby’s glove.
RIT tied it 2-2 when Adam Mitchell banged in the rebound of Mike Colavecchia’s shot from a sharp angle past Chubak.
Then Iuorio, who missed 10 games earlier in the season with an upper-body injury and reportedly got hurt again two weeks ago at Air Force, scored another paramount goal.
Ruby finished with 29 saves, while Chubak recorded 25.