LEWISTON, N.Y. — Niagara did not have to win Friday’s game.
But it sure as heck would have been paramount in its eyes, that’s for darn sure. The Purple Eagles came in after suffering two maddeningly frustrating losses last weekend.
The Purple Eagles’ five-game homestand had been disappointing entering its final game against the Rochester Institute of Technology. But that – hopefully for their sake – could be an aberration and ancient history.
Who knows with Niagara?
The Purple Eagles righted themselves with a solid performance, due to help from a hot scorer and some unlikely sources, which culminated in a 3-0 victory over the Tigers in front of 1,356 fans at Dwyer Arena and a national television audience courtesy of the CBS College Sports Network.
“We tried to forget about last weekend,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “We played six pretty good periods and had nothing to show for it. To be able to come back and have a game like tonight, we were thorough in all areas. We had a power-play goal, shorthanded goal, five-on-five goal, shutout.
“We did it all. It was a really good team effort. That’s how we have to play.”
While Burkholder was pleased with his club, RIT coach Wayne Wilson was sour, but composed.
“I don’t think we got too much going tonight, to be honest with you,” he said. “I don’t think we played with enough effort and I don’t think we played with enough toughness. I thought we were very sloppy with the puck and took too many penalties.”
The prominent players for Niagara this time were Isaac Kohls, along with freshman goaltender Adrian Ignagni and freshman center T.J. Sarcona, who helped the Purple Eagles end their homestand 2-3-0.
More importantly, they tied the Tigers with 15 points in the severely chaotic Atlantic Hockey standings.
Niagara improved to 6-7-3 in conference play and 6-14-3 overall.
Two interesting stats – Niagara is now 9-0-4 all time against RIT at home and is 4-0-3 overall against the Tigers in its last seven meetings.
RIT, which has been streaky this season – fell to 7-8-1 in the conference standings and 8-12-3 overall.
Ignagni stopped 29 shots and looked very comfortable all night. A sample came when he showed cobra-like quickness with a blocker save on Ben Lynch with just under nine minutes to go. Opinions of those whose witnessed the game might vary, but that could be considered his signature save of the evening.
All season, Burkholder’s philosophy has been to rotate goaltenders, so freshman Jackson Teichroeb should, but not definitely, get the start in Saturday night’s rematch at RIT. But clearly, Ignagni wants to play in that one real bad.
“I would like to get in there, get a nice back-to-back weekend, but that is up to the coach,” said Ignagni. “We will find out tonight or tomorrow morning.”
Kohls gave Niagara a 1-0 lead late in the first period with his fifth goal in his last six games. He predatorily darted to the slot and blasted a shot past RIT goaltender Jordan Ruby.
Then Sarcona gave the Purple Eagles a 2-0 lead with a superlative individual effort shorthanded early in the second. He smartly intercepted a pass intended for RIT defenseman Nolan Descoteaux at the Tigers’ blueline and raced toward the Tigers net, where he smoothly deked Ruby and slid the puck past him.
“I thought it got the building into it, yeah, that was probably the difference in the game,” Burkholder said of the goal.
Later, Niagara’s Ryan Rashid, standing right in front of the crease, deflected defenseman Vince Muto’s low slapshot from the point past Ruby (34 saves) for a power-play goal and a 3-0 advantage.
Muto had two assists on the night.
Once again, Niagara had a somewhat sizable advantage in shots, 37-29.
One would assume the Tigers’ players will be extra motivated for the rematch after a lethargic performance in this one.
“I don’t know, that is going to be up to them,” Wilson said. “I am motivated, but I don’t know how motivated they are. We will see tomorrow.”