MOON TOWNSHIP, Pa. – Despite the 6-5 overtime loss to Robert Morris on Saturday evening at the RMU Island Ice Center, the No. 14/15 Niagara University hockey team secured the outright Atlantic Hockey regular season title with help from outside conference scores.
This is the team’s first AHA regular-season title since the program entered into the conference in 2010-11, and its first conference crown since the 2006-07 season when NU earned the former College Hockey America regular-season title.
It was a back-and-forth affair that saw six power play goals scored between the conference opponents, as well as a shorthanded tally each. The Purple Eagles (19-6-5; 18-3-2 AHA) came from behind twice in the final 20 minutes of play, but eventually fell to the Colonials (16-12-2; 11-11-1 AHA) two minutes into extra time while on the man-disadvantage.
Giancarlo Iuorio had a four-point night with a goal and a three assists to wrap up the weekend with seven points. Ryan Murphy also earned a pair of points with two goals, while Dan Weiss (1-1-2) and Hugo Turcotte (0-2-2) each grabbed two-points.
“It was a game filled with a crazy range of emotions,” head coach Dave Burkholder said. “There were so many momentum swings from going down and then coming back. Then heading into overtime thinking you need a point to win the regular season, lose on a power play goal and then two minutes later you walk into the locker room to find out you’re regular season champs. It’s been a crazy night, but I’m certainly proud of these guys. They have a championship banner, but we still have a lot to play for this season.”
Iuorio started the scoring, pocketing his fourth goal in two games 5:15 into the opening period on a shorthanded tally to give the Purple Eagles an early 1-0 lead. With 19 seconds remaining on the Colonial power play, Marc Zanette applied pressure on RMU goaltender Eric Levine forcing the turnover. The puck jumped out to Iuorio who snapped it home for his 16th goal, and second shorthander of the year.
Robert Morris rebounded with less than five minutes remaining in the opening period off the stick of Colin South whose slap shot to the right of NU netminder Cody Campbell flew over his shoulder to knot the game at one apiece.
Murphy gave the Purple Eagles back the lead heading into the first intermission with his 13th goal of the season off assists from Iuorio and Weiss. With two minutes on the clock, Iuorio’s shot was deflected in front and found the stick of Murphy who fired the puck between the legs of Levine to make it 2-1.
A pair of Robert Morris goals during a five minute major to Dan Kolenda midway through the game saw the Purple Eagles fall behind, 3-2. Just 11 seconds into the man-advantage, RMU evened the game at two apiece. Campbell saved the initial shot from Adam Brace, but he could not handle the puck and Zac Lynch knocked in the loose puck.
Almost halfway through the power play, RMU tallied its third goal of the game to pull ahead for the first time in the contest. Scott Jacklin was credited with the goal after his shot to the right of Campbell went off a Niagara defender and slipped under the goalie’s pads.
The Purple Eagles continued to run into more penalty trouble in the later portion of the period, but came out only down by a goal despite being outshot 20-7 in the stanza.
Niagara capitalized on the man-advantage to open the final frame with a pair of power play goals to pull ahead, 4-3 with 12:12 remaining in regulation. The first tally came just 1:16 into the period as Kevin Ryan found Weiss at the top of the faceoff circle, and the defenseman drilled a one timer that rang off the post and into the back of the net for his second of the year.
Isaac Kohls was the next Purple Eagle to net a power play tally after Robert Morris found themselves down two men. With 1:02 remaining on the 5-on-3, Iuorio connected with Kohls who slapped his fourth of the year past Levine.
The lead was short lived as RMU netted a pair of goals within a minute to regain the lead with less than 10 minutes remaining in the contest. The game-tying goal was a shorthanded tally that came off the stick of Brace, while Matt Cope helped RMU regain the lead at 9:39 with a wrister from the top of the slot.
With 1:41 left in the contest, Robert Morris’ Evan Moore was called for a cross-checking to give the Purple Eagles an opportunity to tie the game. Niagara’s power play unit came through for the third time as Murphy scored his second of the game. A shot from Turcotte into traffic was whacked at by several Purple Eagles before Murphy got his stick on the equalizer to send the game into overtime.
Colin South iced the game with another power play goal with 3:01 on the clock as the Colonials sent the Purps to only their third loss in conference play this season.
Campbell, who was making his first start since Oct. 27 at Clarkson, pushed aside 32 RMU looks on net.
Niagara returns home next Friday for its final home game of the regular season with a two-game series against Mercyhurst. After the Feb. 22 battle at Dwyer during Senior Night, the Purps travel to Erie, Pa. the following day for another 7 p.m. puck drop.