LEWISTON, N.Y. (Niagara Univ.) — A five goal effort in the second period lifted the No. 20 Niagara hockey team to a convincing 5-2 victory over the Sacred Pioneers on Saturday evening at Dwyer Arena.
The Purple Eagles (10-2-3; 9-0-0 AHA) remain undefeated in conference play and extend their unbeaten streak to 11 games after coming back from two goals down.
“It wasn’t the best way to start the game obviously, but that being said I think Sacred Heart came out and out hit us and out worked us for the first 20 minutes,” head coach David Burkholder said. “After that we settled in and took over the game. We played Niagara hockey which was dump, get after it on the forecheck and finishing our checks. It was a complete reversal in the second period.”
The victory also extended Niagara’s current home ice unbeaten streak to 12 games, dating back to the Purple Eagles 3-3 draw against Air Force on Feb. 11, 2012.
“We have great streak going right now, going unbeaten in 12 at home,” added Burkholder. “We have to protect our home ice at Dwyer and the guys needed to be reminded of that after the first period. Teams can’t come in here and outwork us like that, and I thought we took the play to them in the last 40 minutes which was the difference.”
Despite the lopsided shot count that had the Purple Eagles outshooting the Pioneers (0-12-2; 0-9-2 AHA) by a 16-5 margin in the opening 20 minutes of play, it was Sacred Heart that headed into intermission with a two-goal cushion.
At the 12:35 mark of the first period, Brian Sheehan tallied the Pioneer’s first goal on the team’s second shot of the game. Eric Delong skated in behind Carsen Chubak and fed Sheehan who was waiting at the doorstep for the one-timer.
About three minutes later, the Pioneers struck again, this time off the stick of Chad Filteau. Filteau took a high-rising shot from just inside the blue line that was tipped in by a Niagara defender over the top left shoulder of Chubak to make it a two-goal game.
The Purple Eagles finished the first period with a five-minute powerplay, but could not capitalize on the man-advantage as Sacred Heart goalie Andrew Bodnarchuk pushed aside 10 opportunities to keep NU off the scoresheet.
The comeback began less than four minutes into the second stanza as Patrick Divjak snagged his first goal of the season at the 16:28 mark. Dan Kolenda started the play after winning a battle for the puck on the boards and slipped a pass to linemate Chris Lochner. Lochner tapped it to Divjak at the top of the blue paint and the junior stuffed it home to cut the Pioneers’ lead in half.
Ryan Rashid knotted the game 11 seconds later for his second tally of the year. A feed from Hugo Turcotte bounced out to Rashid at the top of the slot and the senior wristed a shot over the shoulder of Bodnarchuk.
The Purple Eagles offense continued to pressure the Pioneers and Mike Benedict gave NU its first lead of the game with 10:41 remaining in the second period. Bodnarchuck thought he had a Kevin Ryan shot covered up, but the puck trickled behind him and Benedict pounced on the rebound for his sixth goal of the year.
In the remaining two minutes of play in the period, Giancarlo Iuorio and Ryan Murphy teamed up for the final pair of goals in the contest. Iuorio made it a 4-2 game at the 1:31 mark with one minute remaining on the man-advantage. A C.J. Chartrain slap shot flew wide and rebounded to Murphy who set up Iuorio for the one-timer in the slot.
“Giancarlo is a point guy,” said Burkholder. “He’s our senior captain who has provided great leadership. From the first day we hit campus this year he’s taken over the locker room. You hope your seniors can do that and Giancarlo has been our guy from the first day we came to practice.”
Murphy wrapped up the second period scoring with two seconds left after rifling the puck high glove-side that Bodnarchuck was not quick enough to handle.
Chubak pushed aside 22 Pioneer shots on the night. C.J. Chartrain led the Purple Eagles with three points (0-3-3), while Iuorio and Murphy each contributed a goal and an assist on the evening.
Niagara has the week off before wrapping up its four-game homestand with a bout against RIT on Wednesday, Dec. 12 at Dwyer Arena. The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:05 p.m.