LEWISTON – One of the traits that has landed the Niagara hockey team a No. 16 ranking in the national polls is resiliency.
The Purple Eagles needed that after being outplayed in the first period and falling behind by two goals before coming back to earn a 2-2 overtime tie with Rochester Institute of Technology in Dwyer Arena on Wednesday night.
The tie snapped an eight-game winning streak for Niagara but extended its unbeaten streak to 12 games. Niagara is 9-0-3 over the last 12 games and remains unbeaten in Atlantic Hockey (9-0-1, 10-2-4 overall) entering the Christmas break.
“We’re just hard-working, resilient,” coach Dave Burkholder said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity, coming from behind, holding leads and a tough nonconference schedule. I couldn’t be happier. We have a lot of positives to build on for the second half [of the season].”
RIT took a 1-0 lead in the first period when the Purple Eagles misplayed a puck while attempting to break out of their own zone during a power play. Dan Schuler picked up the puck and played it to Ben Lynch, who was one-on-one with Niagara goaltender Carsen Chubak. He one-timed it past Chubak for the short-handed goal and the lead.
It was just the fourth time in 16 games this season Niagara’s opposition has scored the first goal of the game.
The Tigers grew their lead to 2-0 just 6:30 into the second period when Lynch scored his second goal, blasting a shot above Chubak’s glove hand.
The Purple Eagles found their offensive punch when they created a two-on-one and Hugo Turcotte passed cross-ice in front of the crease to Isaac Kohls. RIT goalie Josh Watson was out of position and Kohls easily dumped the puck in the net to cut the lead to 2-1 midway through the period.
Two minutes later Patrick Divjak pushed the puck past Watson to tie the game.
The Purple Eagles held a commanding 24-6 advantage in shots in the second period, generating chances and overall dominating play.
“I think the shot chart will show we were doing what we wanted to do, getting pucks in deep and on net,” Burkholder said. “I didn’t think we made it difficult on their goalie. I don’t think we spent enough time at the top of the crease.”
The game turned more even in the third period thanks in part to penalties. Niagara had two key power play chances in the third, but generated just one shot on goal.
In overtime, Niagara didn’t register a shot and RIT had a power play opportunity but Chubak closed the door to preserve the tie for Niagara.
Watson recorded 44 saves for RIT (4-8-4, 3-5-3 Atlantic Hockey).
Niagara continues to hold the all-time advantage in the series, 8-1-5, in the Division I era. The Purple Eagles have never lost to RIT in Dwyer Arena (5-0-4) but RIT had won the last meeting between the teams, a 2-1 overtime decision in the semifinals of last season’s Atlantic Hockey Tournament at Blue Cross Arena.
The Purple Eagles take their mid-semester break with 17 days off before playing at Bowling Green on Dec. 29. They return to Atlantic Hockey action on Jan. 5 when they host defending conference champion Air Force.
While the break offers an opportunity to concentrate on finals, rest and visit with family, there is part of the Purple Eagles that would like to keep playing.
“I don’t want to call it rust,” Burkholder said. “They practice well, but we haven’t played a lot of games lately and a couple of times tonight they needed to be prodded.”
“We’ve had a lot of breaks and it’s frustrating almost,” Chubak said. “We have to take the time off. We don’t have another option. We just wanted to win hockey games.”