LEWISTON – From the start of the season, Dave Burkholder talked about the depth of his Niagara hockey team.
It’s one of those qualities championship teams need and one that the Purple Eagles have needed to display as of late.
With five players out of the lineup with injury, including leading scorer Giancarolo Iuorio, Niagara has still found a way to win. And score. And score often.
Saturday night five different players scored for Niagara as it outlasted RIT, 6-4, in front of 1,559 at Dwyer Arena. After a tie against the Tigers in Rochester on Friday, the Purple Eagles solidified their first-place standing in Atlantic Hockey with a 14-1-2 mark in league play.
“We’ve got a bunch of injuries and when those guys are in the lineup we have four solid lines,” said junior forward Ryan Rashid, who had a goal and an assist. “Guys have really stepped up and fortunately have stepped in … Guys who generally aren’t in the lineup have been and in a big rivalry against RIT to take three out of four points, you’ve got to be happy with that.”
The Purple Eagles jumped to a 3-0 lead not even 10 minutes into the game. It started with a power play goal from Rashid. Then defenseman C.J. Chartrain found himself alone in front of RIT starting goaltender Josh Watson and finished a beautiful play for a 2-0 lead. Just 49 seconds later Marc Zanette extended the lead.
RIT got on the board with a power play goal by Mike Colavecchia to make it 3-1 at the first break.
Niagara held the lead despite RIT controlling the flow of play and taking a 21-10 lead in shots on goal.
“If anyone should have had a 3-0 lead in the first period, I thought it should have been us,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said. “You’ve got to find a way to win the game when you control the first period.”
The Tigers battled back in a wild and wide-open second period in which six goals were scored, four of them on the power play, between the two teams.
RIT’s Chris Saracino scored on the power play just 1:35 into the period, making it a one-goal game.
But the energy would swing back and forth in an up-and-down, physical battle. Niagara got power play tallies from Chartrain and Patrick Dijak.
Adam Mitchell scored for RIT, but Dan Koelenda answered for Niagara. Greg Noyes of RIT scored on the power play with 1:38 left in the period to make it a 6-4 after two periods.
“They have one of the best power plays in the country,” Burkholder said. “Our goal tonight was to stay out of the [penalty] box and you look at the box score and we took slashing, hooking, tripping. That will kill you against a good RIT team.
“It’s never going to be perfect. I thought it was a gutsy win on a night that the momentum swings were unbelievable. There’s a lot of character in that room and we stuck with it.”
Each team scored three times on the power play, with Niagara taking 11 shots with the man advantage.
Carsen Chubak gave up four goals to RIT, but he came up with several big stops including a glove save with 22 seconds left to preserve the win for Niagara. He finished with 35 saves.
Niagara, 15-4-5 overall, hosts Bentley next weekend for 7:05 games in Dwyer Arena on Friday and Saturday.