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Niagara slayed some demons with this win. Last season, Niagara lost to RIT in OT in the semifinals. It's also important for Niagara to get pushed and still come out on top. And that's what happened in this series. Ultimately, it was Marc Zanette scoring his 10th of the year, in overtime, that gave Niagara the series win. It looks like the Purple Eagles will make the NCAAs no matter what. But it will try to do so as Atlantic Hockey tournament champs in Rochester next weekend, starting with a semifinal game against neighborhood rival Canisius.
Niagara was getting dominated early, but allowed just one goal. The Purple Eagles wound up pulling it out despite allowing two RIT power plays in overtime. “I was proud of the way our guys played this weekend,” said RIT Head Coach Wayne Wilson. “I thought we played very well in the first period, but needed to get the two-goal lead. Both games in the series were incredibly physical, very well played and could have went either way. Give Niagara credit, they were able to get the job done each night.”
When healthy, Giancarlo Iuorio has been the difference maker time and again for Niagara this year, and he was again Friday. Playing against the team that knocked them out in OT last year, the Purple Eagles had all they could handle from RIT again. But in the end, thanks to two goals from Iuorio, Niagara got the Game 1 win and improved to 11 in the Pairwise.
If you were looking for reinforcement on why Atlantic Hockey may get two teams in the NCAAs, look no further than here. With Niagara sitting in good shape in the Pairwise, if it doesn't win the Atlantic Hockey tournament, then the AHA will get two teams in for the first time. All along we've been saying that this was certainly very possible, since a team like Air Force is so tournament tested and tough. And lo and behold, here's pretty good evidence of that. It's not the tournament yet, and Niagara had first place locked up, but nevertheless, the Purple Eagles went out to Colorado Springs and got spanked in two games. These teams are probably headed towards facing each other in the Atlantic final, and that would be closer to Niagara's home town, but it should be quite interesting if that comes to fruition.
“We have been a great road team, but haven’t been a great home team,” AFA head coach Frank Serratore said. “This weekend was a pretty dominating performance. Our guys played very good against a very good opponent. I thought we’d play well this weekend and I thought the games would be entertaining, but I didn’t think we put almost 100 shots on them and win two games the way we did.”
It should be noted that Niagara sat out star goaltender Carson Chubak, who should be back in two weeks for the Atlantic quarterfinals. Cody Campbell was thrown in and his first two decisions have been losses. Chubak is 21-5-5, 1.85 GAA and .941 save percentage -- while everyone else on the team is 0-3 with a GAA over 8.00 and a save percentage below .800. Should tell you what he means to the team. Niagara also sat out forward Giancarlo Iuorio, who has been dealing with injuries this season, just to get more rest.
With Western Michigan getting a couple of ties, and St. Cloud State splitting its weekend, by taking care of business, Niagara inched up a couple of more spots in the Pairwise this week, to No. 8. Carson Chubak stopped 31 shots to improve to 21-4-5 on the season.
Niagara scored a late goal to tie, but lost in overtime. The interesting thing for Niagara right now is, not even a loss is that damaging to its standing in the Pairwise. In other seasons, when an Atlantic Hockey team has threatened to crack the top 16, a single loss has often been enough to send that team falling. But Niagara has built up enough good wins that, despite the loss, the Purple Eagles remained No. 10 in the Pairwise.
Friday, senior Giancarlo Iuorio returned to the lineup for the first time since getting hurt in early January, and had a hat trick as Niagara won the series opener. Saturday, coach Dave Burkholder gave Carsen Chubak the night off, and went to little-used backup Cody Campbell, who struggled. Iuorio scored the first goal of the game, but couldn't carry his team on the back end of the home-and-home.
After getting beaten by Canisius on Thursday, Niagara comes back with the shutout behind Carson Chubak. Niagara is comfortably in first place, but the win helps keep the Purple Eagles in good standing in the Pairwise, where they are currently No. 11. Canisius entered the game 4-0 all-time against ranked Atlantic Hockey opponents, but that was snapped in this game.
Marc Zanette scored twice and the Purple Eagles improved to 17-4-5, which includes the No. 9 slot in the Pairwise.
With three points on the weekend, Niagara is No. 17 in the Pairwise. It would almost have to win out to make it as an at-large bid to the NCAAs, but it's still possible.
Niagara remained unbeaten, 10-0-1, in Atlantic Hockey, thanks to a three-goal third period. Niagara doesn't have the gaudy non-league record like Robert Morris, but it's decent, and it's getting the job done in conference. As a result, Niagara is actually No. 16 in the Pairwise right now. “This was a heckuva hockey game,” AFA head coach Frank Serratore said. “These were two darn good hockey teams that played tonight. I like our team right now. I like our spirit, togetherness and our effort. We knew we had to win the third period. Niagara is a team that plays with a lot of confidence and give them credit, they made the plays. What an entertaining hockey game this was. It was fast. It was physical, but clean. Our compete level and our attitude were terrific. I’ll take my chances with our team if we keep playing like that.”
Carsen Chubak, who was profiled by CHN last week, remained red hot for Niagara, coming up with a 43-save shutout to improve to 8-1-3 on the season.
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