BY THOMAS BALDWIN
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — For Niagara, victories don’t come sweeter than this.
The Purple Eagles, who squandered an opportunity for victory over its hated rival Canisius on Thursday night, certainly did it right — and dramatically — on Saturday evening at the Buffalo State Ice Arena with a come-from-behind 4-2 victory over the Golden Griffins.
Niagara improved to 9-8-4 in the tight Atlantic Hockey standings and 9-15-4 after a victory which could possibly, just maybe, be considered its most paramount in a while.
“It was playoff hockey,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, whose club took five out of six points from it hated rivals this season. “It was nice to sweep the season series.”
The distinguished for Niagara were a few in this one - Sam Alfieri scored twice after scoring only once in his last 15 games. Freshman goaltender Adrian Ignagni was solid again in making 22 saves while rebounding after a questionable performance at Sacred Heart last weekend.
But the biggest star — in a sense — was defenseman Matt Chiarantano, who scored the eventual game winner midway through a chaotic third period.
After Alfieri’s second goal tied the game 2-2 early into the final period, Niagara’s Patrick Divjak made a gutsy play to set up the winner. He fought off a ferocious hit in the corner and still managed to get the puck to Chiarantano at the left faceoff dot. The sophomore one-timed a quick shot past Canisius goaltender Tony Capobianco at 12:49 to give the Purple Eagles a 3-2 lead.
“I just want to say Patrick really wanted it,” Chiarantano said of the winner. “He made a perfect pass right up the gut.”
Shortly after, in a somewhat rare situation, Niagara’s Hugo Turcotte was hauled down on a breakaway with 2:16 left and was awarded a penalty shot. But Burkholder declined it and took the two-minute penalty.
His decision was rewarded when Divjak scored an empty-netter with 11 seconds left to ice the triumph after crazy action at both ends of the ice.
Braeden Rigney and Ralph Cuddemi scored for Canisius, which now is 9-9-3 in conference play and fell one point behind the Purple Eagles in conference play.
Alfieri’s first goal gave Niagara a 1-0 lead at 6:33 of the first period when he banged in a shot from the side of the net that bounced off of Capobianco in. His second tied the game at two when Chris Lochner skated unmolested through the Canisius zone — swirled — and fed a slick pass to the left faceoff dot to an awaiting Alfieri, who authoritatively one-timed a low shot past Capobianco.
NOTES: Niagara defenseman Kevin Albers, who was originally suspended one game for a hit on a Sacred Heart player last weekend, had a second game added and missed Saturday night’s game….The Purple Eagles only have six games left in the regular season. They play next in a home and home series with Robert Morris, Thursday at Dwyer Arena and Saturday in Moon Township, Pa., both at 7:05 pm.