BY MICHAEL MROZIAK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Stephen Pietrobon scored what proved to be the game-winning goal with 2:25 remaining in the third period, as Niagara University came from behind to defeat Robert Morris University, 5-3, at Dwyer Arena on Thursday night.
While killing a penalty, T.J. Sarcona gained possession of the puck with a poke check at his team's blue line and raced it down toward Robert Morris goaltender Terry Shafer.
Pietrobon decided to follow. After Shafer stopped Sarcona's shot, Pietrobon pounced on the puck to score on the rebound.
"(Sarcona's) been on a few shorthanded goals now and when he gets the puck he's going to make the play on the goalie", said Pietrobon about his decision to follow Sarcona on the play. "I just wanted to follow up. If he doesn't score there's going to be a rebound and luckily I was able to put it in."
It was Pietrobon's second shorthanded tally of the season and the sixth scored by the Purple Eagles. It was also a continued show of faith in them — and the Purple Eagles' style on the penalty kill — by head coach Dave Burkholder.
"We're pretty aggressive in our penalty kill. I think our opponents know that," he said in his postgame news conference. "We let our guys go up that ice. We don't like sitting back, so we're very aggressive."
Once the puck dropped to start the game, it didn't take long for the Purple Eagles (10-15-4 overall, 10-8-4 Atlantic Hockey Association) to take the lead. At the 1:06 mark of the opening period, Sarcona's wrist shot found its way under the glove of Shafer, and Niagara was up, 1-0. Matt Chiarantano had the assist on Sarcona's 10th goal of the season.
The rest of the first period was a relatively quiet affair, with the teams combining for just 12 shots, but in the second period the Colonials (11-14-4 overall, 11-7-4 AHA) came alive. When Niagara struggled to clear the puck out from in front of their own net, the Colonials gained possession and set up Brandon Denham for the game-tying goal at the 3:57 mark.
Niagara regained the lead at the 7:48 mark with Brock Edwards' fifth goal of the season. Carrying the puck in the faceoff circle to Shafer's right, Edwards had Chiarantano open at the point for a shot. But he also had room of his own and, upon seeing that, curled around to face the net and wristed in the goal.
"When he has the puck on his stick, you just have to watch his hands," said Burkholder about Edwards, who also picked up an assist. "His tight area skills, and the plays and the vision he has for a freshman is pretty special."
Robert Morris again tied the game with Colin South's goal at the 12:09 mark of the second. The Colonials then moved into a 3-2 lead at the 15:49 mark of the period with Greg Gibson's goal.
If the second period belonged to Robert Morris, the third period was Niagara's. Kevin Ryan tied the game at 3-3 when he blasted a shot from the point that found its way through traffic as well as Shafer.
With 2:50 left in the third period, Niagara found itself shorthanded when Chiarantano was sent to the penalty box for slashing. It was on that penalty kill when Sarcona and Pietrobon set up the game-winner.
"(Coach Burkholder) allows us to be aggressive," said Sarcona about the play. "He gives us free range to do what we want. Yes, it was a risky play but it's a tie game, and everyone's trying to score and win the hockey game, so it was some desperation and luckily it ended up on my stick, we went the other way and we scored."
Niagara further secured the win when Ryan Rashid fired the puck into an emptied Robert Morris net with 40 seconds remaining.
Freshman goalie Adrian Ignagni picked up his sixth win of the season for Niagara, stopping 27 shots and improving his record to 6-6-2 on the season. Shafer made 34 saves in his team's loss.
The same two teams will skate again on Saturday night at Robert Morris, located in suburban Pittsburgh.