BY MICHAEL MROZIAK firstname.lastname@example.org
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Two goals in a span of 25 seconds broke a 1-1 tie and lifted the Niagara University hockey team on its way to a 4-1 win over Air Force at Dwyer Arena Friday night.
The first of those two goals came from Kevin Ryan at the 7:35 mark, assisted by Chris Lochner and Patrick Divjak. As the public address announcer was still calling that goal out to the crowd, Matt Chartrain pounced on a loose puck in the Air Force end and fired a wrister past goalie Jason Torf at the 8:00 mark.
“A good forecheck by (Sam Alfieri),” said Chartrain as he began to explain his goal after the game. “They’re D didn’t play it very well. He broke his stick, so I was pretty fortunate and was in the right place at the right time to bring it home.”
It was the first of two games at Dwyer between Niagara (11-17-5 overall, 11-10-5 Atlantic Hockey Association) and Air Force (19-12-4 overall, 14-9-3 AHA). With a loss by Canisius to RIT Friday night, Niagara remained in sixth place in the conference.
“It’s a good win,” said Niagara head coach David Burkholder. “It wasn’t very pretty, on either end I thought. But at this point in the year, they’re playing for a lot.
“We got through the penalty trouble in the second which was a real gut check for our guys, and then to have the third period and the fight that we had, we were real optimistic in the third. It’s a big two points for us.”
Niagara goalie Jackson Teichroeb, who finished the game with 26 saves, saw most of his work in the latter stages of the game. After putting one shot on him early in the first period, Air Force didn’t get another shot until about ten minutes later. As the game progressed, he looked more poised. None of his saves were highlight reel material, but that was because he was positioned ideally for most of his stops.
“I felt good out there,” said Teichroeb, who recorded his fifth win of the season. “I felt really comfortable.”
Noticeably missing from the Dwyer crowd were the pep band and the students who usually occupy the arena’s Section 9. That’s because spring break began on campus earlier in the day and most students had left. Even those taking part in the game noticed its slow start.
“It’s kind of tough but it’s happened quite a bit through the season,” said Teichroeb. “I try to play pucks, just stay in the game, anything to keep me moving and stay warm, then just try to keep my focus.”
In time, though, the crowd came alive as both teams saw their first decent scoring chances arriving early in the second period.
Air Force’s first chance came seconds into Niagara’s first power play. After the Falcons sent the puck into the Niagara end, Teichroeb mishandled it and Niagara found itself scrambling to keep a Falcons forechecker from getting a clear shot. That ended with a slashing call on Niagara’s Isaac Kohls.
Then, as Air Force was about to go on the man advantage, Niagara got its first good scoring chance when, amidst a scrum, the puck was sliding at the Falcons goal line with the Purple Eagles’ Dan Kolenda there and ready to pounce. Air Force was able to keep him from getting his stick on the puck and they survived the scare.
Air Force finally broke the scoreless tie at the 15:00 mark of the second period. With Niagara just returning to full strength after killing a penalty, the Falcons’ A.J. Reid, standing in the slot, redirected a shot from Jason Fabian and beat Teichroeb.
“We stayed focused. We didn’t get down on ourselves,” said Chartrain. “You give up one and you tend sometimes to give up a bit. But we stuck to our game plan, we started pressuring them and got a couple breaks, and put it home.”
Niagara tied the game on the power play at the 3:44 mark of the third period when, after being denied on a couple shots on goal, the Purple Eagles’ Hugo Turcotte tipped Tyler Akeson’s shot past Torf.
Turcotte nearly put Niagara in the lead at the 7:15 mark of the third when he pounced on a puck that was lost by stumbling Falcons defenseman Jacob Musselman and broke away toward the Air Force goal. His shot went wide to the left of Torf. Ryan’s goal came seconds later.
Patrick Divjak’s unassisted empty-net goal at the 18:01 mark ensured the Niagara win.
It’s still uncertain which school will travel to Niagara for next week’s opening round of the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs. As far as the team is concerned, though, they’ve already been in a playoff state of mind.
“Our ‘playoffs’ started three weeks ago,” said Burkholder. “We challenged our guys at the start of the Canisius series, which is a big crosstown rivalry... I’ve been happy with how we’ve played.”
The teams will play again Saturday evening at Dwyer, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Teichroeb will again start in goal for Niagara, Burkholder confirmed following Friday’s game.