BY MICHAEL MROZIAK email@example.com
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Dan Kolenda scored the game-winning goal at the 4:43 mark of double overtime as Niagara University took the first game of a best-of-three series against American International College in the Atlantic Hockey Association playoffs Friday night at Dwyer Arena.
Kolenda’s goal, a tipped redirection of a shot by Vince Muto, happened to be the only goal of the game.
“It was a good shot by Vinny,” said Kolenda after the game. “Vinny took a look, he picked his head up and skated to the middle of the ice and had a nice hard shot on net. It just deflected toward the five-hole and it was good. It was a good play and a good shot by Vinny.”
It was also a night that saw a classic playoff goaltenders’ duel, with Niagara netminder Jackson Techroeb turning aside all 38 shots he faced, while AIC counterpart Hunter Leisner stopped 43 Niagara shots.
“We’re not in overtime without him,” said Niagara head coach David Burkholder about Teichroeb’s performance. “He’s the star of the game for me in my book. And their guy (Leisner) as well. Obviously the two goalies stole the show. It’s playoff hockey.”
The Yellow Jackets outshot Niagara in the opening period by 12-7 but the Purple Eagles had a couple of decent scoring chances. The best came when Muto blasted a shot from the point that rang off the goalpost.
The Purple Eagles rallied to outshoot their guests in the second period, 16-8, and then 10-6 in the third period.
“That second period, you’d like to get a couple (goals) and play with the lead, we outshot them and outchanced them,” said Burkholder.
Niagara was missing several players including Issac Kohls, one of the team’s two leading scorers. Five of Niagara’s six scratches were due to injuries. Along with Kohls, Nick Cecere, Matt Chiarantano, Matt Dineen and Brock Edwards were out with various injuries.
Yet the players in the lineup worked well to limit the transition game of AIC’s top scoring line of Jon Puskar, Alexander MacMillan and David Norris. While the line had a few chances on the Niagara net, the Purple Eagles also had moments of brilliance on its forechecking that forced AIC to stay in their own end. Stephen Pietrobon and Patrick Divjak were most notable on the forecheck, with Divjak getting a shot on goal during a penalty kill in the second period.
Niagara survived a couple of scares in the overtime period. First, Norris found an open MacMillan on a two-on-one but MacMillan fanned on the shot. Moments later, a Niagara giveaway presented AIC’s Dominic Racobaldo with a golden opportunity, but he fired the shot high.
Shortly after that, Pietrobon broke up another AIC two-on-one.
Niagara, meanwhile, kept peppering Leisner with shots and by the second overtime, there was a growing faith by the Purple Eagles that they would finally get their break.
“I thought by that fifth period we had better chances. We were getting shots,” said Teichroeb. “It looked like they were just getting too tired.”
Physical and mental fatigue will be a challenge for both teams as they return to play Game Two tonight at Dwyer Arena, beginning at 7:05 p.m. Burkholder was asked if he was concerned that, coming off an emotional high such as a double overtime win, his players might have a letdown the following game.
“We got their attention after. It’s time to get some nutrition in you, get some rest,” said Burkholder. “We’ll meet in the morning again and decide who can play and who can’t play. You have to rely on your leaders. We’ve got some good upperclassmen, some good captains that should handle that.”
Should a deciding third game be necessary, it will be played at 7:05 p.m. Sunday night, also at Dwyer Arena.