By Thomas Baldwin
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON- A season that started way back in October, one which was full of promise and high expectations, is finally over.
The Niagara University hockey club experienced a tumultuous season both on and off the ice, and now ventures into an unknown world which could make the season disappointing — or perhaps memorable and grand.
A final chapter in the saga was concluded with a 4-1 defeat to The United States Air Force Academy before 1,042 fans at Dwyer Arena Saturday in the regular season finale on Senior Night.
The Purple Eagles, the preseason favorites in the Atlantic Hockey poll, finished the regular season 11-11-5 in conference play and 11-18-5 overall. What some might conisder surprising is that Niagara was only 7-7-1 at home.
As a result, Niagara will be seeded sixth in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament and will host No.11 American International College next Friday and Saturday. The clubs split two games at Dwyer in mid January.
But a future which could potentially be frightening for the Purple Eagles is the lineup situation.
Ryan Rashid — Niagara’s third leading scorer — was injured on Friday night and missed Saturday’s game. Also, Isaac Kohls got smashed hard into the boards late in the second period and was visibly discombobulated when he left the ice. He did not return.
Finally, defenseman Tyler Akeson also got hurt and did not come back. Niagara played the entire third period with only 15 skaters.
“It is a tough night in that area, especially going into the playoffs,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder, whose club went 6-4-2 down the stretch. “We will see what we have to go with next weekend. It is the dog days. We have considered ourselves in playoff mode for three weeks now.
“We have been fortunate this year that we haven’t had so many (injuries) at the same time. It couldn’t have come at a worse possible time, but we will sort it out and get ready for AIC.”
Chris Lochner scored the only goal for Niagara, which outshot the Cadets 35-23. Niagara freshman goaltender Jackson Teichroeb made his fourth consecutive start and recorded 19 saves.
Ben Carey had two goals for Air Force, defenseman Adam McKenzie had a goal and two assists while Jason Torf made 34 stops. The Cadets finished at 15-9-3 in conference play and 20-12-4 overall. Air Force has won 20 or more games in five of the past seven seasons.
Before the game, Air Force coach Frank Serratore said a club with momentum could do well in the conference tournament. Niagara senior defenseman Kevin Ryan concurred, and said his team has it.
“Obviously we would have liked a couple of more points in there (the 6-4-2 stretch) with how well we have been playing,” Ryan said. “We have momentum going in. We are playing our style of hockey, which is
the biggest thing for having momentum.
“When you are confident that your style of hockey is working, and the guy next to you….that is the biggest thing.”
After the game, Burkholder was not happy about Kohls’ injury.
“It was a really bad hit to the head that wasn’t called,” he said. “We need to take that out of the game.”
NOTES: Before the game, seniors Rashid, Matt Williams, Ryan and Patrick Divjak were honored. Divjak’s baby was also on the ice for the ceremony……Niagara’s TJ Sarcona was assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct for contact to the head at 4:55 of the second period..……Niagara defenseman Kevin Albers, who played in 28 games including Friday night, was listed as a scratch.