BY THOMAS BALDWIN
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — After Friday night’s titanic struggle, the Niagara hockey team could have used an earlier — and easier — night.
On Saturday evening, that’s exactly what the Purple Eagles got.
Unlike Friday’s razor thin triumph, the Purple Eagles took control early and had a little more tranquil time in vanquishing American International College 4-2 to sweep the Atlantic Hockey opening-round series in Dwyer Arena.
Sixth-seeded Niagara, which played in an opening-round series for the first time in three years, improved to 13-18-5 overall. The No. 11 Yellow Jackets, who scared the living heck out of the Purple Eagles before succumbing on Friday, finished 10-25-1.
So now, Atlantic Hockey reseeds after tonight’s deciding games between Army and Robert Morris along with RIT against Holy Cross. Niagara’s most likely next opponent will be Air Force. The Falcons, who split with Niagara last weekend, entered the tourney as the third seed.
But on Saturday night, the Purple Eagles were exceedingly glad to get this series out of the way.
“It’s huge, it looks like we are going to travel to Air Force,” said Niagara’s Ryan Rashid, who scored the eventual game-winning goal. “They (AIC) are pesky, and they definitely took a toll on us. We have some guys banged up, and not having to play tomorrow is big for recovery.”
According to multiple sources, the Purple Eagles had nine players miss Wednesday’s practice. On Saturday, the latest scratch was Chris Lochner. Niagara coach Dave Burkholder confirmed after the game that Lochner has a broken hand (blocked shot on Friday night) and is out for the season. He will have surgery on Monday.
“It is as bad as I can recall in my 18 years here,” Burkholder said. “It is just at the wrong time. It’s tough.”
Burkholder listed Isaac Kohls, who got rocked last Saturday night, as day to day.
In the game, the Purple Eagle stormed the Yellow Jackets and took a commanding 3-0 lead in the period.
After Sam Alfieri and Matt Chartrain gave Niagara a 2-0 lead, Rashid scored when his shot from the left point sailed past AIC goaltender Hunter Leisner.
“We were fortunate to get a power play,” Rashid said. “Vinnie Muto made a nice pass to Tyler Akeson, who slid it back door to me, and I was lucky enough to get good wood on a one-timer.”
In 145-plus minutes of playoff hockey, the Purple Eagles have surrendered just two goals.
“We have been very good defensively all year,” Burkholder said. “When we got into league play, which is 29 games now, we have allowed two goals a game. If we do that, we are going to win a championship. Those are pretty good numbers.
“Defense wins championships, goaltending obviously. That is playoff hockey. We are going to need that.”
Teichroeb was again solid for Niagara in making 29 saves. Defenseman Matt Williams scored Niagara’s other goal. Leisner recorded 24 stops.
Freshman David Norris scored for both goals for the Yellow Jackets in the third period - after the issue had been decided. AIC finished 9-18-1 in conference play and 10-25-1 overall.