By Thomas Baldwin
LEWISTON - After what happened earlier this week, the Purple Eagles will breathe easier - for now.
The Niagara hockey team had two huge objectives heading into Saturday night’s game. The first was to rebound from a horrible eight-goal shellacking it took on Tuesday night. The second was to get an important victory against a highly regarded conference opponent.
The Purple Eagles achieved both goals as Giancarlo Iuorio and Matt Williams scored and Carsen Chubak made 25 saves in Niagara’s 2-1 victory over Mercyhurst College in front of 1,077 fans in Dwyer Arena.
“This is truly the start of our season, and obviously every point in Atlantic Hockey is huge,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “And for us to answer the bell like we did tonight….three games in eight nights is not the norm for college hockey. I was concerned how we would look in the third period, or the second half of the game.”
The Purple Eagles jumped to a 1-0 lead with two and a half minutes left in the first period when Iuorio banged in Ryan Rashid’s pass from the corner past Mercyhurst goaltender Max Strang.
Niagara looked like to would sail along to an easy victory when Williams scored the eventual game winner halfway through the second period. He skated in from the left point toward the Mercyhurst net, took Chris Lochner’s pass from behind the goal and blasted the puck over Strang’s glove to give Niagara - what appeared to be at the time - a comfortable 2-0 lead.
“(Dan) Kolenda was battling down low and passed it to Lochner,” Williams said of the decisive goal. “Chris and I made eye contact, and I one-timed it, and luckily it found the back of the net.”
But five minutes later it turned into a new ballgame when Mercyhurst’s Ryan Misiak banged a loose puck past Chubak to make it 2-1 Niagara. From there, the Purple Eagles held on.
It was the second straight solid start for Chubak, who played in Niagara’s first game last season and did not pay again the whole year.
“Everything looked real easy, he looked like a veteran,” Burkholder said of Chubak, who has stopped 59 of 62 shots faced in his two starts. “He is really solid, and our guys feed off of that on the bench. It’s not how many (saves), but when, and that was the case with Carsen tonight.”
The Purple Eagles next play at Michigan State this Friday and Saturday. Eight of their first 12 games this season are on the road.
NOTES: Niagara winger Isaac Kohls missed the game due to an injury suffered in the Colgate loss on Tuesday. Burkholder said he could have played if needed, but held him out as a precaution. Kohls is listed as day to day….. Mercyhurst’s Daniel O’Donoghue was ejected early in the third period for smashing Iuorio into the boards from behind. Iuorio returned to the game…Niagara outshot the Lakers 39-26.