Niagara Gazette — Lewiston — Niagara University men’s hockey player Giancarlo Iuorio couldn’t have picked a better time to register his 100th career point.
Iuorio scored the game-winning goal with 8:32 left in the third period Friday and the top-seeded Purple Eagles defeated eighth-seeded RIT, 3-2, at Dwyer Arena. Iuorio finished with two goals and an assist.
“When the game’s on the line, your big guys have to be big, and they were,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said.
With the win, the Purple Eagles took a 1-0 lead over the Tigers in the best-of-three AHA quarterfinals playoff. The game certainly boasted a playoff atmosphere.
“That’s a game we expected,” Burkholder said. “That’s a great playoff hockey game — two teams playing hard and it comes down the final horn.
“It takes four wins for an NCAA bid, so one down, three to go.”
RIT opened the scoring 6:11 into the second period. Winger Brad McGowan and center Matt Garbowsky entered the Purple Eagles’ zone on a 2-on-1. McGowan’s feed found Garbowsky, who fired it past Niagara goalie Carsen Chubak.
A few moments later, Niagara appeared to have tied the game when a wild scramble in front of Tigers’ goalie Jordan Ruby culminated with the puck crossing the goal line. Iuorio had collided with Ruby, sending him into the net with the puck. A referee behind the net emphatically waved the goal off and instead sent Iuorio to the box for goaltender interference.
After killing off the ensuing penalty, the Purple Eagles got the bounce they needed to turn the game around.
Iuorio entered the Tigers’ zone and fired a slapshot that missed high and hit the glass. The puck bounced next to Ruby, where defenseman Jason Beattie, crashing the net, scored on his backhand.
“(Beattie) made a great play on the breakout and attacked the net,” Iuorio said. “That was obviously huge. That turned the momentum a little bit for us.”
The Purple Eagles got another bounce early in the third period. Iuorio deflected C.J. Chartrain’s point shot past Ruby and into the net, giving them a 2-1 lead.
Niagara’s lead lasted just over five minutes. With Ryan Rashid in the box for slashing, Tigers’ forward Adam Mitchell tied the game at two.
From there, the Purple Eagles’ top line went to work again.
Fending off a Tiger’s defenseman, Marc Zanette collected a rebound in the slot. His backdoor, no-look feed found Iuorio, who beat a sprawling Ruby.
“(Zanette) did a great job finding the rebound and he actually steered it to me backdoor,” Iuorio said. “I had pretty much an open net other than the goalie’s pad. He made it easy for me.”
“I’m really happy with how our team kept coming back after (RIT’s) goals,” Burkholder said. “We didn’t quit, we were resilient and when it had to get done our top guy and top line got it done.”
Chubak finished with 25 saves, including 12 in the third period. Burkholder particularly liked his ability to get opportune whistles for the team.
“I thought (Chubak) was solid,” Burkholder said. “He made the saves and I really liked his calmness back there for us. He looked like a veteran goalie which you’re going to need in playoff hockey.”
Entering the game, the Tigers had the nation’s second-best power play. Niagara surrendered one power-play goal, but a team focus on discipline aided their penalty kill effort.
“We played hard,” Burkholder said. “They’re really fast, so not to get tangled up or take the hooks and the holds, we were very disciplined.”
The Purple Eagles outshot the Tigers, 32-27. They also finished with 22 blocked shots.
Game 2 is at 7:05 p.m. today,
We need to be the hardest working team. This is the time of year where will beats skill,” he said. “We have to get in and establish our forecheck and we can wear them down with our depth.”