By THOMAS BALDWIN
Niagara Gazette — After taking three of four points from RIT last weekend, the No. 17 Niagara hockey team will face its second hot opponent in a row this weekend when it hosts streaking Bentley University in a two-game series tonight and Saturday in Dwyer Arena at 7:05 p.m.
Niagara had a successful series against the Rochester Institute of Technology last weekend after the Tigers had won four of their five previous games coming in. This weekend Bentley (11-11-1, 9-7-1 AHA) comes into Dwyer having won five of its last seven games.
However, the Falcons lost their last outing to Holy Cross and had to settle for a weekend split. Bentley has 19 points in conference play and is one point out of third place, but just four points ahead of 10th-place Robert Morris.
One player the Purple Eagles will have to monitor closely is Hobey Baker nominee Brett Gensler. The junior forward is tied for eighth in scoring nationally with 12 goals and 19 assists for 31 points in 23 games.
“He is one of the best offensive players in the country. ... They like to run and gun, and we do too,” said Niagara coach Dave Burkholder. “It should be good hockey at Dwyer.”
The Purple Eagles have 30 points and could be out of reach of anyone hoping to catch them in the conference race.
Niagara (15-4-5, 14-1-2) was without five regular players last weekend, and could be again this time around. Giancarlo Iuorio and Matt Williams are out for a couple of more weeks. Isaac Kohls, Matt Chartrain and Hugo Turcotte are listed as day-to-day and might play this weekend.
Two players Burkholder mentioned who played last week and contributed were freshman defenseman Matt Chiarantano and sophomore defenseman Nick Gawron.
“They were really efficient, they got pucks deep when they had to,” Burkholder said. “We asked those guys to play out of position and they did well.”
The Purple Eagles’ depth has been tested — as is all teams' during a long season. It has been a case of so far so good.
“It is a chance to for us to give underclassmen some quality minutes, and that is great for development down the road,” Burkholder said. “There is no better way to become a better player and learn the game than by getting playing time.
“It has been good. It is part of hockey where you go through these stretches where you have some unfortunate injuries. That is why you have a full team. That is why it is a team sport.”
Continued good play could cause a good problem for the Purple Eagles. The coaching staff might have to decide who to suit up, deciding between a player who was injured and ready to come back and another player who stepped up when called upon.
“We have great chemistry in our locker room,” Burkholder said. “We have a motto that says, ‘If you are not in the lineup on a Friday or Saturday night, you root for the guy who is playing.’”