By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — The Purple Eagles had the momentum. They were outshooting their rivals and goalie Carsen Chubak was putting in one of the best performances of his college career. Niagara University was twenty minutes away from upsetting one of U.S. college hockey’s traditional powers in the NCAA men’s hockey tournament.
Unfortunately, it took less than a minute of play for that dream to be dashed.
Andrew MacWilliams and Danny Kristo scored just 57 seconds apart in the third period to lift the University of North Dakota over the Purple Eagles, 2-1, in the NCAA West Regional semifinal played in Grand Rapids, Mich. Leading up to that burst, it looked like Niagara might earn an overnight stay and another game.
“I didn’t want to go into a defensive shell,” said Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder. “They got that kind of… I don’t want to call it a fluky goal but a very fortunate shot from the point that went through traffic before Carsen caught it. He didn’t get it until late and it trickled in and kind of got them all the momentum.”
Chubak quickly established himself as Niagara’s most valuable player, stopping everything thrown at him in the first two periods of play. Among his nine saves in the first period was one against a North Dakota three-on-one rush.
The more he saved, the greater his teammates’ chances improved. Finally, Niagara broke the scoreless tie in the second period with Jason Beattie’s goal at the 6:27 mark.
However, that was all the offense Niagara could produce. The Purple Eagles had six power play opportunities but could not capitalize during any of them. In turn, the Purple Eagles shut down North Dakota on their six power plays, including a five-on-three situation. The constant trips to the penalty box by both sides prevented the kind of game Burkholder was hoping his team could play.
“If we score a power play goal, we’re playing tomorrow,” Burkholder said. “We didn’t get it .”
Chubak is one of 10 finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, which recognizes the top player in U.S. college hockey each year. His 41-save performance was the kind of outing that can impress those who will cast votes for the award.
Unfortunately, it was another Hobey hopeful who stole the game back for North Dakota. Kristo, who along with teammate Corban Knight are also in consideration, moved the puck behind the Niagara net and beat Chubak to the other side, scoring his game-winner on a wraparound.
Less than a minute before, MacWilliams tied the game with his shot from the point.
“I had a really good angle from the bench and just as the guy released it, two players skated right through the crease,” Burkholder said when asked about the first goal. “I think he might have lost it but certainly it’s not Carsen’s fault at all.”
Goaltender Zane Gothberg turned aside 29 shots for North Dakota, who advances to face Yale today in Grand Rapids at 4 p.m. Canisius College, meanwhile, faces Quinnipiac in the NCAA East Regional semifinal this evening, beginning at 5:30 p.m. in Providence, R.I.
Niagara finishes its season with a record of 23-10-5. For their efforts, the team was showered with honors including national rankings in two college hockey polls, an Atlantic Hockey Association Coach of the Year honor for Burkholder, an AHA Player of the Year honor for Chubak and the AHA Defenseman of the Year for Paul Zanette.
Burkholder can look ahead to next season, with several talents including his starting goalie returning.
“My heart aches for the seniors that have given their hearts and souls to the team,” he said. “But we’re built to last. I think we’re going to be good for a lot of years. I can’t say enough about the character and quality of kids that we get to deal with every day.”You can follow Niagara Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter @MrozGazette