By BRANDON SCHLAGER
Niagara Gazette — LEWSITON — Niagara University hockey extended the nation’s longest unbeaten streak to 12 games Wednesday night, but for the first time this season didn’t come away with two points against an Atlantic Hockey Association opponent.
After RIT took a two-goal lead into the second period, the Purple Eagles, ranked No. 16 in the nation, rallied to tie their conference rival, playing the Tigers to a 2-2 decision in front of 1,200 at Dwyer Arena.
It’s the third game in a row Niagara (10-2-4, 9-0-1 AHA) had trailed its opponent heading into the middle frame, before resorting to a little resiliency in order to mount a comeback.
“We showed it again. We kind of just stuck with it,” Niagara head coach Dave Burkholder said. “I think the shot chart will say that we were doing what we wanted to do, getting it deep and getting it on net. I don’t think we made it difficult on their goalie, though. I don’t think we spent enough time at the top of the crease. But overall that was two very even teams that went toe to toe ‘til the final round.”
Niagara outshot RIT, 46-21. The Tigers (4-8-4, 3-5-3 AHA) started strong, but fell just short of their first ever win at Dwyer Arena.
RIT forward Ben Lynch got the scoring started midway through the first. With Niagara on the powerplay, Lynch took a pass from Dan Schuler, walked in alone and beat Niagara goalie Carsen Chubak blocker side. It was the first shorthanded goal the Purple Eagles have allowed this season.
Lynch scored his second of the game 6:30 into the second period to give the Tigers their 2-0 lead, but Niagara sophomore Isaac Kohls, playing in his first game in over a month, scored his third goal of the season off a breakaway pass from Hugo Turcotte to bring the Purple Eagles within one.
Just over two minutes later, junior Patrick Divjak scored his second goal on the year on assists by Jason Beattie and Chris Lochner to even things up.
After Niagara controlled the pace for much of the first two periods, RIT held the Purple Eagles to just seven shots in the third and overtime frames, forcing the tie.
Playing just their third game in nearly four weeks, Burkholder pointed to a little rust for the team’s slow finish.
“I thought we looked a little sluggish,” Burkholder said. “When you don’t play games and you’re not in game shape, you kind of get a little rusty. Carsen saved his best for the third and in overtime when we needed him.”
Chubak made 19 saves, including two key stops late in overtime, and earned the game’s second star. He heads into Christmas break as the nation’s top goaltender, leading in goals-against average, save percentage and shutouts.
“We’ve had a lot of breaks lately. It’s kind of almost frustrating,” Chubak said of Niagara’s stop-and-go December. “But we’ll take the time off. We don’t have an option, I guess. So we’ll enjoy our Christmas and get back to it all after.”
The Purple Eagles head off on another break for the holidays. They don’t play again until Dec. 29, when they travel to face non-conference opponent Bowling Green.
Still, sitting all alone in the AHA’s top spot with their streak still intact, Burkholder and the Purple Eagles find themselves in a nice spot heading into the holiday.
“We kept the home streak alive; we’re unbeaten in league play going into Christmas. There’s a lot to be happy and thankful for this Christmas,” Burkholder said. “We have a lot of positives to build on in the second half.”