Niagara Gazette — Niagara’s rivalry with Canisius College is long established. But in hockey, there’s a newer one budding with another regional program, Rochester Institute of Technology.
The Purple Eagles and Tigers will open a home-and-home series tonight at Dwyer Arena, with the opening faceoff set for 7 p.m.
Their last meeting was one for history books, played outdoors at Frontier Field on December 14. The cold and snowy clash ended in a 2-2 draw.
RIT (8-11-3 overall, 7-7-1 Atlantic Hockey Association) is currently two games ahead of Niagara (5-14-3 overall, 5-7-3 AHA) in the conference standings.
There’s more to this rivalry, though. It even extends off the ice, where both programs are seeking players in the same territories or junior teams, sometimes even eyeballing the same prospects.
“When they first went Division I, we had so many common players,” said Niagara head coach David Burkholder. “They recruited heavily in Toronto as we did. There were a lot of teams that ... we had common players. There was just an instant rivalry.
“It’s grown to a level that, I think, it’s as good a rivalry that’s out there for us.”
Niagara enters tonight following last weekend’s pair of home losses to Holy Cross. In both games, Niagara outshot the Crusaders by a roughly 2-to-1 margin (79 to 44 in two games) yet simply could not beat goaltender Matt Ginn. While acknowledging the Holy Cross goalie’s talent, Burkholder suggested that his players didn’t challenge Ginn enough by creating traffic in front of the net. That’s a change he’d like to see made against the Tigers tonight.
“I think if we can get to the traffic area, and still maintain the number of shots that we have, I think we’ll be a little more successful,” he said.
Adrian Ignagni will get the start in goal tonight. After that, the coach will choose his starting netminder based on merit.
“We’re at that time of the season where if you play well, you’re going to play again,” he said. “Our goalies have known that for a couple of weeks. We gave Jackson (Teichroeb) two starts last weekend. We’re coming back with Adrian on Friday. He deserves it. He’s worked hard and he’s a pretty competitive guy in his own right.”
The team is fully healthy. Burkholder says with a dozen games left on the schedule, it’s a good feeling to have everyone available. He’s also noticing the players’ rising feeling of urgency.
“This time last year, we had probably clinched first place and then kind of lost our edge and limped into the playoffs,” said Burkholder. “Obviously it’s a totally different year and we need to be playing hard for a different reason this year, so we certainly have a lot to play for and it starts (tonight) on TV.”
The game will be televised nationally on the CBS Sports Network, however not every local household may be able to see it. Your ability to receive the premium cable channel will depend on your home service and level of your subscription.
The game will also be broadcast over the radio airwaves on WLVL 1340 AM.