By THOMAS BALDWIN
Niagara Gazette —
LEWISTON — The Niagara hockey team has not clinched the Atlantic Hockey regular season title just yet.
But one does not need a degree in mathematics to realize the deal is pretty much done. The latest step came in Saturday evening’s 6-4 victory over resilient Bentley University in Dwyer Arena.
With RIT in the rearview mirror last weekend and rival Canisius looming in the next few days, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said his club did a good job of not looking past Bentley.
“We have so much respect for Bentley and their offensive numbers, and what they can do to you, and they showed it tonight,” he said. “As I have said, this is our third year in Atlantic Hockey, and we haven’t done a thing in this league. For us to take anyone for granted would be wrong.”
Ryan Murphy and Marc Zanette led Niagara with two goals and an assist while Ryan Rashid and Sam Alfieri also scored. Patrick Divjak had three assists.
Murphy scored the eventual game winner midway through the second period to give the Purple Eagles a 5-3 lead.
Niagara led 3-1, 4-2 and 5-3 at junctures, but each time the Falcons cut the lead to one goal. Brett Switzer scored two goals for Bentley, which fell to 9-9-1 in conference play and 11-13-1 overall.
The Purple Eagles' conference championship outlook is promising if you look at the numbers.
The 17th-ranked Purple Eagles are 6-1-1 in their last eight games. They improved to 16-1-2 in conference play and will lead second-place Air Force by at least 10 points with only eight games left in the regular season. Niagara is 17-4-5 overall and has lost only two games since late October.
Now, the Purple Eagles turn attention to their hated rivals.
“Obviously, it’s a big rivalry, and has been since I have been here,” Murphy said. “We will do the same things during the week and gear up like it is anyone we are going to play against, and go out there and execute our gameplan.”
The teams play at Canisius on Thursday before skating again on Saturday in Dwyer. Both games start at 7:05 p.m.
Niagara defeated Canisius 2-1 on November 16.
NOTES: Niagara’s Dan Kolenda, who was plastered into the boards and removed on a stretcher Friday night, sat out and is listed as day-to-day. ... Giancarlo Iuorio, Matt Williams, Isaac Kohls and Matt Chiarantano were the other Niagara scratches, each due to injury.
Western Mich 71, UB 60
Javon McCrea had 22 points and 10 rebounds, but the Bulls (8-14, 3-5 MAC) shot just 32 percent and gave up 15 offense rebounds to allow the Broncos (14-7, 3-5) to snap a three-game losing streak to UB. It was McCrea's fifth double-double of the conference season, and his 22 points move him into a tie with Rodney Pierce (2007-10) for 13th-most in program history.
NCCC 68, Alfred State 53
Ethan Baker (Wilson) had 15 points, Jordan Street had 13 points and 10 rebounds and Isaiah Johnson filled the stat sheet with 11 points, eight rebounds, six assists and five steals for the Thunderwolves.
NU 64, Rider 59
Lauren Gatto had a double-double with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and the Purple Eagles (10-11, 5-5 MAAC) scored 12 of their last 20 points from the free throw line as they earned a sweep over the Broncs (10-11, 5-5) for the first time since 2009-10.
Akron 75, UB 57
The Bulls (7-14, 5-3 MAC) were outscored 38-23 during the second half, during which they had led, 38-37. Kristen Sharkey and Christa Baccas each had a double-double, the first time since December 2011 two Bulls had done that in one game.
Alfred State 66, NCCC 56
Kristine Ripson (Lew-Port) and Jessica Curry (Wilson) each had a double-double for the Thunderwolves (10-10, 2-4 WNYAC). Ripson had 18 points and 16 rebounds, while Curry had 14 and 12. Alfred improves to 13-7 overall and 5-2 in conference play.
Jazlyn Porter (Niagara Falls) won the 400-meter dash for the women's team as the Bengals finished second at the Brockport Invitational. Shaun Winter (Grand Island) ran a leg for the winning 1,600-meter relay team as the men's team finished fourth.