After going 47 days without winning a hockey game, Niagara won two in three days on the road and upset Rochester Institute of Technology in their best-of-three first round series in the Atlantic Hockey Conference playoffs.
The Purple Eagles completed their stunner with a 4-1 victory on Sunday night in the third game of the series at Gene Polisseni Arena in Rochester. Niagara scored twice in the final 57 seconds to win the series opener, 5-4, on Friday and absorbed a 5-0 shellacking in Game Two on Saturday. That loss did not dismay coach Dave Burkholder’s team which has won only five times in 37 games this season (5-29-3).
They struck one minute into Sunday's game with freshman Kris Spriggs scoring his ninth of the season with assists from Stephen Pietrobon and Vinny Muto.
Sophomore Sam Rennaker, the hero of Friday’s win when he scored short-handed with 11 seconds left, made it 2-0. It was his seventh of the season with assists from Johnny Curran and Stanislav Dzakhov. John Peacock of the Tigers made it 2-1 at 5:00 of the second period.
Dzakhov, a junior from Russia, scored on the power play to give Niagara a 3-1 lead at 5:10 of the third. Noah Delmas and Caleb Boman assisted. In desperation, RIT pulled goalie Mike Rotolo for an ex attacker with 16:22 left. It took just 38 seconds for Dzakhov to cash in on the empty-net opportunity with Keegan Harper and goalie Jackson Teichroeb getting the assists.
"It was one of those nights where everything … we thought needed to happen, happened," Burkholder said. "Jackson
needed to be the first star, he was. We needed to score a power play goal to win the series, we did.
"It’s truly … It’s a big upset. … having to come to RIT, the defending champs, this ranks up there with one of bigger wins in the history of the program in my opinion."
Teichroeb was the real hero of the victory. The senior from London, Ont., made 42 saves. He faced 35 shots in just the first two periods. Also Niagara penalty killers blanked RIT on three man-advantage situations.
Niagara, which was seeded 11th, will face No. 1 seed Canisius in the quarterfinal round next weekend at HarborCenter.