LEWISTON – Their season had been marred by injury and an 18-game winless streak. Niagara is well on its way to its worst record in program history.
But none of that mattered on the ice Friday night.
After picking up three points against Air Force last weekend, the Purple Eagles came into their last game at Dwyer Arena with a little bit of freedom and a whole lot of confidence.
With two goals from senior Isaac Kohls and an impressive performance from sophomore goaltender Jackson Teichroeb, Niagara upset Robert Morris, 2-1, in front of 917.
Robert Morris, the defending Atlantic Hockey champion, came into the weekend with the regular season title and top seed in the playoffs already secured.
Niagara is the last place team.
Welcome to Atlantic Hockey, where parity is reality and success at the right time can lead to big gains.
“Give this group a little bit of confidence, which we haven’t had all year, and you can see what the result is,” Kohls said. “We started making plays, people started getting confidence and that just turns into people wanting the puck, controlling the puck more, making plays and trying to make plays. When that happens, it’s always good to have puck possession. That’s the name of the game. Puck possession. We’ve been doing a better job of that for sure.”
The top line has been impressive the last three games for Niagara, with Kohls on the right wing, Stanislav Dzakhov on left wing and TJ Sarcona in the middle.
While Kohls scored each goal, his linemates set up each play.
The first one came at 6:14 of the first when Dzakhov carried the puck into the zone, and fed Sarcona, who slipped it to Kohls for the tip.
The game-winner came at 6:33 of the third when Sarcona won the faceoff and Dzakhov and Kohls both went hard to the net. Dzakhov fed Kohls, who jammed the puck in the net.
While the top line capitalized, the Niagara defense, led by Teichroeb, shut down a smooth, strong and speedy Robert Morris offense.
The Colonials came hard in the final 40 minutes, outshooting Niagara, 25-9, in that span, but Teichroeb made key saves and backstopped a penalty killing unit that held Robert Morris scoreless on five power play attempts.
“That’s a game right there from start to finish where I thought he was the star of the game,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said of Teichroeb. “That’s what you need come playoff time.
“We shut down a high-octane power play, and it’s a credit to our penalty killers, and your goalie has to be the best at that and he was.”
Greg Gibson was the only Colonial to best Teichroeb, scoring at 4:01 of the second to tie the game, 1-1. Robert Morris had plenty of scoring chances and generated 11 shots on its five power plays, but couldn’t finish the play.
“Tonight we were beaten by a good goaltender and an opportunistic hockey team,” Robert Morris coach Derek Schooley said. “I liked our game. I thought our game was good. We played with a lot of energy. We tilted the ice. We played in their end a lot. The shots are probably indicative of the territorial play, just they won the most important thing, which was the scoreboard. I’d trade the scoreboard for territorial play any day.”
The teams meet again tonight in 84 Lumber Arena to close out the home-and-home series and the regular season.
Robert Morris (21-7-5) has a bye next weekend while Niagara (5-24-4) will find out Saturday night who their first-round playoff opponent will be.