The Niagara University men’s hockey team fell in overtime, 3-2, to AIC in the championship game of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs on Saturday night in HarborCenter. Picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason poll, the Purple Eagles earned the sixth seed in the playoffs and bowled confidently through Canisius, two-time defending champion Air Force, and RIT before the Yellow Jackets scored 1:16 into the extra period to end Niagara’s season.
Niagara’s best chance early came with five minutes elapsed in the opening frame. The Purple Eagles were supplying heavy pressure and Eric Cooley popped a shot off the goalie – who lost it momentarily – but located it skidding into the right corner and out of danger.
With 6:30 left in the first, AIC generated an odd-man rush after Niagara couldn’t maintain possession in its offensive zone. With three forwards racing in, the Purple Eagles’ back end played the puck well and allowed Brian Wilson to make an easy straight-on save.
Wilson came up big again with less than a minute to play in the first. AIC found itself behind Wilson with space to shoot, but the sophomore netminder recovered and reeled the puck in to keep things scoreless at the break.
An AIC penalty early in the second helped swing the momentum back toward NU. Although unsuccessful on the man-advantage, Cooley and Reed Robinson both had great looks in front that just missed the mark.
The momentum continued to slide toward NU and finally reached a tipping point when Justin Kendall put the Purple Eagles on the board first. Dylan Mills carried the puck into the zone and fed it ahead to Kendall, who guided it over the goal line for his 12th tally of the year.
After AIC scored twice to close out the second, Kris Spriggs leveled the score at 2-2 in the third by shooting short side on an approach to the AIC from the right flank.
NU played into overtime for the fifth time in seven postseason games. Since Feb. 22, the Purple Eagles have had seven extra-frame games in 10 outings, logging 57:54 in extra minutes and going 3-2-2 in those matchups.
Per Chris Smith (@SmittySID), the last two conference title games that Niagara played in – as members of College Hockey America – also ended in 3-2 scores (March 16, 2008, a win over Bemidji State; March 13, 2010, an overtime loss to Alabama Huntsville).