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Maybe, just maybe, there is still hope for the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Junior Bryan Haczyk scored the game-winning goal for the second straight night as Niagara defeated Alabama-Huntsville, 3-1, in a critically important College Hockey America game on Saturday night at Dwyer Arena.
With the College Hockey Tournament looming in just two short weeks, the Niagara University men’s hockey team is looking for someone to catapult it into a good situation heading into the tourney.
Chris Moran and Jeff Hannan also scored while Adam Avramenko made 22 saves for the Purple Eagles, who improved to 4-9-2 in league play and 9-18-4 overall.
More importantly, Niagara gained two points and now has 10 in the CHA standings, just one behind third-place Huntsville (5-8-1 CHA, 9-16-2 overall.)
The Purple Eagles can tie or pass the Chargers in the standings when the two clubs conclude their rare three-game series Sunday at 4 p.m.
“I feel the positive momentum and the spirit and attitude is going in the right direction,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said after the game. “It has been a frustrating season when you look at our record.
“I thought we put a stamp on the game in the second period; I thought that was a tremendous period.”
With the game tied at one late in the second period, Haczyk scored another paramount goal when he took a pass from Paul Zanette and blasted a sizzling slap shot from the top of the faceoff circle past Huntsville goaltender Cameron Talbot to give the Purple Eagles a 2-1 lead with just 1.9 seconds left.
“Because it was a four-on-four, I was thinking there would be a lot of space ,” said Haczyk, who has eight goals this season. “I honestly thought they (UAH) thought the period was over. Paulie made a nice dish to me and I was just moving my feet coming down the wing, and was looking to get one off. I got lucky I guess.”
“I called a couple of guys out, and Hacker came out and responded,” Burkholder said of Haczyk’s winner. “I think he is starting to believe in his shot. He needs to shoot it more. It was the our biggest goal of the season. Now we went into the break up a goal, and it took a lot of pressure off of us.”
As big a high the goal was for the Purple Eagles, it was a blow to the Chargers.
“That second goal was a tough one to give up,” Alabama-Huntsville coach Danton Cole said.
Avramenko shook off a poor start – giving up a goal just 1:25 into the game – but was sharp the rest of the way. His play on Saturday was different from earlier in the year, when surrendering a goal early might have been devastating.
“I just try not to think about it,” Avramenko said of the difference between now and earlier in the season. “They are going to score once in a while. You just have to shake it off and give our team a chance.”
Davide Nicoletti scored the lone Chargers’ goal while Talbot recorded 29 saves.
Despite arriving in Niagara with a five-point lead – which is now down to one – Huntsville coach Danton Cole said his club will not feel any pressure heading into Sunday’s game.
“We always try to approach stuff by not getting too high or too low,” he said. “We just like winning hockey games whenever they are. I am not too worried about that. We have to come out and play hard.”
It is no secret that all of the CHA clubs are looking to avoid a first-round CHA matchup with league champion and sixth-ranked Bemidji State, but Cole was philosophic about the prospect of facing the Beavers right off the bat.
“Sooner or later, you are going to have to play them,” he said. “If you avoid them in the first game and you win, you have to play them in the second game. I want to get us playing better. You can’t worry about who we are playing in two weeks. We are not in that position.”