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After it was all said and done, their trip was not a waste after all.
Neil Ruffini scored just 29 seconds into overtime to give the University of Alabama-Huntsville a 3-2 College Hockey America victory over Niagara in front of a sparse crown in Dwyer Arena on Sunday.
The win salvaged what could have been a disaster for the Chargers, who lost the first two games of this rare three-game series and made their lengthy bus ride home more bearable.
“You always want to put teams behind you and eliminate that,” Huntsville coach Danton Cole said of Niagara and the CHA standings. “I thought we were a little bit better tonight than we were last night, which is good. The important thing for us is to approach the games in the right way.”
UAH improved to 6-9-1 in College Hockey America action and 10-16-2 overall. More importantly, Sunday’s triumph gave them 13 points in the CHA standings, three over fourth-place Niagara. Each club has two league games remaining before the CHA Tournament March 11-12.
The Purple Eagles are now 4-10-2 in CHA and 9-19-4 overall.
Niagara concludes its season with a home-and-home series with CHA rival Robert Morris next weekend. The Purple Eagles visit the Colonials on Friday and host them on Saturday. Faceoff for both games is 7 p.m.
“Both teams make mistakes when they are tired, I guess,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said of Sunday’s somewhat sloppy affair. “We have to tip our hat to their goalie. Sometimes you run into a hot goalie. We threw 43 pucks at him.”
Huntsville goaltender Cameron Talbot finished with 41 saves, but it was Ruffini who turned out to be the hero for the Chargers.
Just 23 seconds into overtime, Ruffini scored the game-winner when he barreled to the front of the Purple Eagles’ net and beat Niagara goaltender Adam Avramenko from close range to give the Chargers a much-needed victory.
“I had a lane to the net, took it, pulled it back and took a shot,” said Ruffini, who has seven goals this season. “You never know what is going to happen in overtime, so I took the shot.”
The Chargers jumped to a 2-0 lead early in the third period on goals by Ruffini and Tom Train and it looked like Niagara was done.
However, the Purple Eagles fought back for a tie when Paul Zanette and Jeff Hannan scored goals just 2:41 apart late in the third period.