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ROCHESTER, N.Y. — Two words.
The middle stanza was the story of the game as RIT blitzed Niagara with five unanswered goals (on just 11 shots) to turn a 2-0 deficit into a 5-2 lead and eventual win.
The first line of Erik Brown, Gabe Valenzuela and Liam Kerins scored the final four goals.
“They scored some really nice goals,” RIT coach Wayne Wilson said.
RIT third-string goalie Nick Amato won again with 23 saves.
“Our captains were great in rallying the guys and getting them straightened out,” Wilson said. “All of a sudden, we get two power-play goals. A better work ethic in the second.”
“Their ‘D’ core controls the tempo of the game,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “They controlled the pace of the game. We just didn’t have any answers. They protected their young goalie.”
It all started with a weak goal. Andrew Miller skated down the right side looking to pass. He ran out of room, so threw it towards the net from an impossible angle. Somehow, it found the far corner past Jackson Teichroeb at 3:17.
“Miller’s goal in particular, scoring first just gave us excitement on the bench,” Wilson said. “It brought our team back to life and felt like there was hope.”
“It’s a killer,” Burkholder said of the early second period goal. “It killed our momentum and it hurt our bench. We got to be mentally strong to fight through that, and we didn’t.”
It took until the second half of the period before the floodgates officially opened.
Valenzuela provided a nice feed to Kerins, whose quick shot left Teichroeb helpless at 11:54.
Two and a half minutes later during a power play, Josh Mitchell passed to Valenzuela down low. Teichroeb appeared to think Mitchell still had the puck and never reacted to the pass and Valenzuela had a wide-open net.
Another two and a half minutes later, Valenzuela notched his second. He skated in untouched and let it fly from the top of the right circle, beating Teichroeb stick side.
At this point, for the second night in a row, Burkholder replaced Teichroeb with Guillaume Therien.
Looking forward, Burkholder said, “It’s G’s job. He did a good job coming off the bench both nights. So it’s his net ’til he gives it up.”
For tonight, the move didn’t matter.
With five seconds left in the period while on a power play, the Tigers scored again as Brown tipped in a right point blast from Greg Amlong.
Niagara grabbed the first period lead on goals by T.J. Sarcona and Stephen Patterson, both putting their shots under the crossbar.
Sarcona shot it through a crowd, while Patterson finished off a two-on-one.
“I didn’t think we worked very hard in the first,” Wilson said. “We didn’t take advantage of the power plays we had in the first. It was not looking good.”
With the win, RIT (14-12-6, 14-7-5) clinches a bye for the first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
“We wanted to get a bye,” Wilson said. “We got to get that extra rest.”
The Tigers are currently tied for second place with Air Force and Holy Cross, three points ahead of Mercyhurst, who they face next weekend in a home-and-home, starting in Rochester.
Niagara (5-21-6, 5-16-5) remains in 10th place. The Purple Eagles host Air Force for two games next weekend.