If there is to be a Cinderella in a hockey tournament, it would be Niagara. Of the 16 teams playing in the NCAA tournament this year, Niagara is seeded 15th. They are up against the number one team in their region, a team that had only five losses all season and 32 victories. Pretty daunting!
A sea of purple showed up just about the time Niagara took the ice for warmups. The fan bus and student bus from Niagara had left about 10 am Friday morning and didn’t come over to the Times-Union Center for the early game as there was a 5 pm Pep Rally at the Hilton Garden Inn, where the team and fans were staying. While a great idea – a pep rally, that is, Elise and I were in town to see hockey so had skipped the pep rally to watch the early game.
The N-Zone gang even brought Monty, the Purple Eagle, with them.
The game was really intense. Niagara was holding their own against a much larger and much faster team. The big question, as the first period ended in a zero tie, I put to Elise was how long could they continue to hold their own.
Unfortunately, Niagara took some very unnecessary penalties at the end of the first period of play. One of these carried over into period two and Michigan finally drew first blood by scoring. It was like a different Niagara team, with the exception of Pags – the goaltender, had taken the ice at the beginning of period two. Unfortunately, this team lost the game as there is only so far that good goal tending will take you. When your team is held without a shot on goal for almost a whole period’s time, you are not going to go far.
The third period didn’t look much better, until Matt Carounas took the shut out away from Michigan with Niagara’s only goal of the game. With 2:48 left to play and down by 3, Dave Burkholder, the Niagara head coach, tried his best to get his team closer. He pulled Pags to give his team a scoring advantage, hopefully, by putting six skaters on the ice. Unfortunately, this is not a great idea. Niagara’s man up situation had not been all that effective all game so this was an issue. Michigan scored its fifth and final goal into an empty net.