U.S. AIR FORCE ACADEMY, Colo. - Niagara defenseman Matt Williams ripped a wrister from the left point at 4:49 of overtime to lift the Purple Eagles to a 4-3 win over Air Force in the third and deciding game of the Atlantic Hockey Association quarterfinal series, Sunday, March 16, at the Academy's Cadet Ice Arena. With the win, Niagara (15-19-5) advances to the AHA Final Four in Rochester, N.Y., to face Robert Morris in the semifinals, Friday, March 21. Air Force's season comes to an end with a final record of 21-14-4.
Niagara struck first on Michael Benedict's first goal of the season. Kevin Albers chipped the puck off the wall and Benedict slapped in a bouncing puck for a 1-0 lead. Air Force answered just over three minutes later on the power play. Alex Halloran's wrister from the center point found the back of the net. His fourth of the season was assisted by Adam McKenzie and Scott Holm. The goal was the first, and only, on the power play by either team in the three-game series. The Purple Eagles regained the lead after Air Force turned the puck over behind its own net. Stephen Pietrobon got the steal and the goal, his sixth of the season. Thirty-two seconds later, the Falcons scored on the rush. Alex Halloran flipped a puck high into the air and Jason Fabian touched it to George Michalke III at the blue line. Michalke skated down the slot and his backhander went over the glove of Jackson Teichroeb to tie the game at 2-2 at 13:28 of the first period.
The game remained tied until late in the second period when Purple Eagle forward Patrick Conte put back a rebound of a Matt Williams shot at the 16:16 mark for a 3-2 lead. With 45 seconds left in the second period, Niagara's Patrick Divjak had a short-handed breakaway, but Jason Torf made a blocker save to keep the score 3-2. Early in the third period, Air Force tied the game as Ryan Timar scored from George Michalke III and Johnny Hrabovsky. Michalke's wrap around attempt slid through the goal mouth and Timar scored his seventh of the season to tie the game at 3-3 at 6:29 of the third period. Air Force outshot Niagara, 14-5, in the third period and had a 35-10 advantage in total shot attempts in the period..
In overtime, Purple Eagle T.J. Sarcona won a faceoff in the offensive zone, sending the puck back to Williams at the point. His wrister from near the blue line hit the far post and caromed in for the game-winner at 4:49 of overtime. Air Force outshot Niagara, 34-31, in the game. Air Force was 1-for-3 on the power play while Niagara was 0-for-2. Jason Torf made 27 saves while Jackson Teichroeb made 31 for Niagara.
"Give Niagara credit, they got it done on the road," head coach Frank Serratore said. "We got the lead on Friday and won the game. We never had the lead on Saturday or tonight and we lost both games. It is hard to win when you are chasing the scoreboard. I liked our game tonight. This team has found ways to win games all season. They have come from behind many times and won some big games this season. This is one of the most spirited teams that we have had and I feel bad for the guys."