Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — Early this week, there were questions regarding senior Giancarlo Iuorio's availability for the Niagara hockey team's games against Robert Morris this weekend.
The Hobey Baker nominee was unavailable to comment on his status early in the week, leaving a lingering doubt over whether or not he'd play.
Iuorio returned Friday without missing a beat, leading the Purple Eagles to a 4-3 win over Robert Morris University in Dwyer Arena. The senior scored a hat trick — including the game-winner with just 51 second remaining — after missing the previous 10 games.
The Purple Eagles’ victory clinched them at least a tie for the Atlantic Hockey regular season title, and they can wrap it up tonight with a tie or a win when these two clubs meet again in Moon Township, Pa. The win also extended Niagara’s home unbeaten streak to 19 games, just three shy of the school record.
Iuorio, who last scored on Dec. 1 and had what was reported as an upper body injury, didn’t know until late that he would even play on Friday.
“I felt good earlier in the week, but it was kind of a day-to-day thing,” said Iuorio, who now has 15 goals. “Me and coach were talking every day, and see how it was healing. It felt good obviously.”
With the score tied at three in the final minute, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder — whose club went 7-2-1 without Iuorio — reunited him with former linemate Marc Zanette in the four-on-four situation. Iuorio, who scored his earlier two goals skating with Hugo Turcotte and Isaac Kohls, took Zanette’s slick pass right in front of the crease and quickly lifted the puck over RMU goaltender Eric Levine to give Niagara the win.
“Marc did a great job,” Iuorio said. “It was kind of a one-on-two down low, I just pressured a guy and turned right back into Marc, who made a great play. He picked it out to me in the slot. I didn’t have much room, I just kind of shot it and was hoping, and it went in.”
Burkholder had a hunch about putting Iuorio with Zanette.
“I put him and Marc together, they have played an awful lot together,” said Burkholder, whose club is now 18-2-2 in conference play and 19-5-5 overall. Those guys have some chemistry, we thought about putting them back together.
The game was on the line, and it hit me that Marc and 'G' had killed penalties for most of the year, and for most of their careers they have been two good penalty killers. They get the credit, they made the play.”
Earlier, Iuorio resembled a deadly scorer, first skillfully tipping in Kevin Ryan’s shot in the slot to tie the game at one late in the first period. His second goal was a classic case of being in the right place at the right time, when he darted in and banged Kohl’s rebound past Levine to give Niagara a 3-1 lead midway through the second.
Defenseman Kevin Albers scored the other goal for Niagara, which came in ranked 14th and 15th in the two national polls, while Carsen Chubak made 29 saves. Kohls had two assists.
Matt Cope, Zac Lynch and Scott Jacklin scored for the young Colonials, who suited up nine freshmen. They fell to 10-11-1 in Atlantic play and 15-12-2 overall.
NOTES: Niagara’s Dan Kolenda returned to the lineup after missing two games while Jeff Hannan was again scratched due to injury. ... Niagara outshot the Colonials 34-32, and was 0 for 3 on the power play.