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January 27, 2012

Niagara shuts down RMU offense

The top of the Atlantic Hockey Association standings is tight. So tight that one night of play can completely change the look.

With league-leading Mercyhurst falling to RIT Friday night, Robert Morris had a chance to move to within one point of RIT for first place. Instead, Robert Morris' offense went quiet, and the Colonials fell 2-1 to Niagara.

"Points are tough to come by," head coach Derek Schooley said. Every game is going to be close and you have to make sure you protect your home ice. Now we have to go on the road and get two points in a building that's tough to win in."

Robert Morris is tied with Niagara now with 23 points, three behind RIT and two behind Mercyhurst. The Colonials will travel up to Niagara on Saturday to cap off the home-and-home series, changing up the usual pattern of the AHA series.

"We're used to maybe having a little pregame skate then going back and take a nap and relax a little bit, whether we're at home or on the road," senior Nick Chiavetta said. "It's a little different but we're used to it."

Chiavetta scored Robert Morris' lone goal 12:52 into the first period, taking a pass from Cody Cartier and beating Niagara goalie Chris Noonan under the arm. Outside of a couple shots hitting the post, Noonan was never truly tested again.

"We didn't generate much offense after the first period and we didn't get a lot of good looks at the net. Everything was perimeter," Schooley said. "Give them a lot of credit. They held us to the outside and we didn't do enough to get to the tough areas."

Niagara tied the game with 36 seconds to go in the second period when Isaac Kohls beat Eric Levine. Niagara peppered Levine with 31 shots over the final two frames and finally beat him again when Chris Lochner scored with 2:53 remaining in the third period. Levine stopped 39-of-41 shots in the loss

"Levy's been playing great all year and the past couple of games we've been able to get some goal production for him," Chiavetta said. "Stinks we weren't able to do that for him tonight."

Niagara's taken three out of four points in two games at the Island Sports Center, as the Purple Eagles have held Robert Morris to three goals in two games.

"I thought we were getting a little too cute in the neutral zone and when we got too cute, it gave them odd-man rushes," Schooley said.

Some of that might have to do with two seniors gone on the blueline. Josh Jones missed the game, while top defenseman James Lyle was out with an upper-body injury.

"He's not flashy, he's not a guy that generates a lot of attention as a top defenseman, but he's been our number one guy all year," Schooley said of Lyle. "When you lose his minutes and his experience factor, it's tough."

Every point matters. Robert Morris had the opportunity for a major weekend but now has to transition into salvage mode to come out with a split.

"It's definitely big, especially this time of the season," Chiavetta said. "Good thing there's two games on the weekend, so hopefully we can get them back at their place.

TIP INS

- Forward Adam Brace missed his seventh straight game. Brace was hurt at the end of the Ohio State game.

- Lyle is day-to-day but could be out for a stretch

- Defenseman Josh Jones also missed the game, but Jones is perfectly healthy. Schooley said Jones had an interview for his "dream job" and that the company wasn't able to adjust the interview for him.

ColonialsCorner publisher Andrew Chiappazzi can be reached at achiappazzi@yahoo.com.

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