by Amy Moritz
Niagara hockey has played in some big-time barns this season from Michigan's Yost Arena to the reverent Lynah Arena at Cornell. The Purple Eagles (as any team) prides itself on learning to face any team in any place.
Tonight's game takes that to an entirely different level.
Niagara will face RIT at 7 as part of Frozen Frontier -- an outdoor rink set up on the infield of Frontier Field in downtown Rochester.
While there is certain nostalgia about playing outdoors, once the teams hit the ice, there's some serious business. We're talking an Atlantic Hockey conference game. RIT wants to head into its semester break on a roll as the Tigers have won five straight. Niagara is on the opposite end, desperately in need of a win to end a five-game losing streak.
"We all spent days and hours playing street hockey and on the pond," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. "We’re all lucky to be a part of this game and be a part of college hockey. Hopefully it takes a little pressure off our guys. We’ve been squeezing it pretty tight and forcing things. I think just having the fun festival if you will should take a little heat off us."
Weather could help Niagara
With the forecast calling for temperatures in the teens and up to four inches of snow, expect a game that's back to basics. Which may be just what the Purple Eagles need to steal a win and gain some confidence.
"I think it’s going to be a real basic, just get the puck to the net kind of game. Not a lot of skilled play involved really," said sophomore forward and Rochester native Rocky Gruttadauria. "I think it’s just what we’re looking for right now. We’ve been having trouble scoring a bit and if we simplify our game it might be just what we need to get back in our scoring ways."
Lack of goals = losing skid
During this five-game losing skid the team is averaging just 1.4 goals per game and has been outscored, 6-2, in the first period. Special teams haven't helped the cause. Last weekend in two losses at Connecticut, Niagara went 0-for-13 on the power play.
"Lately we felt like we don’t play the best first period," said Mike Conderman who is tied for the team lead in scoring with nine points. "We kinda come out flat some times. I don’t know why or what but that’s kinda been the trend this year to come out flat. Then we dig our hole too big and we can’t come back from it. That’s what we gotta work on. We gotta work on finding a full 60 minutes and play an entire game."
Against RIT, they may need to find a full 65 minutes. The last 10 games between RIT and Niagara have gone to overtime.
Outdoor game history
This will be the 18th outdoor NCAA game in the modern era and the first of 12 scheduled for this season. The first game was Oct. 6, 2001 between Michigan and Michigan State where 74,544 attended the game at Spartan Stadium.
Check out a great photo gallery from Niagara's team practice Wednesday night at Frontier Field.
How to watch
The game will be aired live on Time Warner Sports Channel. Tickets are available at the Frontier Field box office or at www.frozenfrontier2013.com and range between $10-$25.