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CHA men's hockey Tournament: Niagara-Robert Morris renew rivalry in opener

Niagara goalie Juliano Pagliero. Pioneer File Photo/Eric Stromgren

Niagara and Robert Morris University kick off the 2009 College Hockey America Tournament today, renewing a strong rivalry.

The game is set for a 2 p.m. start at the John Glas Fieldhouse.

Niagara (16-13-5, 9-5-4 CHA) enters the tournament as the second seed and defending tournament champion, taking last year's title with a 3-2 win over Bemidji State.

On paper, the game looks to be a mismatch. Niagara has not lost to Robert Morris (9-17-7, 5-7-5 CHA) in over a year, going 7-0-2 since Jan, 12, 2008. Included was a 4-0-2 record this season with Niagara winning the first four games 4-2, 3-0, 4-2 and 6-3.

So why are observers in the know predicting an exciting match up today?

First, this is a one and down tournament with everything on the line for a single game. Under that type of scenario anything can happen.

Also consider Robert Morris enters the tournament on a roll, going 4-1-3 in its last eight games.

Two of the ties came against Niagara just two weeks ago.

Prior to being defeated by Bemidji State Saturday, the Colonials had the second longest unbeaten streak in the nation, going 4-0-3 over seven games.

The Colonials have undergone a major transformation over the last month of the season -- the perfect scenario for entering postseason play.

At the same time, the Purple Eagles have struggled. While Niagara enters the tournament on a four game unbeaten streak, it only includes a single win (1-0-3). In their last seven games the Purple Eagles have gone 1-3-3.

Niagara is led by 2009 CHA Player of the Year goaltender Juliano Pagliero. He ended the season with a record of 16-12-3, featuring a 2.39 goals against average and .923 save percentage.

Offensively Niagara is led by Vince Rocco with 12 goals and 19 assist for 31 points. Right behind is Chris Moran with 30 (12-18--30) and Egor Miranov with 28 (16-12).

Fueling the Robert Morris late season surge has been the play of freshman goaltender Brooks Ostergard. He has been in goal for the last eight games during the Colonials hot streak. For the season Ostergard stands at 4-2-3 with a 2.46 goals against average an .919 save percentage.

Offensively the Colonials are led by the top two scorers in the CHA. Chris Margott leads with 19 goals and 21 assists for 40 points with Nathan Longpre next at 12-26--38.

The game has the makings of a classic with Niagara looking to continue its mastery over the Colonials and Robert Morris poised for a breakthrough victory.