LEWISTON, N.Y. — Former assistant coach David Burkholder has been named the new head coach at Niagara. Burkholder, who signed a four-year contract, replaces Blaise MacDonald, who accepted the head coaching position at UMass-Lowell last Friday.
“I am honored to have been selected as the next head coach and continue along our path of success,” said Burkholder. “Our culture and standards have been established through Blaise MacDonald’s tenure and will continue to be the foundation of who we are in our program. My family and I are so excited with this opportunity to be part of the Niagara University community for many years to come.”
Burkholder served as the assistant to MacDonald for the last five seasons. He was named associate coach last summer.
Though Burkholder and MacDonald are both graduates of Division III RIT, MacDonald had a lot of connections through his time as a Division I assistant with Dartmouth, Princeton and Boston University. That enabled him to quickly establish quality non-conference games, that helped him grow the program.
But Niagara athletic director Mike Hermann said he wasn’t concerned with Burkholder’s inexperience at the “major” Division I level.
“Dave was a part of that [growth],” Hermann said. “Our best chance not to take a step back was to bring Dave on board as head coach. … David has been with our program since its inception and has played a major role in developing the culture of the team.”
Hermann said he spoke with other candidates, though did not mention which ones.
“We talked to some other people. We talked about candidates with some other people in the last 10 days,” said Hermann. “We talked to them about Dave. None of the others have the elements we’re looking for. We do not miss a step, we can move forward very quickly.”
Burkholder joined the Purple Eagles in June of 1996 after spending three seasons with the former Niagara Falls Thunder (now Erie Otters) of the Ontario Hockey League. While with the Thunder, Burkholder was the team’s assistant general manager and assistant coach.
“Dave will provide a seamless transition into this new era of Niagara hockey because he is already one of us,” said Rev. Joseph Levesque, president of Niagara.
“He knows the program, having played a key role in its development. … He knows the players because he has recruited many of them. And he shares in our desire to maintain a quality program that will continue to compete at the highest levels of collegiate hockey.”
The native of Welland, Ontario, began his coaching career with the St. Catharines Falcons of the Golden Horseshoe Junior B Hockey League (GHJHL).
As a player, Burkholder was an All-American goaltender at RIT in the early ’80s. He was a teammate of MacDonald on the 1983 Division III National Championship team and earned Most Valuable Player honors at the 1983 Final Four. He was a three-time ECAC First Team All-Star and garnered his All-American status in 1984.
“It became clear during the search process that Dave has been preparing for this opportunity, not just over the last five years, but throughout his hockey life,” said Hermann. “Blaise MacDonald did a lot of terrific things as our head hockey coach, but one of the best may have been selecting Dave to be on his coaching staff five years ago.”