Niagara’s admission to Atlantic Hockey was seen as one of necessity rather than desire. The school was criticized in the media for “taking a step back” because the move meant fewer scholarships. But according to coach Dave Burkholder, it also meant less of something else.
“Travel,” he said. “Besides the other advantages, we’ll be traveling a lot less. That means more class time for our student athletes, more time spent on campus.
“We’re looking forward to playing a lot of different teams instead of the same team six times a season. We’re hoping to establish local rivalries and it will be fun to play RIT and Canisius with points on the line.”
The Purple Eagles are coming off a season that saw them win fewer games (12) than any time since moving to Division I in 1996.
“We had a tough season last year,” Burkholder said. “We had a very young team. We had 17 underclassmen last season.
“We’ll be able to get a better look at [goaltender] Chris Noonan, who got thrown into the mix after not having played a minute his freshman year, but won seven games as a sophomore. He’ll continue to make progress. [Sophomore] Andrew Hare will get a good look and [freshman] Carson Chubak [Tri City Storm, USHL] is juniors tested.”
The Purple Eagles lost their three leading scorers to graduation but return senior Bryan Hazcyk (22 points last season) and brothers Paul and Marc Zanette, who combined for 41 points last year.
“Ryan Annesley [played only seven games last season due to injury] will be back quarterbacking our power play and we have several new players who we’re pretty excited about,” Burkholder said.
Losing some scholarships (almost five to get down to the league-mandated limit of 12) will be a challenge, but Burkholder says it’s not the end of the world.
“We just have to work harder and be more creative,” he said. “But we haven’t stopped doing what we’ve been doing and are still bringing in great players.”