Last year, Niagara entered Atlantic Hockey unsure of where its scoring punch was going to come from. The team had lost a good percentage of its offense.
Lo and behold, the senior duo of Paul Zanette and Brian Haczyk went from role players to prime-time stars. They combined for 90 points and Zanette was the AHA player of the year and a Hobey Baker Award finalist.
“Our situation is almost identical to last season,” said coach Dave Burkholder. “We had lost some talented players but we had guys come on that had career years.”
A pair of freshman also made major contributions. Forwards Ryan Rashid (26 points) and Scott Arnold (16 goals) were big parts of the dynamic Purple Eagles offense.
“We’re hoping that guys who had good seasons like Rashid and Arnold continue to improve, but it will probably be by committee in the early going,” said Burkholder.
On defense, the Purple Eagles return six players who played in 20 games or more last season. And the goaltending will be strong with Carsen Chubak returning from injury and Cody Campbell, who was brought in mid-season last year to replace him, also back.
“Carsen was playing really, really well before he got hurt,” said Burkholder. “And Cody was excellent, as was Chris Noonan. We have three really strong goaltenders, which is a good problem to have. Depth is important and it’s good to have competition.”
Niagara opens its season at Michigan and then has an early conference test at Rochester Institute of Technology.
“We open at Yost and then go to Ritter Arena, two of the best atmospheres in college hockey,” said Burkholder, a former goalie at RIT. “It’s going to be fun and a good test for us.
“We learned last season how important every league game is. Getting into the top four and getting that bye is so important. Every point is hard to come by and you have to be ready to play every night.”
About the Purple Eagles
2010-11 overall record: 17-16-5
2010-11 AHA record: 15-10-2 (fourth)
2011-12 predicted finish (coaches poll): Fourth
Key losses: Paul Zanette (F), Bryan Haczyk (F), Ryan Annesley (D)
Players to watch: Ryan Rashid (so., F), Scott Arnold (so., F), Giancarlo Iuorio (jr., F)
Impact rookie: Kevin Albers, a tough, stay-at-home defenseman with three years of experience in the USHL.
Why the Purple Eagles will finish higher than the coaches poll: Niagara was picked to finish fourth, where it wound up last year, despite major losses on offense. If the Purps can get those points from other players, they’ll be fine.
Why the Purple Eagles will finish lower than the coaches poll: Some go-to players will need to avoid a sophomore slump.