Niagara was one of the top teams in the CHA before moving to Atlantic Hockey two seasons ago and picked up right where it left off. The Purple Eagles finished a point away from the regular season title last season and a an overtime goal away from making the league’s championship game.
Niagara is expected to repeat its runner-up performance this season, finishing second in the preseason coaches poll. But they can do one better, according to coach Dave Burkholder.
“This is the strongest returning lineup so far playing in Atlantic Hockey,” he said. “Losing Scott Arnold was a blow but we’ve got back our other top 11 scorers.
“We were 12-3-2 in the second semester and an overtime goal away from the championship game. Going through that has made us hungry.”
Arnold (10 goals, eight assists last season) signed with Phoenix at the end of last season, forgoing his final two years of college hockey. But back are Chris Lochner, who led the team with 13 goals as a freshman in 2011-12, as well as senior leaders Giancarlo Iuorio (24 points last season) and Marc Zanette (22 points).
“Giancarlo has a chance to hit the 100-(career)-point mark and Marc is the ultimate leader who leads by example on an off the ice,” Burkholder said.
Big things are also expected of Lochner, who was arguably the Purple Eagles’ best forward in the second half of the season.
“Chris came in off of knee surgery in the summer not being able to do anything [to prepare],” Burkholder said. “It took him most of the first semester to get into shape and get his confidence. He’s got amazing speed and is a just a pure goal scorer.”
Burkholder, a former All-American goalie at RIT, will be looking for one of three goalies to step up this season in the wake of the departed Chris Noonan, who was a second-team AHA all-star last season. Niagara played four goalies last season and all had their moments, each winning AHA goalie of the week honors at some point. Cody Campbell, Colby Drost and Carsen Chubak make up some of the deepest netminding in the league.
“I think all three guys to deserve a chance,” Burkholder said. “They’re all capable of being No. 1 goalies. Chris Noonan didn’t earn the starting job until midway through the season and ended up leading the nation in two categories. It will be a good, healthy competition. They get along very well.”
About the Purple Eagles
2011-12 overall record: 17-11-9
2012-12 AHA record: 14-6-7 (Second)
2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Second
Key losses: G Chris Noonan, F Scott Arnold
Players to watch: F Giancarlo Iuorio, F Chris Lochner, F Marc Zanette
Impact rookie: Hugo Turcotte led the Grande Prairie Storm of the AJHL with 23 goals last season.
Why the Purple Eagles will finish higher than the coaches poll:Niagara returns essentially intact from last season, when it was in the running for the regular season title down to the final game.
Why the Purple Eagles will finish lower than the coaches poll:Four goalies saw action last year, with the departed Noonan having the most success. Someone else will have to step up.