The shock and disappointment was plain on the faces of Giancarlo Iuorio, Carson Chubak and coach Dave Burkholder after Niagara’s 5-3 upset loss at the hands of Canisius.
But unlike the other three teams in the Atlantic Hockey tournament, the Purple Eagles still were alive for an at-large bid on Friday evening.
2013 Atlantic Hockey Championship
Follow all our coverage of the Atlantic Hockey postseason at Playoff Central
“We’ll just let that take care of itself,” said Iuorio, whose college career would be over without a bid. “We’re not really thinking about that right now.”
AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio was more optimistic and hoped that Niagara would get the chance.
“Well, that would certainly be a great thing and we need all the right things to happen,” he said. “That would be a big boost for Atlantic Hockey and its membership.”
Since its formation in 2003, Atlantic Hockey — and for that matter its predecessor the MAAC — has never had two teams in the NCAA.
“Having two teams there, that gives you two teams that have a shot and we’d love to have that opportunity,” said DeGregorio, who credits expansion for making the league better.
“Back when we talked about expansion, people asked, ‘Why do you want to expand?’, ‘Why do you want to add Air Force and RIT for?'” he explained. “Because I knew that those two teams were going to make everybody else better, and make the league better. And that’s come to fruition.”
And according to DeGregorio, the only commissioner in the league’s existence, further expansion kept that going.
“I knew that adding Robert Morris and Niagara — yes, we were going to go to 12 and be one of the bigger leagues and only get one automatic bid. But I knew that those two teams were going to do the same thing: make us better. Make the league better. And it’s done exactly that.”
But with the pain of the loss still raw, Burkholder had really not given the chance of a bid much thought, despite a 23-9-5 record in Niagara’s 2012-13 campaign.
“It’s a tough time right now,” Burkholder said. “The NCAA selection committee computer system — how they pick the field — it is what it is. It’s a measurement of your entire season, and we’ve had a heck of a season.”
It’s a waiting game for the Purple Eagles until all of this weekend’s games are in. But Burkholder believes his team will recover and be ready if they’re given the chance.
“If the committee and the computer says you belong in the tournament, we will go. We’ll regroup. We’ll unite our team. It’s a really fast, hungry, energetic team, and we’ll be there,” he said.
“And we’ll proudly go.”