Niagara Gazette — “We just know that we’ve got to put everything on the line. There’s no tomorrow. One-game eliminations in college hockey are tough games. We know they’re going to bring their best game so we’re going to do the same.”
For the team’s freshmen it’s a special start to their NCAA careers. One of them, forward Rocky Gruttadauria, wasn’t even supposed to be here this season. Late last summer, Gruttadauria was training with the Buffalo Junior Sabres, for whom he was preparing to play in his final year of Junior “A” hockey. Instead, he was invited to join the Purple Eagles, who were in need of immediate replacements on the roster.
Now here he was, helping load a bus he would board just moments later. Like his elder teammates, he is fully appreciating the moment and remembering some valuable lessons from his first collegiate tournament.
“We went into that tournament (the Atlantic Hockey tournament) being the first team overall and expecting to win it,” said Gruttadauria. “We realized that nothing was going to be given to us. We have to work hard for everything. We’ve got to take that into this tournament and go as far as we can.”
Head coach David Burkholder said it’s been a fun week leading up the tournament. He hasn’t had to do much to keep the players focused. They’ve done a good job of that on their own.
“I measure our success as a staff and my success as a coach (by) how hard you can get your team to work Monday through Thursday,” he said. “This year’s been exceptional.
“We can get two hours to three hours a day with them and then after that you leave it up to your upperclassmen and your captains,” said Burkholder. “Our senior class is, man oh man, what a special group of people.”
If there are any negatives heading into Friday, it’s the expected absence of one of those seniors, co-captain Dan Weiss.
“He’s doubtful,” said Burkholder about the injured defenseman. “You play your whole career hoping for this opportunity to play for a national championship. We’re uncertain now but it doesn’t look good.”Follow Gazette Sports Editor Michael Mroziak on Twitter at @MrozGazette