Niagara Gazette — The Niagara hockey team was awarded an at-large berth to the NCAA Division I Men’s Hockey Tournament on Sunday when the selection committee released the field of 16 teams.
The No. 3-seed Purple Eagles will face No. 2 North Dakota in the west regional at 5:30 p.m. Friday at the Val Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. The game will be aired live on ESPNU.
"To be recognized by college hockey for a great season, and invite us to the NCAA Tournament is very special," head coach David Burkholder said. "The players have worked so hard for this opportunity and that is what makes it so rewarding."
This is the program’s second-ever at-large bid into the national tournament, and it is the program’s fourth trip to the postseason. NU earned automatic spots in 2004 and 2008 as a part of College Hockey America after winning the conference tournament, while the program’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament came in 2000 as an at-large bid. Niagara becomes the first Atlantic Hockey team to earn an at-large bid since the conference’s inception in 2003.
"To be playing a program like North Dakota that has so much history is going to be a huge challenge that I know our players, and our entire university community will embrace," added Burkholder.
Niagara, ranked No. 14 in the most recent USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll and No. 15 in the USCHO.com poll, finished the regular season with a 23-9-5 overall record, and a 20-5-2 Atlantic Hockey mark which earned the Purps its first AHA regular season title and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament. After sweeping the eighth-seeded RIT Tigers in the quarterfinal round of the league tournament, Niagara lost in the semifinals to seventh-seeded Canisius, 5-3 at the Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.
To go along with the league’s regular-season title, NU has had a celebrated season. The team was the only team in Division I hockey to go undefeated on home-ice (15-0-2), extending NU’s current unbeaten streak at Dwyer Arena to 22 games to tie the program record and rank fifth all-time in college hockey.
Niagara's consistent play led to a program-best 17 successive weeks on the USCHO.com poll, pulling down the program's highest ranking on the top-20 poll at No. 14. The Purps also spent six weeks on the USA Today/USA Hockey Magazine poll, earning a No. 13 ranking for the first time since the 1999-00 season on Feb. 25. The four consecutive weeks spent on the top-15 poll (Feb. 4-Feb. 25) was the longest the team has been ranked in the poll in program history.
Individual accolades were not scarce as well. Burkholder took home his first AHA Coach of the Year award, his third overall while behind the Niagara bench. Junior Carsen Chubak was named the 2012-13 AHA player of the year go along with his 2013 Top-10 Hobey Baker nomination, and Marc Zanette received the league’s top defensive forward of the year honors.
Four Purple Eagles were also named to the All-Conference Teams — Giancarlo Iuorio and Chubak earned a spot on the first team, while Dan Weiss was placed on the second team and Kevin Ryan was selected as a Third Team All-Conference honoree.