Niagara Gazette — The Niagara hockey team will take another very long road trip this weekend to Massachusetts.
And, on paper at least, the Purple Eagles should face a tougher challenge this time when they face Holy Cross, with 7 p.m. starts scheduled for tonight and Saturday.
Last weekend, Niagara took care of business in sweeping lowly American International College, and as a result climbed to No. 15 in this week’s national rankings. The ranking is the team’s highest this season, and it is the eighth straight week the Purple Eagles have been ranked, setting a Niagara record.
So far Niagara has steamrolled through Atlantic Hockey, going 12-0-1, and is 13-3-4 overall. The Purple Eagles own a comfortable eight-point lead over second-place Army and own a nine-point lead over Holy Cross.
Niagara has also been very good on the road so far, going 6-3-2 overall.
“We are going to have to play a lot better,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “Holy Cross is going to provide a lot of problems for us. They are a very experienced team, and they score a lot of goals. This a big test for us this weekend.”
The Crusaders are 7-4-2 in Atlantic Hockey and are in a three-way tie for third place with Canisius and Mercyhurst.
A big part of Niagara's success this season has been the play of goaltender Carsen Chubak. He leads the nation in save percentage (.953) and shutouts (five), and ranks second with a 1.46 goals against average. The question facing the team is whether or not he keep his stellar play up.
“Just the way Carsen lives his life day in and day out, and how hard he works, I’m not worried about Carsen physically,” Burkholder said. “I guess as a coach, you always hope that he stays mentally sharp and doesn’t get mentally fatigued. With all of the ups and downs a goaltender goes through during a long season, that would be a concern. I have a lot of faith in Carsen.”
Senior center Giancarlo Iuorio, who with Chubak was on the initial list of Hobey Baker candidates this season, leads the Purple Eagles in scoring with 12 goals and eight assists for 20 points.
But one of the reasons the Purple Eagles have been so good this season is that they don’t Iuorio to score every game. Nor do they need Ryan Murphy (8-10-18) or Kevin Ryan (1-14-15) to score every game either. Last weekend, for instance, Hugo Turcotte scored the game-winner in Friday’s 3-2 victory. He has only played in 11 games and only has three goals.
On Saturday, Dan Kolenda scored the eventual game-winner in a 3-1 triumph. It seems this team receives contributions from everyone at important junctures.
“It has been someone different every game for us,” Burkholder said. “We have been fortunate in that regard. It has either been a different line or a different player that steps up for us. It certainly is the sign of a winning team.”