By MICHAEL MROZIAK
Niagara Gazette — LEWISTON — When the 2013-14 college hockey season arrives, Niagara University will defend its Atlantic Hockey Association regular season championship without the goalie who backstopped them to that title.
Goaltender Carsen Chubak has signed a professional contract with the Adirondack Phantoms, the American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL's Philadelphia Flyers.
While saying it was a difficult decision that he spent weeks thinking about, he's excited to be making the jump to pro hockey.
"Yeah, it's pretty cool actually," said Chubak in a telephone interview with the Gazette. "It's obviously a lifelong dream, something I've wanted since I was probably eight or nine years old. It's really a surreal feeling right now and it's probably going to take a little while for it to feel like it's actually happening."
Chubak had been dropping hints of his imminent move to turn pro as early as last weekend with online messages on his Twitter account. Niagara officials confirmed his departure from the program on Wednesday.
"We are very happy for Carsen and wish him well with his professional endeavors," head coach Dave Burkholder said in a written statement issued by Niagara. "The Phantoms are getting a very dedicated and focused individual."
The Phantoms are also getting one of last season's top college hockey goalies. In 2012-13, Chubak posted a record of 23-7-5, a goals-against average of 1.91 and a save percentage of .930.
His performance earned Chubak several honors by Atlantic Hockey, including the conference's Goalie of the Month honor in December 2012, Player of the Year and All-AHA First Team. He was also named one of the ten finalists for the Hobey Baker Award, recognizing the top player in U.S. college hockey.
The Phantoms finished in last place in the AHL's Northeast Division, winning 31 games but losing 38 games in regulation as well as three games in overtime and four in shootouts. Their parent club, the Flyers, also failed to qualify for the postseason and has some questioning whether they may deal starting goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.
Might Chubak see an opportunity for quick promotion within the organization?
"We haven't talked about that yet," Chubak said to the Gazette. "We just have a camp in July and we're going to go from there. I really don't know much right now. I've talked to a couple guys in the organization but not too much, just a couple of welcomes."
The native of Prince Albert, Saskatchewan looked back fondly on his years as a Purple Eagle.
"The whole time I was here I felt we were a winning team," Chubak said. "I really enjoyed that atmosphere with my teammates. We felt we could compete for a championship every year."
While Burkholder now faces the task of replacing one of his most valuable players, Chubak thinks the Purple Eagles will continue to succeed.
"They'll be fine without me" he said. "There's a lot of good goaltenders out there. We thought we were going to have goaltending trouble this (past) year, losing Chris Noonan (who turned pro in 2012). You look at it now and things just happened and everything seems to work out."Follow Michael on Twitter @MrozGazette