Some things stay the same at Niagara University's comfy 2,100-seat Dwyer Arena. The band plays on and the Purple Eagles keep piling up victories.
Led by a pair of Canadians in senior forward Giancarlo Iuorio and third-year goalie Carsen Chubak, the 15th-ranked Purple Eagles have not lost in their rink in more than a year. They're just two games shy of the team record set six seasons ago.
"This is a small school, only 4,000 undergraduate and graduate students," the 23-year-old Chubak said. "There's always a good atmosphere there and the neat thing is because this is a small school you're playing in front of your fellow students you see in class."
With a trip to Colorado Springs to close out the regular season with games against Air Force on Friday and Saturday, those fellow students are excited about the Purple Eagles' prospects in the upcoming playoffs.
At 21-6-4, the close-knit team already has clinched the regular-season Atlantic Hockey conference title and the rank of 15th is the highest head coach David Burkholder's program has been graded. Maybe, just maybe, Niagara will be the next in line of small schools to advance to the NCAA Frozen Four.
Union and Ferris State were there last year. Vancouver Canucks defenceman Chris Tanev and Rochester Institute of Technology made it in 2010. Bemidji State turned the trick in 2009.
'Inspirational' to the playoffs
Iuorio and Tanev played together for the Markham Waxers tier II junior team a few years ago.
"Watching what Rochester did and seeing Chris now in the NHL gives you some inspiration and gives guys like me hope that it's never too late," the 24-year-old Iuorio said.
Iuorio's impressive final season at Niagara, located near Buffalo, has drawn interest from NHL scouts. He missed eight games earlier with an upper-body injury, but still managed to score 17 goals and 29 points in 22 games this season.
An NHL scout shared his book on the sports management student: "He is high on our list ... Speed-oriented player, good possession skills with quick hands ... He is categorized as having AHL scoring upside with some NHL depth potential."
Iuorio of Richmond Hill, Ont. knows the further the Purple Eagles go in the playoffs the more attention he will receive.
"It's in the back of your mind," said Iuorio, when asked about his potential future in professional hockey. "I want my focus to be on the season and I know the further we go the more attention I will get."
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound Iuorio played in his final regular-season game at home, a 4-2 win over Mercyhurst, on Friday. He and five of his teammates celebrated senior night in front of friends and family.
"It's a wake-up call, senior night," he said. "You think about how fast time has gone by. There are a lot of memories. But hopefully we'll make some more memories here."
Chubak of Prince Albert, Sask. has made plenty of memories this season. Also a sports management student, he suffered a knee injury in his first year and lost his starting job early last season. But this season the 5-foot-11, 170-pound Chubak has been excellent with a 21-4-5 record, .942 save percentage and 1.77 goals against average. He will get consideration for league MVP.
Scouts are concerned about his size, but if he continues to pile up wins and follows up this outstanding season with a strong senior year, it will be hard to ignore Chubak.
"Maybe a little bit," said Chubak, when asked if he has surprised himself this year. "I was reading an article before the season on who was going to be the league MVP. I thought why not me? I didn't see any reason to set my goals low."
Neither do Iuorio and the rest of the Purple Eagles.
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