LEWISTON, N.Y.-Sunday the Niagara Men's Hockey team was selected as an at-large bid into the NCAA Division I Hockey Tournament when the NCAA committee released their 16 team field on ESPNU.
The Purple Eagles received the No. 3 seed, cross-town rival Canisius made their first NCAA tournament as a automatic bid after winning the AHA Conference Championship, the Golden Griffins will get the No. 16 seed.
This will be the AHA's first time having two teams in the NCAA Tournament in the same season. "We're so excited for our league and for this to happen, and for it to be in Buffalo with Canisius College doing what they did. Then we got an at-large bid, it's great for our league" said Purple Eagles Head Coach David Burkholder. No. 1 seeded Niagara lost to the No. 7 seed Canisius in the AHA Conference Semifinals, the Golden Griffins went on to beat Mercyhurst in the Championship game to advance to the NCAA Tournament.
The Purple Eagles fate was a little different, they left it up to the committee to decide whether they would play this post season or not. Niagara finished the regular season with a 21-8-5 overall record and No. 14 spot in the AP poll, which earned The Purple Eagles their first ever AHA regular season title.
" It's very exciting, I'm a senior and I haven't been there before. It's going to be a great experience for me. Our team is very excited and proud, it's great for our program and it's great for our team" said Senior Forward Giancarlo Iuorio.
Niagara will be matched up against the No. 2 seed North Dakota State in the NCAA Tournament West Regional on Friday, March 29th. The game will be held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and the puck is scheduled to drop at 5:30. The game will be aired on ESPNU live.
" It's one game, and that's it. Anyone can win that one game. So we come out and play our game. We block shots, stay physical, and we get pucks to the net. It's all about the intensity and who wants it more" said Senior Defenseman Jason Beattie. Beattie also added " I think to the guys on this team its just the next game, the next game on the road map. We just need to come out and play hard so I mean the past is the past". Coach Burkholder said " You know I think the computer says this is the seventh or eighth seed versus the tenth seed nationally so there's not that much of a gap. No underdog hat here."
This will mark Niagara's 4th trip to the post season tournament, and their 2nd ever as a at-large bid. Niagara has had an impressive season this year, not only have they gone 15-0-2 at home and extended their home winning streak to 22 games at Dwyer Arena but Coach Burkholder won his first AHA Coach of the Year award and Junior Goaltender Carson Chubak was name AHA Player of the Year.
Coach David Burkholder told Purpleeagles.com " The players have worked so hard for this opportunity and that is what makes it so rewarding".