MEN'S HOCKEY: Atlantic Hockey has been pain for power teams

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Carsen Chubak had reconstructive knee surgery during his freshman season and hip surgery before his sophomore year. "He just didn't feel right," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said of his goaltender. "We always thought that ...

UND's Danny Kristo at practice
UND senior forward Danny Kristo scoots up the ice during Thursday's practice in Grand Rapids, Mich., site of North Dakota's semifinal game with Niagara.

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Carsen Chubak had reconstructive knee surgery during his freshman season and hip surgery before his sophomore year.

"He just didn't feel right," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said of his goaltender. "We always thought that if he came back, that he could be the guy."

He's been more than that.

Chubak, a junior, is a Hobey Baker Award finalist, leading the Purple Eagles into today's first-round NCAA tournament matchup against UND (4:30 p.m., ESPNU).

Chubak leads the country with six shutouts, while posting a 1.91 goals-against average and a .938 save percentage. He is one of the big reasons why Niagara believes it can help keep its league's reputation of being a tough out in the NCAA tournament.


"We won some games that we probably shouldn't have because of him," Niagara forward Marc Zanette said.

Chubak posted five of his shutouts during Niagara's 12-game unbeaten streak near the start of the season. The Purple Eagles (23-9-5) continued their charge through February, wrapping up the Atlantic Hockey league title early.

Although they lost to Canisius in the conference tournament, the Purple Eagles earned an at-large bid into the NCAA tournament -- a first for Atlantic Hockey.

Pesky AHA teams

Prior to Niagara grabbing a No. 3 seed this year, Atlantic Hockey teams have always been No. 4 seeds in the NCAAs -- and they've always been a pain for the top seeds.

Only once in the last nine years has an Atlantic Hockey team lost by more than a goal in the NCAA tournament. That was a 2-0 Air Force loss to eventual national champion Boston College a year ago. That was Boston College's closest game of the tournament.

They've also pulled off several upsets, beginning with Holy Cross's stunner over Minnesota in 2006. Air Force also beat Michigan in 2009 and RIT reached the Frozen Four in 2010.

"This is just our third year in the league, but we look back at what we did in 2000, and we've had a win in this tournament," Burkholder said of Niagara's victory over New Hampshire. "We look at RIT's historic run. We can look at Holy Cross's win. Those are all experiences that should give us confidence."


Shutting down the Knight line

Burkholder said one of the most difficult tasks for his team will be shutting down UND's Hobey Baker Award finalists, Corban Knight and Danny Kristo.

The game plan for the Purple Eagles is to take away time and space, and not give UND many chances on the power play.

Although UND will have the last change, expect Niagara to try to match its top line of Zanette, Ryan Murphy and Giancarlo Iuorio on the Knight line. Zanette is the defensive player of the year in Atlantic Hockey.

"We're going to push them around a little bit and see if we can win that battle," Zanette said.

Coming off losses

Both UND and Niagara enter the tournament with bad tastes in their mouths.

UND lost in the quarterfinals of the Western Collegiate Hockey Association Final Five last weekend. Niagara lost in the semifinals of the Atlantic Hockey tournament.


"We've had an outstanding work week," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "We had a disappointing loss last Thursday. We've turned that into a real positive. We had real good work days on Saturday and again on Monday and all through the week. We've dealt with adversity real well. Our guys are ready to play.

"We want to be playing our best hockey at this time of year, regardless of how you get to this point. I feel our team is playing its best hockey. We're ready to go out and do that Friday. We know we have a tough opponent. For us, it's good timing and a great challenge, but our team will be up for that challenge."

Burkholder said his team is ready as well.

"It's time to settle in, get some rest and get ready for tomorrow," he said.


• Niagara is the only team at the West Regional that bused. It took about seven hours. "I thought it was supposed to be about five hours," Burkholder said.

• Zanette, whose Niagara team lost to UND 3-1 during his freshman year, said: "If we play well, we're going to have a chance to win."

• WCHA commissioner Bruce McLeod, director of officials Greg Shepherd and media relations director Doug Spencer are all in Grand Rapids. Van Andel Arena will host the WCHA's postseason tournament next season.


• UND assistant coach Brad Berry won the team's weekly Thursday shootout.

• Niagara senior defenseman Dan Weiss will not play due to injury. Weiss was injured during the Atlantic Hockey tournament. He has three goals and nine points this season.

Call Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 1129; or send e-mail to .

Schlossman has covered college hockey for the Grand Forks Herald since 2005. He has been recognized by the Associated Press Sports Editors as the top beat writer for the Herald's circulation division four times and the North Dakota sportswriter of the year once. He resides in Grand Forks. Reach him at
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