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Brad E. Schlossman / Forum News Service , Published March 28 2013

Hobey Baker finalist has been a force in net for UND opponent

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 the University of North Dakota.

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. 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.

AHA teams have 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.”

Briefly

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.

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.


Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald