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Atlantic Hockey celebrates successful season, talented underclassmen to return

 Atlantic Hockey celebrates successful season, talented underclassmen to return

Although none of the Atlantic Hockey Association’s three Western New York schools made it to the NCAA Championships, Canisius College, Niagara University and RIT are celebrating a successful season, and its first with new members Niagara and Robert Morris.
 
“I think they added a lot to our league,” RIT head coach Wayne Wilson said. “[The addition] only enhances our league; it only makes the team that wins that much better. I couldn’t be happier.”
 
RIT ended the regular season with a conference-leading 37 points (15-5-7 in conference play) but lost to Air Force in the conference championship when goaltender Jason Torf stopped all 40 of RIT’s shots. Air Force then lost to Yale in overtime, 2-1, in the first round of the NCAA Championships.
 
Although Niagara lost to Canisius, 6-3, in the first round of playoffs, head coach Dave Burkholder is pleased with his team’s move. “It was a refreshing change for our program, and I thought it was a very positive move,” he said. “We learned, once we got into conference play, how important every point was [and] how important every game was. We spent more time in the classroom and less time traveling. I think Atlantic Hockey’s going to be a nice home for us.”
 
Niagara finished their first Atlantic season in fourth place, rounding out the top third of the league with 32 points (15-10-2).
 
Despite a 3-2 overtime victory in the second game of their best-of-three quarterfinal series against Holy Cross, Canisius, too, faced an early exit. They placed eighth in the regular-season standings, with 25 points (10-12-5).
 
Canisius head coach Dave Smith applauded the league’s broader pool of competition. “It was great to add two committed programs with excellent facilities and coaches and play on the ice,” he said. “They brought good hockey players into Atlantic, and that’s what we’re all about.”
 
Each team will have to say good-bye to their seniors, but they also have some rising stars sticking around.
 
Ben Danford, Canisius
 
After a successful inaugural regular season with the Griffs, rising sophomore Ben Danford shined during the team’s first-round playoff game. He assisted on three of the team’s six goals and was +4 for the night, earning Atlantic Hockey’s Rookie of the Week honor.
 
“I was very happy to perform the way I did,” the defenseman said. “It was nice to get that award, but it was even better that we got the win.”
 
Danford played 38 regular-season games for Canisius, notching two goals. His team-leading 24 assists set school records for single-season assists by a defender and points by a rookie defenseman.
 
“During the whole year, I didn’t really think about [the records],” Danford said. “I didn’t actually realize [I’d set them] until I saw an article about it. But it was a great accomplishment, and I’m looking forward to continuing that in the couple years I have left.”
 
Danford also totaled the highest and third-highest number of points among Atlantic Hockey and Division I rookie defensemen, respectively, and was the number three Atlantic Hockey blueliner overall.
 
“I just want to play well, game in and game out, to help the team,” Danford said of his goals for next year. “We’re losing a lot of seniors, so our team’s going to be relatively young. I’m just looking for some great chemistry between the guys and to carry that onto the ice and try to exceed this year’s record.”
 
Giancarlo Iuorio, Niagara
 
Niagara ended the season with a plus/minus total of -35, but Giancarlo Iuorio was one of the players who kept that number from going even lower. The rising junior posted 9-24-33 totals in 31 games and played on a line with Bryan Haczyk and Paul Zanette for most of the season.
 
“They were a couple of really good players who had a lot of goals, so that made it easier on me,” Iuorio said. “Hopefully next year I can score more goals myself and keep contributing offensively, and defensively as well.”
 
Iuorio will have to find new linemates next season, but he’s “used to the pressure to perform, so hopefully next year it’ll just come naturally,” he said. And he’s ready to work with his teammates to rectify the problems that kept them from going deeper into this year’s playoffs.
 
“I feel like, at times, our team was really good this season, but at times we came out really flat,” Iuorio said. “We just want to make sure that we come out and play 60 minutes and be consistent. [The season and playoffs] are short, so you’ve got to come to play every game and just be ready to go.”
 
Shane Madolora, RIT
 
Big things await Shane Madolora, the Salinas, Calif. native who left home at 16 to play hockey in Dallas, Seattle and Omaha and “pretty much just ended up,” he said, at RIT. After playing five games his freshman year, the rising junior won the starting goaltender spot and ended the regular season with a 17-3-7 record, six shutouts, a 1.93 GAA and a .935 save percentage.
 
“I just worked out through the summer and prepared myself here, and when it came time for me to get my chance in net, I just did as best I could and it went from there,” Madolora said.
 
Madolora’s numbers were at or near the top of all Division I goalies. He finished the season tied for the lead in shutouts and with the highest save percentage, third-highest GAA and fourth-highest winning percentage. Within Atlantic Hockey, he ranked first in all categories – the AHA “triple crown.”
 
“Coming into Atlantic Hockey, people were saying it would be a good place for me to develop, rather than if I went to [another school], where it’d probably be a tougher place for me to play in a lot of games,” Madolora said.
 
His list of honors continues: five-time Atlantic Hockey Goaltender of the Week; two-time AHA Goaltender of the Month; 2011 AHA Goaltender of the Year; All-AHA First Team Honors; USCHO First Star of the Week; Inside College Hockey Player of the Week for the week of February 14 and an ICH Second Team All-American.
 
“To be recognized by the league and other organizations and websites throughout the year was definitely a good feeling, to know you’re performing and being one of the top goalies,” he said. “That’s a great accomplishment, and to be recognized feels good.”
 
Springtime workouts have already begun for many of the teams, and it’s only a few short months until we get to see these guys out on the ice again.
 
Photo of Giancarlo Iuorio courtesy of Niagara Athletic Communications
 

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