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NU produces purple pros Five former Eagles in NHL camps

It was an off day for the Toronto Marlies, so Kyle Rogers decided to drive down to Niagara, hang out on campus to visit his girlfriend and watch a bit of his former team practice.

Rogers would have been a senior for the Purple Eagles this year, had the Toronto Maple Leafs not come calling.

And when he spoke to the team in the locker room before practice, even his former coaches were eagerly asking questions about what it was like to play in an exhibition game against the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

There's a bit of a coolness factor having Rogers come back to talk to the team. And there's a bit of cool mixed with pride around the Niagara hockey program this year as five players were in NHL training camps this fall.

Rogers and former Niagara teammate Scott Langdon were with the Leafs. Langdon was sent down to the Marlies early, but Rogers played in two exhibition games for the NHL team.

Sean Bentivoglio, who finished out his senior year for Niagara in 2006, was in his second NHL camp with the New York Islanders, playing two exhibition games before being sent down to Bridgeport.

Matt Caruana was in camp for the Anaheim Ducks before being assigned to their AHL team in Iowa. Les Reaney, who left Niagara early last season to sign a deal with the Edmonton organization, was with the Oilers before being assigned to Springfield.

"We're proud and when I say 'we' I mean all of Niagara hockey history, going back to [head coach] Blaise [McDoanld] and our first graduating class of 2000," coach Dave Burkholder said. "To think where we've come from -- the first 11 years we had three guys make it to NHL camps. And then we had five from the last two years in camps. Then to have [Bentivoglio] and Rogers play in exhibition games. I think it's a testament to the culture here at Niagara and I think it's a testament to the values of hard work and practice."

Rogers perhaps made the biggest splash among the recent class of Niagara players to make their way into the pro ranks. He signed a two-year entry-level contract with the Leafs in March and played a handful of games for the AHL Marlies last season.

This year, he entered the Leafs training camp, was sent back to the Marlies, then called back up for the final few days of NHL camp.

"This year it's been crazy," Rogers said. "It's starting to sink in that it's a possibility I could be in the NHL this year or next year. It's been a fun experience. The puck moves a lot faster and guys know exactly what they're doing with the puck before they even get it. The passing is a lot faster. [The Leafs] are happy with my speed and my shot and the way I handle the puck. They like the way I hit and want me to hit more often."

Bentivoglio has been through this before. He was in training camp with the Islanders and played one exhibition game with the big club in 2007.

He spent the rest of the 2007-08 season with the AHL Bridgeport Sound with 32 points in 68 games while fighting through a few injuries.

"This year I feel a little more comfortable, a little more confident because I know the players and I know a bit more what to expect," Bentivoglio said. "I try to keep in touch with the other guys. It's so great. There have been a lot of great players that came through Niagara. And now we have the opportunity to sell the small school. Niagara is getting a lot of guys opportunities with professional teams. The school deserves it and I think we'll have more guys up here next year."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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