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Purple Eagles seek some senior moments Niagara men's hockey: Pagliero, Rocco are leaders

Ask Juliano Pagliero to describe Vince Rocco and he talks about maturity.

Ask Rocco about Pagliero and he says the same thing.

Both seniors have watched their class evolve into one of the most successful ever for the Niagara men's hockey program.

But neither of them are satisfied with what they've accomplished.

Last year, they put the Purple Eagles on their backs at various times and took it as their personal mission to see the Class of 2008 get to the NCAA Tournament.

Now, they want to become the first class at Niagara to get to two NCAA Tournaments.

And go deep into the postseason.

Lofty goals.

But both Pagliero and Rocco are the determined sorts who don't see why they can't one-up their graduated friends.

"It could rub people the wrong way, but you always want to end up on a better note than somebody else did," Pagliero said. "It's nothing against them -- half of what I've learned here has been from the players who came before me -- but why not be the first team to go to the tournament twice? It's one of those things where we want to do something special. And after I'm gone I hope the next group wants to one-up our class. We're definitely eager and want something special."

This senior class has already done some special things.

The group has won three College Hockey America championships -- two regular-season titles and one tournament title -- and helped construct the 22-game unbeaten streak in Dwyer Arena, which ranks fifth all-time in the NCAA.

It adds up to a history of success that the Purple Eagles want to build on.

"We know how to win as a senior class," Rocco said. "Just getting to the tournament is not going to do it for us this year. We want to get there and we want to be ranked high. We want to stay in the Top 10. We want to win against top teams and on the road. As a senior class we want to leave the program on the right note for future groups to see what Niagara has become and for us to become a national powerhouse."

Niagara already has some national attention. Picked to win the CHA again this year (in what is likely the last season for the conference), the Purple Eagles are receiving votes in both national polls.

They kick off their season Friday at Western Michigan then travel to Bowling Green on Saturday.

Rocco was the preseason CHA Player of the Year as he is the conference's returning point leader. He had career highs in goals (14), assists (32) and points (46) while entering this year just 11 points shy of the 100-point club.
"He's one of those guys that really matured leaps and bounds since he got here," Pagliero said. "He's one of those guys who came in as a true freshman, which is uncommon at our school for hockey, and he's taken over the reins of this team and it's phenomenal."

"He's 5-10 in the program, but he plays a lot bigger," Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. "He's strong in his core. He holds people off. He's our most complete player. He plays in all three zones. If we're on the power play, he's the first over. If we're on penalty kill he's one of the first two tandems over. He does it all."

Pagliero has been Niagara's every-day goaltender for the past two years and has endured the roller coaster that the position can bring. Last year, he went 17-7-4 with a 2.33 goals-against average.

"Pags has been unbelievable. He's a real presence for us back there in the net," Rocco said. "He's gotten better every year and really matured as a goalie. Even coming into camp this year, he's got a different demeanor about him."

"He's earned it," Burkholder said. "When you're in the locker room, he's got the locker room mojo. I think he has a good supporting cast, but I think you want your goalie to be that guy. When things are going bad he can stand up and say jump on top of my back and let's straighten this thing out. He's been that for us."

Senior forward Ted Cook is tied for the most career goals in program history with 71 and will continue to be the focal point of Niagara's offense. But look for Rocco and junior Chris Moran to round out that top line and the power play.

Defensively, Niagara has experience, notably with seniors Dan Sullivan and Travis Anderson, along with juniors Ryan Annesley and Tyler Gotto.

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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