LEWISTON, NY -- Dave Burkholder remembers his first win as the head coach of Niagara University’s men’s hockey team pretty vividly. After serving as an assistant for five seasons, the newly appointed bench boss was especially looking forward to his first game behind the bench in the home opener of the 2001-02 season against Army.
After the Purple Eagles surrendered a 4-2 lead in the third period, senior captain John Heffernan scored his second goal of the game 42 seconds into overtime, giving Burkholder a memory he wouldn’t soon forget.
“It’s funny, I remember that goal like it was yesterday,” Burkholder said, recalling the night. “Looking back, it all sort of comes together. My family’s grown up on this campus and in this program. We’ve had some great times with the help of the great coaches and players that have come through this program.”
Burkholder didn’t know it at the time, but the win that night would set the stage for many, many more to come. With the Purple Eagles’ 5-3 victory over Sacred Heart on Friday night at Dwyer Arena, the longtime Niagara coach achieved his 200th career win, adding another milestone to his resume, which has become pretty crowded throughout his 12-year tenure.
With the victory, Burkholder became the 80th Division I coach all-time to reach the 200-win plateau and now ranks 26th among the winningest active coaches with a career record of 200-167-48.
“It’s a number,” Burkholder said, quick to deflect the spotlight toward his players, who haven’t lost a game since Oct. 19. “I haven’t really thought about it. It’s all about the players and the streak they’re on, still being undefeated in Atlantic Hockey. But, it’s a nice number.”
When he took over the Purple Eagles more than a decade ago, no one, not even Burkholder, had expected the program to accomplish as much as it has over the years. As the second-ever coach of the program, Burkholder has guided Niagara to new heights, including two NCAA tournament berths and a pair of conference titles within the old College Hockey America conference.
Under Burkholder’s tutelage, the Purple Eagles have been ranked as high as 15th nationally in 2006-07 and 17th in 2007-08. He was named CHA Coach of the Year twice in 2005-06 and 2007-08. This season, Burkholder once again has his team attracting national attention, ranked 20th in the latest USCHO.com polls.
“It’s been a fun ride,” Burkholder said. “We have a special group of guys this year and I’ve been fortunate enough to have a lot of help like that over the years. But it’s been pretty special.”
Having groomed two Hobey Baker Award finalists and a handful of players who have moved on to professional careers in the NHL, Burkholder is lauded for his dedication to the betterment of his players. Friday night, the Purple Eagles gave a little back to their coach, awarding him the game helmet and puck, and another winning memory they hope will be accompanied by 200 more to follow.
“It’s a milestone, just like a player getting 100 points,” senior Marc Zanette said. “We take the milestone pretty seriously, and he was pretty excited to get the puck at the end of the game.”
“It’s good that we can give something back to him, because he’s always there for us,” stated senior co-captain Jason Beattie. “Burk bleeds purple. He’s been here since the beginning of it and to be able to come through here and have 200 wins, that’s a statement in itself.”