Photo Credit: Niagara University Athletics
To operate a Division One program, you have to have some uncommon traits. One of those traits is realizing what your goal is, your primary goal in leading it. For Niagara Purple Eagles Head Coach Jason Lammers, the idea of being uncommon drives his program, and is how he operates. Lammers views leading a group in this way ” I feel very blessed to have the opportunity to teach the next generation about what it means to be a man.. we get a chance to influence more people in a year than most people do in a life time.. I’ve been blessed that I’ve never had a real job. To him, uncommon is the concept of being above average, and doing things that others are not. It is this mentality, combined with the small school atmosphere he enjoys being a part of building the success of his Purple Eagles. He leads a team that prides itself on effort, accountability, and its approachability. As Lammers said of the perception of the game on his campus, some people say to him that “I’d much rather come watch a college hockey game vs. a Sabres game because you guys play hard all the time. ”
That same effort helped a team beset by multiple Covid-19 pauses come together in the postseason to defeat Mercyhurst on the road in the opening round, then proceed to knock off Western Pod Champion of Atlantic Hockey, Robert Morris, in three games. Two of those games went to overtime. All of them were one goal affairs. Lammers is incredibly proud of how his group finished the year. He remembers of his group “just the unity and the love our team felt” where two driving forces in helping his group get to the final four of Atlantic Hockey where they forced AIC to earn a tough-fought comeback win. On the ice, he praised his netminder saying ” to have Chad Veltri back and ready to rock and roll.. I felt he was a huge difference in that series.”
At the end of the day, Lammers is honest about the goal of his program “Our mission is to grow men.. it certainly makes it easier if they’re good humans,”
To build his program, Lammers looks for those uncommon traits in his recruits. He values bringing in players from all over the world with the willingness to help others, be key players in the classroom, and able to be a part of the culture he has built. His team is one of the most academically astute in the league, and one that excels in helping others through their community service work.
The mantra for Lammers’ program on the ice is simple. He said that they want to be “regionally dominant and nationally prominent.” That comes from playing well in their conference, where in the past two seasons that we have had Conference Tournament Championships given out, his team has been in the final four. It also comes from playing the top teams around the country. That is part of the reason why his Purple Eagles will be flying to take on the Fighting Hawks of North Dakota in Grand Forks to open up their 2021-2022 campaign. Lammers credits the staff of the Fighting Hawks for working with him to schedule this series. Dialogue around it started shortly after Lammers was hired in the spring of 2017, that was initiated by North Dakota after Lammers came on as Head Coach.
This series is four years in the making, and one that will give another Atlantic Hockey team a chance to showcase themselves to the Men’s College Hockey landscape this fall. The Purple Eagles will get a financial guarantee for the series, and Lammers also noted that his administration is broadly more supportive of his group playing in more non conference games where possible in future seasons. Lammers, speaking only for himself is supportive of expanding Atlantic Hockey, and understands that the league needs to play better against other conferences. With that said, of the conference itself he added “I believe our conference gets the short end of the stick… I just think this league is really good.. I think there’s a partnership among the schools and a camaraderie among the coaches.”
Lammers also wants the game he coaches in to grow, noting the large amount of Division One talent out there. He said, broadly speaking of expansion that, ” I think there should be 100 teams.”
Lammers is incredibly proud of his group’s effort to finish given the fact that they only really had a few weeks of normal operations this season as the Purple Eagles had multiple Covid-19 induced pauses. As he said “The way that we finished with only having couple of weeks to practice and prepare … is pretty awesome.” While he is waiting to see the final composition of his roster, he is already working towards building to the fall.
He also took time to talk a little bit about the Battle of the Bridge between his school and Canisius, or as he said of the rivalry, “There’s a lot of people in town who don’t care about your record.. just that you beat the team south of the bridge.” While Lammers knows this rivalry is not Ohio State-Michigan, he sees its growth between the two area schools.
Going forward, Lammers accepts the new reality of the one time allowance of players to play right away under the new transfer rule leading to the ubiquity of it. As he said “we think its going to really help solidify our roster.” In addition, he expects the uncommon culture he is building to help him retain players as well. As he said “being uncommon is going to help us retain our student athletes.. we out love other programs.” Further understanding the positive impact of the portal, he said “its the world we are living in, student athletes have a lot more rights than they used to… its not going away, and we need to find out how we can use it to our benefit.”
The same positive outlook and uncommon desire to build a unique culture at Niagara is what will drive the Purple Eagles to the top of Atlantic Hockey. Lammers’ group has a big test to open up the 2021-2022 campaign against UND. The uncommon nature of everything Lammers teaches, and his staff does from recruiting to mentorship to preparation, and so much more will ensure his group is ready to produce an uncommon result against the Fighting Hawks.
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