Atlantic Hockey Showcase Games: Niagara has an Uncommon chance against UND

Photo Credit: Niagara University Athletics

Niagara University Hockey Head Coach Jason Lammers talked to us about the long term goals for his program. They are pretty straight forward. The goal of Lammers’ group is to be “regionally dominant and nationally prominent.” Looking back at the pandemic-marred season they endured, the Purple Eagles battled through every obstacle they faced, and took AIC to the brink in the semifinals of their postseason tournament, making AIC score two late goals to earn the win. That was after defeating Western Pod Champion, Robert Morris, in a three game series where the first two featured two overtimes, and the finale included a shutout for all but the last 12 seconds of the game.

Lammers has a lot of returners coming back from that group, including goaltender Chad Veltri. He took over the net and etched his place in Purple Eagles’ history for his work against Robert Morris alone.

This year, Lammers group arguably has one of the toughest non conference schedules in the country, combined with having to face the always formidable AIC. The Purple Eagles face the Fighting Hawks on the road to open up the season, follow that up with Penn State, Michigan, and Notre Dame, all on the road.

Because of this interesting schedule, Lammers group will face more teams from the Fargo Regional (2021) than any team in that regional could have done.

Let’s move on to the moment.

Lammers and his team will be indirectly competing with their rivals, Canisius, in terms of program stature. A couple of years ago, a much younger group of Golden Griffins was lead to open their season against the Fighting Hawks. It did not go well as the team was swept out of the building despite playing with the same resolve Lammers is used to seeing them play with.

Why are these Purple Eagles different?

Well, Veltri is an established netminder in college hockey. Large’s group had two goalies competing for playing time. The Purple Eagles have a back end that may not out skate UND’s, but one that can check with them on every night. The Purple Eagles win games playing strong in the corners, and generating quick looks the other way. Veltri does great work in net, and up front he has a player with a familiarity to the region helping him. Carter Randklev will be coming back to open his sophomore season where many thought he would be, at Ralph Engelstad Arena, but playing for the opposition. When Randklev originally committed to UND a few years ago, it was the talk of the region as the Moorhead Spud would be heading north.

After coming back stronger after a lower body injury, Lammers gave him a chance and it paid off right away. He put up five points in 13 games, and added top end speed to the lineup. Between Randklev, Ludwig Stenlund, and Walker Sommer, the Purple Eagles have multiple forwards, amongst several others who will bring speed and energy with them to compliment their hard checking style.

In addition to all of this, while Lammers will have new players in his lineup, he will be working with one transfer and some rookies. UND will be working with a much more fluid roster full of new faces looking to find their way at the pressure cooker of an environment that playing as a Fighting Hawk naturally brings.

The defense of the Purple Eagles is what will set the tone for them this night, and throughout their season. Chris Harpur, and Jack Zielinski will lead this team as fifth year seniors, and set the pace for the group. For them to earn points against UND, these two will have to play a big role in limiting quality shot chances. Across their past three seasons, UND has done its best not because of having the best in terms of high percentage shooters, but because they know how to put home rebounds and earn high danger chances. The Purple Eagles have to, in basketball terms, keep the Fighting Hawks outside of the key (slot), and win rebounds (loose pucks) to have a chance.

It is uncommon to want a schedule with this much tests, but then again, being Uncommon, and working to help others in the spirit of service, as is a central part of their school, bond together during a pandemic, fight through adversity, and nearly defeat your league’s champion are all uncommon things most of this group did together last season. If you are looking for a top end player that will run roughshod over the Fighting Hawks, you will not find that on Niagara’s group. If you are looking for a group of committed players that, if they play their game can make life much tougher than the hyper partisan crowd would like to see, well, Niagara has a roster full of them, and a coaching staff ready for the challenge.

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