Photo Credit: Niagara Athletics
As he said in May, Niagara Head Coach Jason Lammers was hired to make the Purple Eagles, “regionally dominant and nationally prominent.” To acheive that requires playing the toughest games you can, and winning them. His Purple Eagles get to face the Fighting Hawks this weekend, and also have non conference series scheduled against Penn State, Notre Dame, and Michigan, all on the road. Lammers schedules these games to provide strong tests for his players, and to give as many of them as possible an opportunity to play in front of their friends and family. These games also provide pairwise boosting opportunities for his team, as Lammers said of trying to get an at large bid “when we win some of these games its going to help us.. have a chance to get into the tournament.”
As to what his group learned from their postseason run last year, knocking off Robert Morris in three games in the Atlantic Hockey Association second round before losing to AIC in the semifinals, Lammers discussed the team’s improvement in breakouts, and net front battles. Given how much of this game comes down to finer points, his group noted from the Robert Morris series the value of strong breakouts, in the AIC game, the Yellow Jackets simply won two net front battles to get two goals late in the game and overcome the Purple Eagles who lead for most of that contest.
As AIC Head Coach Eric Lang said of the team that the Fighting Hawks will face ” they are a relentless and well coached team. it’s no coincidence that they have been one of the last teams standing two years in a row.” Lang picked the Purple Eagles fourth in his coaches poll last year and always picks them high in part because of how they play the game. This was all done in a year where the Purple Eagles had very few complete team practices due to quarantines, and other pandemic-related rules. This year the team has been back to more of its normal routines.
As for this weekend, the Fighting Hawks are projected( subject to change) to see two different goalies play from the Purple Eagles. Chad Veltri, who turned in a virtuouso level performance against Robert Morris, is projected to start on Friday. On Saturday night, Jake Sibell, preseason Atlantic Hockey rookie of the year, is projected to make his college debut. Sibell backstopped the Aberdeen Wings to the Robertson Cup Final with multiple superb games and a smooth style in net along the way. Lammers also said that over the summer Veltri worked to adjust and improve his workouts, and that he has been one of the standouts in preseason for this group.
As for the players to watch, Lammers listed most of his returners, including standout defender Chris Harpur who Lammers said “has a chance to be the best defender in our league.” He is a 6’3″ defender known for his physical play and capable of adding some more offense as well. As for leaders, Lang noted that Brandon Stanley, Jason Pineo, Jon Hill are all also expected to lead the way.
As for this week, the Purple Eagles will have a long day of travel, as they expect to fly into Minneapolis and practice at Excel Energy Center before finishing their commute to Grand Forks. Lammers wants his group to see what an NHL rink looks like, and this experience also serves as team bonding ahead of a tough series.
On the weekend, this is the biggest building that the Purple Eagles will play in all year.In addition to this, one other thing to watch is how the group matches up agaiinst UND with the two extra TV timeouts per period that will happen (Atlantic Hockey gets one per period). Lammers knows the value of keeping this game close, and in trying to get ahead to silence the capacity crowd. One thing he said about a number of his players and what he looks for in recruiting is players that make the ” we play instead of the me play.” For the Purple Eagles to do well, that is what has to be the overriding point of emphasis. If the group can focus on their small details, like making good breakouts, and winning more net front battles against UND, which is certainly no small order. then this weekend at Ralph Engelstad Arena could be an uncommon one.
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