Opinion: The Atlantic Hockey Association stands at a positive crossroads

Photo Credit:Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

While said during a pandemic-marred season, Canisius Head Coach Trevor Large had a point when he said,of Atlantic Hockey “the reality of it is, that the progression of our conference at some point must warrant two teams.. its becoming undeniable that there should be a closer look at having two teams that should be in that tournament.”

While the non conference start for Atlantic Hockey has not been good enough to put themselves into the two at large bid consideration yet , things have been moving up for this conference. This past week alone, Bentley didn’t just “upset” Boston College, they out played them and never trailed. RIT added to its bona fides with a win over defending . ECAC Tournament Champion, St. Lawrence. Canisius themselves came back from three down to earn a tie in Clarkson’s rink tonight.

While it is undeniable that the league has more work to do in its non conference schedule to get two or more teams in the national tournament,it is also true that they are getting closer to that goal. In the categories of near win, just this week we had Army West Point in a one goal game against Wisconsin ( excluding empty net markers) each night. We also had AIC nearly earn the win against the defending champions on Saturday night. While those teams and those reading this will rightly say that more of those almost wins need to be wins, the teams are playing the right way to compete nationally. The best near result this conference had was Mercyhurst’s effort against Minnesota. The Lakers out played a top ten team through the first two periods of their finale and had their opponent have to come back.

That is from a young team that is looking to make noise in Atlantic Hockey this season. The Lakers went on to get 5 of six points in their next weekend, and are trying to build off of the positives they have dealt with recently out of conference.

In summary, is Atlantic Hockey where it needs to be for two bids to happen? No. Is the cap closing between this league and others pretty fast. That is more and more things are happening to bring parity to the game and making two bids a reality? We think the answer to that is yes.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Niagara gets ready for an uncommon test in UND: Read more

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.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

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.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Opinion: Men’s College Hockey needs more conferences-Here’s Why

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

To put it nicely, to grow the game with consistency, the Men’s College hockey game at the Division One level needs more conferences. While it is true that Atlantic Hockey is entertaining expansion pitches this month, the truth of all of the growth of this sport is simple.

Atlantic Hockey cannot, nor should not be asked to shoulder the sole burden of adding new members to the game.

For this sport to grow, in the long run, we need more schools willing to form conferences with new members.

Why?

Well, as more members come in from different parts of the country, especially in the south and pacific northwest, travel costs for the incumbents in this sport will skyrocket. In addition, fans in this sport often are rivals with schools closest to them, regardless of conference, if they are at the same level.

In addition, take a look at the rebirth of the CCHA under its current iteration. That conference formed in part because its members wanted to consolidate their footprint, and keep costs down to some level. We would argue that Atlantic Hockey has some of that cost containment at its core, and as the league gets more members wanting to join, over time the members of a conference that grows beyond 12 conferences could be served to bring back another conference, College Hockey America.

Why?

Well, that conference with six or seven members could work in concert with Atlantic Hockey to do a couple of things. First, they could create a scheduling alliance to occupy some non conference games every year, and ensure robust competition, giving both members of the new conference more opportunities to boost their pairwise standing than they have now ( eight to ten non conference games in total, compared to a maximum of six non exempt games now).

In addition, bringing back the CHA would drive down costs for members of Atlantic Hockey who may not want to take longer bus trips, or plane trips any more. If we posited that Navy (the Midshipmen have been in talks to join the Division One game for years) would join this conference with the Army and Air Force, that gives us three schools with a rich history. Now, add in Lindenwood, who is planning to join the Division One scene in two years, and we find ourselves at four with a conference already starting with a strong foundation. You could then add in Alabama Huntsville for five, and, should their feasibility study go well, and the school back it, Tennessee State could join to make a six team conference. You could also extend invites to Liberty, who has a win over a Division One program, an ESPN deal, and a beautiful facility already, Long Island as well, given that the Sharks are expanding their Division One footprint rapidly and gaining notoriety for how well they support the growth of opportunities for their student athletes. This would allow other members in Atlantic Hockey more cost control over their own budget, and provide room for that conference, should more teams want to join it, a seventh conference with an automatic bid to guarantee at least two schools Air Force Academy Hockey Head Coach Frank Serratore referred to as ” have nots” to join as well. In addition, the success of the reborn CHA could spark the ideas of forming other new conferences throughout the game.

Take the west coast. If we know that Arizona State would be a part of any Pac-12 conference (we do), we could then look to Las Vegas. UNLV produced the first line center for the three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season champs (AIC) in Elijah Barriga, and has a big foot print in the area already. That gives us two schools, and an impasse once again. If this Pac 12 worked with the Kraken and Golden Knights to form programs in their areas (UNLV, Washington, Washington State, Oregon, Oregon State) and work with ones already in their areas (Alaska, and Alaska Anchorage) then you get another strong conference with regional viability pretty fast. Now, if you look at what we have already, there are always opportunities for schools to move around, where it makes sense for both new school and conference alike. The dynamic of forming new conferences like these two would create a framework for members looking to join, and for ones like Augustana who have announced intentions, more options to join a conference best for them, compared to one that will have them. It gives more power and viability to new programs to compete right away, and a lasting infrastructure that will support them, and do the thing we all want to do, grow the game, while hopefully providing administrators with the money and encouragement to do so.

Remember, there are about eight or nine teams of players in the transfer portal right now, and a lot more uncommitted players about to age out of junior hockey with Division One talent, but no home. For a sport that has a myriad of junior hockey lockers, and interest in the game, it is incumbent on those looking to grow the game to continue to search for new ways to do that both inside and outside of the framework they currently have. It cannot be on one conference or school to figure things out, it is on all members of this great game, and on all of us to continue to support schools looking to get into this game that is one of the best parts of sport in North America, not just at the college level.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Growing College Hockey: Why all fans should care

Photo Credit: Kelsey Lee-Violet Turtle Photography

First, this article is not in any way critical of any conference for choosing to accept or not accept any member looking for a home. While Alabama Huntsville may still get into Atlantic Hockey for a future season, the reality is that it was too late in the game for them to get into the conference for the upcoming season. This article kind of includes the story of one of Huntsville’s natives, Nic Dowd. The former Husky watched the Chargers play on many weekends growing up and has had them to look towards as a kid. Perhaps without the Chargers, and the youth hockey structure of college hockey towns that relies on partnerships with college teams, Dowd might not have even seen what college hockey is, and the first Alabama native to score a goal in the Stanley Cup Playoffs might not have done so.

In the short run, to get Huntsville a membership this season, you would be asking schools to completely re-do schedules that have been in the works for a while, and in college athletics, schedules are assembled often one or more seasons ahead of . They have a strong pitch to be considered, and one that could see the Chargers come back in a couple of seasons, if Atlantic Hockey gets seven Athletic Directors to approve their application. The reality of that pitch is a small net positive cash flow to make a trip to Huntsville for many schools in the conference.

This conversation is about more than the Chargers, it is about what we want Division One College Hockey to look like in the next decade, for both men and women. We go back to our chat with Frank Serratore, long time leader of Air Force Hockey.. While he is not an athletic director, or one with the power to wave a magic wand, he has been on the right side of things in this sport in terms of advocating for the good of the game. He noted the value of a universal three-on-three system the year before the NCAA implemented it, and standardized it for the pairwise, has developed many a leader both in this game and in the Air Force, and more.

From our previous chat with him, we wrote around what he said

“From a development standpoint he said “there’s more good players than there are lockers out there.” Finally, he added, “we don’t want to have less opportunities, and there’s more kids that can play” at the Division One level than there are spots available for them to do so right now. ”

As is often the case in this game, Serratore is right.

Look at the transfer portal right now.

You could easily put together 9-10 teams of competitive division one talent that would make the haves in this sport sweat. While not as many transfers are in the women’s transfer portal, that truth still abides. American college hockey is the growing supplier of top NHL talent, the development engine for a growing majority of professional players around the world, and home to some of the best atmospheres anywhere in college sports.

Who does not want more of that, combined with players getting degrees and going on to lead in whatever field they choose post hockey?

To grow the game requires time, effort, energy, and a lot of money. College Hockey Inc. is full of people who bring the first three, and helps connect those with money who want to see the game grow in other places.

Who else can help?

Fans

Yes, fans can push for advocacy and the ability to improve this great sport. Even if you do not have millions of dollars somewhere in an account, you have a reason to support this game growing, especially if you are fan of a small school.

On a competitive level, the way this sport is, it is one where smaller schools can make the biggest impact. It is one where public schools, like Huntsville, can have a Division Two program in everything else, but have one sport that catapults their department to the national conversation? Why does this matter?

Well, look at schools like Lake Superior State, and Bemidji State, these two schools are underdogs compared to those around them in terms of notoriety, but when they win games to get into the NCAA Tournament, their school, their team, and their town gets time in the national spotlight.

That spotlight, as has been shown in studies of post Men’s Basketball Tournament trends, leads to more applications, and that keeps universities thriving.

Look at AIC

In just five short years, Eric Lang took a school a lot of people did not take the time to care about, or acknowledge the existence of, and turned them into a national powerhouse. They are three time Atlantic Hockey Regular Season Champions, and have two NCAA Tournament trips in that time, beating the number one overall seed the first time. The passion that fans have for that program is undeniable. He got the support and buy in from his administration to remake the program, and do the things needed to grow the game at AIC. Grow the game is more than a buzz word, it is real work done by people like Lang across the country to build their programs, start new ones, and save current ones.

Are there groups elsewhere that have that passion?

Yes, of course there are.

Look at the Seawolves of Alaska Anchorage. This is a program working to build a sustainable funding model to play as an independent in two seasons, and they are getting closer every single day. Division One Hockey means a lot to Anchorage, to the point that they even have the Seattle Kraken helping them raise funds and visibility for them.

If you are a fan of this game, we implore you not to pony up the six figure amount one needs to fund a team, but rather to simply amplify the efforts of those working to add teams, and those like Sheldon Wolitski, Taso Sofikitis, and the wonderful folks working to Save Seawolves Hockey. All of these programs are needed, more programs are needed, and more teams are needed to meet the growing talent coming from all leagues that feed the college hockey system.

Fundamentally, there is nothing quite like Division One College Hockey, and for those that want to see this game grow, while we are not asking all of you to fund a team, or give a school a new conference home, we are asking for the frame of discussion to be moved. Figuring out how to preserve programs, empower local funding, and grow this game should be on the minds of everyone involved in the sport. This game means so much to so many, and the ability to frame discussions on funding and saving, and also building new programs, is the way for this sport to grow. At a conference level, more conferences than just Atlantic Hockey have to shoulder some of the load as well, and hopefully more conferences are formed as more teams join. As more schools look to join, public support for those efforts is key to reinforcing the ideas of administrators at those schools, public support draws notoriety which draws donors, and funding for a better future for this game.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts

Niagara University Men’s Hockey Head Coach Jason Lammers on his team’s Uncommon season, future, and more

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.

Donate: To help us cover more games and tell more stories not found elsewhere about all of college sports, especially under represented athletes everywhere across the college sports landscape like unique untold stories across college hockey. Please click the below link and consider donating what you can. If you do, I will list you in every story about we write as a supporter of crowd-funded journalism that can truly be free for all at this link:paypal.me/Seamorepsorts