The Purple Eagles are off to their best start in recent years
By Tom Sirianno
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y. – For the past several seasons, Niagara University hockey has had trouble coming up with wins.
After only seven wins during the 2014-15 season, six in 2015-16, and five in 2016- 17, it was announced that long time head coach Dave Burkholder would not return to Niagara. The university announced that the Debuque Fighting Saints’ Jason Lammers would become the third head coach in program’s history. The change was made hoping to see a turnaround in the program.
It is barely December, and Niagara now has seven wins on the season, surpassing last year’s total by five.
As of November 26, the Purple Eagles sit fourth in the Atlantic Hockey standings with a 6-2-1 conference record, and 7-5-1 overall. The team is on pace for the most wins in a season since the 2012-13 season. So what has changed? What has this team done to turn it around?
“There’s certainly a vision, a mission, and principles of our program that we work off of. I would tell you the main one is compete. We really want to be hard to play against but also compete and make plays. And that is a big deal to us.” Lammers said.
Lammers also spoke about what stood out to him the most about the players in the room right off the bat when he took over.
“Their desire, their intents, their goals, and what they want to accomplish is very impressive. We have been a very resilient group, in terms of games that we played. We’ve had some leads, had to win in overtime, and we just haven’t quit. Even the rst game we lost 5-1 but I would tell you we were right in that game”
Coach Lammers also spoke on how the team plays into the style he wanted to implement with the early success, and if his transition to his new team has gone easier than expected.
“I guess the success is due to the work the guys have put in and what they want to accomplish. I believe we got winners in the room as we did the research on the team,” says Lammers. “We got guys who have played in a lot of big games in their junior career, for whatever reason it hadn’t worked here for a bit but we’ve got guys who have had success in other places and know how to win. Winning is a learned skill and I believe our guys are proving it.”
Senior Derian Plouffe has been one of the main points of success for this team. Through 13 games, Plouffe has been one of Niagara’s best all-around scorers tallying seven goals and eight assists – second most on the team in both categories. Regarding coaching change, Plouffe says there’s been a shift in the program.
“It’s been a big difference so far, everyone believes in the process, everyone believes in each other so it’s been really good,” says Plouffe.
All of this after a season-ending injury has made this year’s success that much sweeter, especially with the support of his new coaching staff.
“The end of the season is when the coaching change occurred and he worked with me, worked with all of us so it wasn’t that hard of a transition working with the new coach,” Plouffe remarked. In terms of cultural change, the senior spoke of a different atmosphere to the program and how it relates to the team’s success. “Everyone is more confident, believing in each other, believing in the process, everyone seems to be happier nowadays, obviously the results are different so everyone is in a better mood.”
With the Purple Eagles being one of the most successful teams in western New York this hockey season, Niagara could serve as an outlet of fandom for most Buffalonians.