Starting today is a new daily feature in the build up to the 2017-18 college hockey season, with team by team previews. I draw inspiration for this feature from Bill Connelly who breaks down each FBS College Football team during the off-season, one team per day and makes predictions for the upcoming season. Now I do not own a private algorithm or analytics system like Bill does, and college hockey coverage can vary depending on market so I may not reach his level this season but that is the goal in mind.
So, how will this work? Well I will go in order of conference finish from last season, bottom-to-top, starting today with Atlantic Hockey. After Atlantic Hockey, we will go in this order: WCHA, ECHA, Big Ten, Hockey East and finally NCHC. Each team capsule will feature the same categories covered and at the conclusion of each league the next day will feature a prediction post for next season. The goal is one team per day before the season starts but if there are delays of course some days may become double posts to ensure finishing on time. With that said, be sure to follow after the jump with our first team, the Niagara Purple Eagles.
Niagara had a struggle of a season in 2016-17 with a record of 5-31-3 and just 3 wins in conference play, good for last place. The Purple Eagles who were an NCAA Tournament team in 2012-13, a 23 win season, since then have had seasons with 15, 7, 6 and 5 wins in order. This slide brought about the end of the Dave Burkholder era who had been the Niagara head coach since 2001-02. Insert Jason Lammers, the program’s 3rd coach ever, comes to Niagara from the USHL as coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints. Lammers has coached one season as a head coach at the NCAA level, D3 Geneseo with 19-9-2 record, and has been an assistant at Ohio State, Colorado College, UMass-Lowell, Princeton, Alaska and Clarkson.
Lammers said this in an interview when asked about the hallmarks of a Jason Lammers coached team:
It’s actually the opposite of the way I played, I was an underskilled hard-working defensemen. I love to have teams that are fast, that are first to pucks, and that are relentless. And that is something we are looking forward to. I’ve been blessed to have a lot of great athletes to coach and some great mentors to work for that have helped to integrate an offensive scheme. Last year in Dubuque 1st in the league in goals, this year 2nd, we want to score goals, the players enjoy scoring goals, the fans enjoy scoring goals, people come watch you if you score goals so that’s a big part of what we want to do.
It will be a long build for coach Lammers but the process begins this season with his Purple Eagles.
Niagara last season was 57th in the country scoring just 1.95 goals per game. While that number is bad and can point to a bleak season this year, on the bright side the team is only losing 19.7 (15 goals) of their scoring from last season. The four highest scoring players last season are all back and there is a big freshman class coming to campus. Niagara must improve their possession metrics if they want to improve their offensive output as they were 55th in the country in Corsi For (43.6) and generated 570 less shot attempts than they surrendered.
As referenced above Lammers will bring a wide open style of play and maybe that means Niagara will surrender even more goals this season (not good) but if it can bring about even a slight uptick in offense that is a good sign.
While the offensive numbers were bad for Niagara, the defensive numbers actually found a way to be worse. Niagara was the worst team in the country, surrendering 4.31 goals against per game, and they are losing 51% of their saves from last season with the graduation of Jackson Teichroeb. The Purple Eagles return two sophomore goaltenders, Guillaume Therien and Joe O’Brien who each won one game last season and will be competing for the starting spot this season.
On the blue line Niagara will be led by Noah Delmas who registered 15 assists in 35 games last season to lead all defensemen in points as a freshman. The Purple Eagles return just 4 goals from all of their defensemen and will be young with just 3 seniors present and 1 junior.
Player to Watch- Stanislav Dzakhov returns to Niagara for his senior season after leading the team in points last season with 9-8-17 in 31 games. Dzakhov broke out last year registering more goals than he had in his first two seasons combined and he was a 25 goal scorer his last year in the NAHL. The 24 year old from Russia will need to get to double digit scoring and continue to be strong on the power play (4 PPG last season) to help Niagara get out of the bottom of the league.
Freshman to Watch- Ryan Casselman had a great last season in the OJHL leading the Cobourg Cougars in scoring by 16 points. Casselman had a 31-42-73 scoring line in 53 games played and continued to shine in the playoffs with 6-6-12 in 13 games. He cleaned up with post-season awards also making the First All-Star Team and winning the OJHL Most Improved Player award. Under a new coaching regime Casselman will have the chance to shine early.
Breakout Player Candidate- Guillaume Therien has struggled for the past two seasons in net at Niagara but has shown an ability to be a game changer for his team in the past. While with the Carleton Place Canadians of the CCHL Therien won the Best Goaltender award in back-to-back seasons and had a low 2.08 GAA while keeping a .924 save percentage. If the fortunes of Niagara re to improve Therien will need to grab the net and find his form.