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Niagara hockey finds an effective leader in Kohls

When they adjourned for the semester break, the Niagara Purple Eagles were a team in search of identity.

More than that, they needed a leader. At the start of the new year, Isaac Kohls decided to step up, and suddenly Niagara is on the verge of salvaging a disappointing season.

The junior forward has points in six of his last seven games. Since Jan. 4, he has seven goals, including a pair of two-goal games, and four assists. He scored three goals last weekend as the Purple Eagles swept rival RIT.

His offensive surge coincides with improved play by Niagara, which is 4-3-2 in January with key wins over RIT and Bentley. While they have struggled with some bad losses, the Purple Eagles are starting to find some consistency to their game.

Entering two games this weekend at Sacred Heart, Niagara is in seventh place in Atlantic Hockey with 17 points (7-7-3). They are four points out of fourth place, and a first-round bye, but in good position to host their first-round playoff series should they miss out on the bye.

After a dismal first half of the season, Niagara mow looks like an energized, focused and confident team. And Kohls is a big reason why.

“We did a little team-building exercise … and gave them an assignment over Christmas,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “And what came back was that the guys were looking for someone to just step up and lead the team. And Kohls has done that for us since the Christmas break.

“I think he’s changed his game. Sometimes he would blend into a game and if he got the puck, he’d make us plays, but if he didn’t, he’d just blend in. Now he’s being proactive. He’s finishing all his checks. He’s first in on the forecheck. Just the overall work ethic has become really consistent and from that you generate scoring chances. He’s obviously a pretty skilled player who can score. I just think it’s been his overall work ethic that’s opened up some things for him.”

For Kohls the difference has been minor tweaks and adjustments.

As Niagara looked for the right combinations, Kohls bounced around with different linemates for the first part of the season but has settled in and developed chemistry with Hugo Turcotte and Brock Edwards.

The continuity with his linemates has helped Kohls, who is shooting with more authority, an outgrowth of a decision to play with more confidence.

“I’m getting more pucks through I find … and for me, that’s with confidence,” Kohls said. “Instinctively, when you shoot the puck and you shoot with confidence, it usually ends up better than if you hesitate and wait and a shot gets blocked. I think the biggest difference in shooting for me has just been getting things through to the net.

“That’s just with confidence. If you’re confident you’re just going to do something, you’re not going to think about it. Once you start hesitating and don’t have as much confidence, that’s when goalies have time to set up, guys get time to get into the lane you’re going to shoot in. It’s a fast game so one little second of hesitation can make a difference.”