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Season analysis: Niagara hockey

by Amy Moritz

While they were picked to finish first in the preseason coaches' poll, the Niagara Purple Eagles were going to have a difficult year. They lost a deep, talented and passionate senior class and their starting goaltender left school early to pursue professional hockey opportunities. The 2013-14 season was going to be a struggle and it looked, well, kinda ugly through the first three months.

The underclassmen started gaining experience and, more importantly, the players bought into the team-as-family concept. Confidence and trust go a long way and that allowed Niagara to make a late season push and end up back in the Atlantic Hockey Final Four.

Final record: 15-20-5

Playoff recap: Niagara swept American International in the first round of the playoffs at Dwyer Arena. The Purps then traveled to Colorado Springs to face Air Force. Running into travel problems, the adversity made the team stronger and after dropping the first game, Niagara came back to win the next two and advance back to Rochester.

It was the third-straight trip to the conference semifinals. While Niagara rallied with a pair of goals late in the game, the Purps couldn't match Robert Morris in overtime, losing to the eventual conference champs, 5-4. Niagara had several players out of the lineup with injuries, including leading goal-scorer Isaac Kohls. And in the end of a long playoff run, that hurt.

What we learned: Skilled players can win games but individual efforts can only go so far. The Purple Eagles run back to the semifinals was fueled by a much better team game which allowed for more consistent goal production. Also, when you make a decision on your starting goaltender, the confidence can be contagious.

Losses: Niagara says goodbye to four seniors -- defensemen Kevin Ryan and Matt Williams and forwards Patrick Divjak and Ryan Rashid. Rashid had 21 points this season and finishes his Niagara career with 38 goals, 50 assists. Divjak had 14 points this year and closes out his collegiate career with 21 goals and 56 assists.

Who's back: If experience is the greatest teacher and the Purps were paying attention, they could be very dangerous next year. Sophomore Hugo Turcotte finished as the team's leading scorer with 29 points (13 goals, 16 assists). Kohls, a junior, had 12 goals and 12 assists while missing the final four playoff games with an upper body injury. The freshman class had breakout moments, in particular forward TJ Sarcona (22 points) and defenseman Vince Muto (19 points). 

Then there's goaltender Jackson Teichroeb who started the last 11 games of the season and went 5-5-1 in that span after starting the season going 4-9-2.

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