Dwyer Arena is buzzing with the usual Monday afternoon hockey practice delights. But something specific catches your eye. It's the four guys riding stationary bikes. They're set up behind the goal so they can watch practice and cheer on teammates.
Welcome to this week's Niagara hockey injury report. (Perhaps the Purps could turn their early season misfortune into a sponsorship opportunity?)
The good news for the Purples Eagles -- senior captain Kevin Albers and senior forward Chris Lochner returned to the lineup last weekend.
The bad news -- they lost forward Isaac Kohls and freshman forward Robert Angiolella to injury in Friday's loss at Robert Morris.
The Purps can't catch a medical break.
Still out for Niagara -- Vince Muto, who had surgery for a broken arm, TJ Sarcona, who broke his wrist in dryland training, and goalie Jackson Teichroeb, who hasn't skated since mid-September with a hamstring injury.
Down seven players, it's not surprising Niagara is off to an 0-4 start. But coach Dave Burkholder sees his team as deep and one that needs to rise to the occasion.
"Our compete level needs to be there is first and foremost," Burkholder said. "We can feel sorry for ourselves, but if we go out there and compete, that’s why you carry 29 guys in your program. And we keep saying as a staff, this is the deepest team we’ve had at Niagara in a long, long time. Guys are getting minutes. They’ve got to start producing."
That's a big task this weekend when the Purple Eagles travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish rebounded from a disappointing opening weekend (two losses at home in the Ice Breaker tournament) with a pair of wins over a young Lake Superior State squad.
Niagara meanwhile is struggling:
- Rank last in country in defense, giving up 5.50 goals per game.
- Rank worst n scoring margin at minus 4.00.
- Second worst power play in the country at 1 for 20.
But perhaps the biggest kicker is the third period where Niagara is being outscored 12-1.
"All four games are up for grabs in the third and we haven’t been able to win one of them. We need to find a way to win those close games," Burkholder said.
"It’s been a lot of things. Bad goals. Bad penalties. Bad backcheck. It’s just been a lot of little things and the next thing you know it’s in our net. I don’t think there’s any rhyme or reason to it. We’ve just got to find a way to win those close games because once we get into league play after Christmas, every game’s like that. Those games are dog fights. We're gong to need to find a way to get it done."