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Niagara returns from bye week hoping for a fresh start

Dave Burkholder was getting reports at his home in West Seneca. The Niagara hockey coach was stranded and trying to dig out from the lake effect storm which dumped feet of snow in the southtowns. Meanwhile, Monteagle Ridge was fairly snow-free.

So practices went on thanks to assistant coach Pat Oliveto who was able to get back and forth to campus. Which was good news. Because the Purple Eagles have some confidence to continue.

Niagara finally picked up its first win of the season - a 3-2 overtime decision at Bentley to end a nine-game losing streak. But that was back on Nov. 8. The Purps had a bye week last weekend which was a mixed blessing.

"Having our first win be that emotional in OT and seeing bench empty and the excitement in the locker room after beating a very good Bentley team, you'd like to continue to play and keeping feeding that momentum," Burkholder said while snowbound in West Seneca. "But you take a step back and look at the season and the wear and tear on the guys, it's nice to have a week off. We gave them some rest but also practiced and worked on conditioning so we didn't lose that side of htigns. When we look back in hindsight, the timing of the bye was a good thing for us."

Let's go back a month as the season was just underway and Niagara had seven (that's SEVEN) major injuries to key players. That super sophomore class which had everyone excited about the Purps this season was healing broken bones and hamstring injuries.

Bit by bit they've come back. The latest is forward TJ Sarcona who started practicing this week after breaking his wrist in dryland preseason training. Burkholder said he's likely to return, although that will depend on how Sarcona is feeling come Friday when Niagara opens a two-game home series with Army (7:05 p.m., Dwyer Arena).

Both sophomore goaltenders are back after spending time sidelined with injuries. That leaves only sophomore defenseman Vince Muto still out with a broken bone in his lower arm. Burkholder said they are anticipating his return sometime after Christmas.

But even with players back, there's still a need to preach patience. Some guys haven't skated in a month. Other's are still working their way back into game speed and chemistry.

"We have a full roster, except for Vince, for the first time all season," Burkholder said. "We're almost full throttle and it's nice to be back to practice wiht a full team. As a coaching staff, we're making decisions on who to play not just based on injuries."

Patience is the key to the whole team and perhaps Teichroeb is the best example. The goalie injured his hamstring in the team's intrasquad scrimmage on Sept. 20. When Adrian Ignagni suffered an injury in the 7-0 loss at Notre Dame Oct. 25, Teichroeb said he was ready to come back.

He lost the next three starts before making 28 saves in that overtime win at Bentley.

"From Friday to Saturday at Bentley it was like he was two different goalies," Burkholder said.

"Emotionally and mentally it's tough on goalies when your legs aren't 100 percent. You start reacting and acting differently. He's looking better every day in practice and his form looks good going forward."

They'll need that good form in net to help improve on the numbers.

Niagara continues to have the worst scoring defense in the country, allowing 5.0 goals per game. Their penalty kill (67.5 percent) and power play (7.3 percent) also rank among the worst in Division I.

They will face an Army team (3-6-2) that took three points from Holy Cross last weekend. It can be feast or famine for the Black Knights when it comes to scoring. Last Saturday, they played Holy Cross to a scoreless tie after scoring five goals in each of their previous two games.

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