LEWISTON – He should have waited. Hamstring injuries are tricky, particularly for goaltenders relying on quick and quirky movements to stop the puck.
Jackson Teichroeb wasn’t quite ready to return to the net. He suffered that hamstring injury in Niagara’s preseason intrasquad scrimmage and missed the first six games of the season. A few more weeks would have put the sophomore goaltender in a better position, but he didn’t have a few more weeks. His team was struggling with injury, including a new one to fellow goalie Adrian Ignangi.
Teichroeb was healthy enough to play. So back in the net he went.
He looked like a goaltender not at his prime as the Purple Eagles struggled to find any measure of success.
He muddled through. His hamstring got stronger. His game shape improved. His confidence started to increase.
Suddenly he was backstopping the Purple Eagles to a 2-1-1 end to the regular season, including an upset of defending champion Robert Morris, as Niagara surged into this weekend’s first round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs.
“I’d say starting out I kind of had to come back maybe earlier than I would have liked, but I’ve been able to gain confidence in my body back,” Teichroeb said. “It definitely took a little bit of time to get back into it and get my confidence back. I’d say I’m back in shape now and ready to roll.”
Teichroeb’s first game of the season was a 3-1 loss to American International on Oct. 31. His return came after Ignagni suffered an injury during a weekend non-conference series at Notre Dame.
“I think he’s a good teammate,” Niagara coach Dave Burkholder said. “He’ll only know in his heart of hearts if he came back too early. You’re asking me, I think he did. He did it for his teammates and a hamstring with a goalie isn’t an easy task. For him to fight through that and then stay and make it stronger so it didn’t happen again. Most practices there’s times when I hold my breath and go ‘oh boy. That didn’t look good.’ But he’s been fine.”
His numbers are expected for a team that has won just five games this season and finished last in Atlantic Hockey. His save percentage is .894 and his goals-against is 3.55. He does rank 15th in the nation in saves (786) because he ranks 13th in shots faced (879).
But the numbers don’t indicate the emotional turnaround the Purple Eagles have orchestrated over the last two weeks.
It started with a 6-1 win over Air Force that ended an 18-game winless streak. The Purple Eagles then rallied for a tie with the Falcons and took that momentum into a 2-1 upset over Robert Morris in the last game of the season at Dwyer Arena. And just like that, everything feels different.
“As soon as we got that win the guys in the locker room, everything changed,” Teichroeb said. “The environment changed. Everyone’s mentality has changed, really. Ever since then it’s been a better locker room to be a part of. Everyone’s energetic and enjoying themselves. It’s really nice to have that going into playoffs.”
Teichroeb gave his best performance of the year in the win over Robert Morris, making 35 saves while combining his athleticism and his experience.
“I thought it was his rebound control, and especially against Robert Morris when we were under a lot of pressure he got us a lot of good whistles,” Burkholder said. “His overall game management was pretty good. He’s a terrific athlete. He’s a big kid. If he keeps it simple, he’s pretty hard to beat. If he sees it, more times than not he stops it, that’s for sure.
“He’s under an enormous amount of pressure. We don’t score a lot of goals. Hopefully that changes, but the pressure is on him. If he lets in a bad goal, it’s magnified this year. There’s probably a lot of goalies in Division I who let in bad goals that don’t show up, you don’t even talk about it. But unfortunately for him he’s been on the hot seat.”
Teichroeb is quick to credit his teammates. They’re giving him the ability to see the puck. They’re blocking shots and winning pucks along the wall. They’re starting to score goals. All those little things make it a little bit easier for a goaltender to do his job.
He’ll need that help this weekend if the Purple Eagles are to advance in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs. Niagara travels to Worcester, Mass., to face a Holy Cross team that has offensive depth. The Crusaders won all four games against Niagara in the regular season this year, and Teichroeb has never beaten Holy Cross in his first five tries.
“It’s awesome to have another chance to redeem ourselves,” Teichroeb said. “It’s an exciting task at hand. If we play well, anything can happen, but we have all the respect for Holy Cross. We’re going to have to bring our best game to beat them.”