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Lammers sees resiliency and talent as he takes over the Niagara hockey program

He greeted his new team with handshakes and fist bumps. It was a quick and formal introduction for Jason Lammers to the Niagara University hockey family and the campus as a whole.

Sunday afternoon Lammers and his family arrived at Monteagle Ridge for the official press conference after Niagara hired him as the third head coach in the 22-year history of the school's men's hockey program.

It was a short visit. Lammers would be returning to Dubuque, Iowa where he is still the head coach of the Fighting Saints in the midst of a United States Hockey League playoff run. And while his heart will stay with the Fighting Saints until their run is done, Lammers is eager to get started with the Purple Eagles.

"I think there's a lot of opportunity here because as you go through the roster and see where the players have come from, a lot of them have come from winning organizations or winning teams," Lammers said. "So I believe it starts internally and it starts in our room and I believe we have the players that can do that immediately. Obviously there's going to be some work and some challenges and some things we need to be aware of. But we're going to work real hard with the group that we have."

There is some rebuilding that needs to be done with the Niagara hockey program, one that has gone to four NCAA tournaments but has fallen on tough times. The Purple Eagles have not had a winning season in five years and has set the program record for fewest wins in a season each of the last three years.

But what attracted Lammers to the job was a combination of the pedigree and the vision of what could be with a revitalized Niagara program. He felt the mission of the university fit in with his family. And while he has no direct ties to Western New York, it feels like home to Lammers, who grew up in Pittsburgh and went to college at Geneseo.

Plus, there's plenty to like about the Niagara roster. Lammers sees players who come from winning junior programs and noticed a team that won a first-round playoff series on the road when a lot of programs would fold up and go home for the summer.

"I think that speaks a lot to the resiliency of the group and the winning that's in the room," Lammers said. "They didn't give up obviously and it's real easy at that time of the year to just pack your tent and go home and they didn't do that. I think that's a real credit to the group. It's a real credit to the leadership in the room."

Lammers has been the head coach of the Dubuque Fighting Saints for the last two seasons but comes to Niagara with 15 years of college coaching experience at the assistant and associate head coach level. He held the later position at UMass-Lowell helping the River Hawks go from a 5-25-4 season to 24-13-1 and an NCAA berth in 2012. He helped UMass-Lowell to three NCAA tournaments including the 2013 Frozen Four.

The 41-year-old Lammers sees similarities between his situations at UMass-Lowell and Niagara and hopes to apply lessons learned with the River Hawks to the Purple Eagles.

"I think the main point is accountability," Lammers said. "Accountability in that the student-athlete has their own internal discipline. Accountability from the staff in terms of how we want to run the program and the structure. The third part for me would be the passion. You want to inspire these young men and have them be passionate about pulling that jersey over their head and that's really important."

That passion is something that jumped out to Niagara athletics director Simon Gray during the search process. The resume, which includes plenty of success and NCAA tournament appearances, was impressive.

"Actually that was the second thing I looked at," Gray said about Lammers' resume. "Because the first thing was people calling and recommending him to me. These are people in the business that I know and I trust. They said this is a great coach who's a tremendous person. And that's so important at Niagara, to find the right fit."

Gray acknowledged the work that former head coaches Blaise MacDonald and Dave Burkholder did in building the hockey program. "Blaise and Dave made Niagara what it is and I just think it needed a little bit of new energy put into it. I think the university will benefit by that and I think this region will benefit by us being good again. I think he's the guy that's going to do that."




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