These were not your typical hockey injuries.
It was November 2016 when Derian Plouffe in front of the net during a practice at Niagara's Dwyer Arena. A shot from Tanner Lomsnes was tipped by Nick Farmer and hit him in the head. It cracked Plouffe's skull.
Three weeks later, Lomsnes went down to block a shot against Air Force in a game in Colorado. The puck broke a rib and the broken rib sliced his liver.
Both could have walked away from hockey and most would have given an understanding nod. Plouffe was even encouraged by a few doctors to hang up his skates. But neither was ready to give up the sport. Not just yet.
A year later, Lomsnes and Plouffe are back on the ice for Niagara and key components to one of the most dramatic program turnarounds in college hockey this season.
Plouffe, a senior from Shawville, Quebec, leads Niagara with 19 points (nine goals, 10 assists) while Lomsnes, a junior from Red Deer, Alberta, leads the team with 12 goals, including four on the power play.
They have helped lead a resurgence for the Purple Eagles. After winning just 18 games combined over the past three seasons, Niagara is in first place in Atlantic Hockey with an 8-2-1 conference mark, a 9-5-1 overall record, and a spot in the national rankings at No. 20.
"I think that's one of the things that separates hockey from a lot of sports is the mentality piece of how committed these guys are to returning and fighting through issues that might shut other people down," said first-year Niagara coach Jason Lammers. "I think that's indicative of our sport but more importantly of those two players.
"The beautiful thing for me is if I didn't know of their injuries, I would have no idea they had been hurt. They have not missed a beat. They're not one bit intimidated by any of it. They've played hard. They're a huge part of why we're having the success that we are."
Before they could help with success on the ice, with turning the culture of Niagara hockey around, Plouffe and Lomsnes had to find ways to turn themselves around facing both physical and mental challenges.
"I was bed-ridden for a couple of months," said Lomsnes, who had to stay behind in Colorado after the injury. Barry Patterson, the father of his teammate Kevin, stayed with him as his team went back to Western New York.
"I didn't really know what happened," Lomsnes said. "I thought it was my lung but after they did a couple MRIs in Air Force they said that I had sliced my liver. They didn't want me to fly home so I spent a couple days in the hospital there. I had great doctors. Kevin Patterson's dad, Barry Patterson, stayed with me the whole time there. I can't thank him enough for helping me through that difficult situation."
The recovery was grimmer for Plouffe, who couldn't walk for the first month.
"I was lying on my couch basically 24 hours a day, maybe pushed around in a wheelchair a couple of times here and there by my mom," Plouffe said. "She actually had to take off work to take care of me."
While working to get his body back, he had to face the possibility of not playing hockey again. Only Plouffe wasn't going to take that prognosis as his only option.
"Right off the beginning of the first diagnosis the neurosurgeon told me yeah, you should probably hang up your skates," Plouffe said. "In my head there was no way. Hockey's been my whole life. Without hockey I don't know really what I am. I was determined to come back."
He was introduced to Dr. Don Chow, the doctor for the Ottawa Senators, who gave him a better outlook. Dr. Chow told Plouffe he wouldn't be able to know about his future in hockey until he got on the ice.
"He reassured me it was more of a time thing," Plouffe said. In February he started off-ice workouts with Lomsnes. He worked his way back to skating, then to practice. The first few hits were nerve-wracking, but Plouffe has suffered no setbacks since his return.
And his return has helped spark Niagara's turnaround.
Plouffe has been a special teams force with eight power-play points, including three power-play goals. Penalty killing has also been his strong suit with two shorthanded goals while helping lead a unit that has not allowed a power play goal against in the last four games.
Lomsnes has picked up most of his goals right around the crease, making plays around the net after being setup by linemates Farmer and Sean King.
The results, the players say, are a result of the process, one that everyone in the room has bought into.
"I just think the culture in the room came together for us," Lomsnes said. "Coach Lammers has put together a good culture and leadership is in place for us to follow. We believe in the process. We don't worry about the product. We're just trying to get one percent better every day."
The team faces one of its biggest tests this weekend, a home-and-home with rival Canisius as the Golden Griffins are one point behind the league standings.It opens at 7:05 p.m. Friday in Niagara's Dwyer Arena then shifts to HarborCenter for a 4:35 p.m. match-up on Saturday.