Ludwig Stenlund isn’t a typical freshman.
The Niagara center/forward led all NCAA Division I freshmen in goals, points and goals per game entering Friday night’s matchup against rival Canisius, and that was before he added to that tally while helping the Purple Eagles to a 2-2 tie against the Golden Griffins at Harborcenter in the first game of a critical home-and-home series.
“I’m a team-first guy, so I just try to get on the ice and contribute the best I can,” Stenlund said, “so those things (individual stats) happen when we play good and I work hard on the ice. Those are just bonus things.”
Stenlund, who turns 22 in April, has 17 goals and 30 points in 32 games this season.
The 6-foot-3, 190-pound Swede has scored eight power play goals — which also leads all freshmen — including once early in the second period Friday night to give the Purple Eagles a 2-0 lead.
Justin Kendall opened the scoring with an even-strength goal about 5½ minutes into the game.
“He drives our culture,” second-year Niagara coach Jason Lammers said about Stenlund. “He plays hurt. He pushes others to play hurt. He practices hard. He pushes others to practice hard. He works on his craft and brings others along to work on their craft. He works on his shape, and forces others to keep up with him. He’s doing a lot right for us.”
Canisius rallied to tie the score, with Dylan McLaughlin scoring short-handed midway through the second period and Felix Chamberland knotting the score on the power play nine minutes into the third.
Niagara and Canisius play for the fourth time this season on Saturday in Lewiston.
Niagara, which is working to secure a first-round home playoff series in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament, hasn’t lost in the first three matchups against the last-place Griffs, earning 5-2 and 9-6 victories on Nov. 15 and 17, respectively.
The Eagles then close the regular season with a home game against RIT on Wednesday before the start of the conference tournament on March 8.
The top five teams in the conference regular season standings receive a bye to the quarterfinals.
Niagara (11-17-3 overall, 10-12-3 Atlantic) is in seventh place, four points behind Sacred Heart and Air Force, which are tied and in position for fourth and fifth place.
Canisius (10-18-3 overall, 7-16-2 Atlantic) remains in last place in the 11-team conference standings.
The conference semifinals and championship game are March 22-23 at Harborcenter.
“We’ve been developing a lot during the season,” Stenlund said. “I think we had some good stretches. But if we pull it together now, we can probably win the conference, absolutely.”
The Purple Eagles have points in consecutive games since snapping a five-game losing streak on Feb. 15, when they defeated Bentley 4-3 at home, ending the nation’s longest unbeaten streak at 12 games.
Stenlund set the longest scoring streak in Niagara history by recording a goal in eight consecutive games from Jan. 11 to Feb. 9. He had nine goals and five assists in that stretch.
“His shot’s unreal,” senior forward and team captain Nick Farmer said. “He’s an older freshman, so he’s taken on a leadership role on the team, so for the next couple of years it’s really good to have him and it’ll be fun to watch where he goes and how he does the rest of his time here.”
Stenlund previously played junior hockey for the Madison (Wisc.) Capitals of the USHL, and is the only player on Niagara’s roster from outside North America.
But he is far from the only freshman.
Niagara has 20 underclassmen, including 11 freshmen, on its 29-man roster.
“He definitely is one of those younger guys that helps reiterate what the older guys have to say,” junior defenseman Noah Delmas said, “and making sure the other guys are with him. We have a lot of young guys this year, so I think he’s been doing a good job at helping us follow along and establish the legacy we want to leave behind at Niagara.”