LEWISTON — Last weekend, Niagara coach Dave Burkholder talked with junior forward Isaac Kohls. They talked about Kohls’ game and how offensively he could be getting so much more accomplished.
So Kohls started driving to the net more. He started shooting more. He started being more aggressive.
The approach paid off. Kohls netted two goals and picked up an assist as Niagara blanked American International, 5-0, in front of 864 at Dwyer Arena on Saturday night.
“I’m just getting to the front of the net,” Kohls said. “If you’re carrying the puck on the outside, you’re not getting to the areas where you score. I’m shooting the puck from all areas, all the time. My first goal tonight, I shot the puck from the blue line. I wasn’t expecting to score, I just wanted to get it on net.”
Getting the puck on net has been key for Kohls, who now has four goals in the last three games.
“Burkie talked with me at Bentley and said when I try to wait for the puck, I don’t play as well,” Kohls said. “When I’m asserting myself more and getting more into the game, more touches with the puck, I have a better game.”
“It’s hard work,” Burkholder said. “To start the year and last year if the play didn’t come to him he would have a tough night. Now he’s being proactive, going after it and outworking people. He’s consistently doing that and he’s being rewarded with a lot of points.”
The Purple Eagles were rewarded after some hard work Saturday night.
Niagara has struggled with consistency this season and this weekend series with American International served as the perfect microcosm. The Yellow Jackets scored four first-period goals on Friday and dominated Niagara in a 6-2 win.
On Saturday back at Dwyer Arena, Niagara gave a better effort, played a more complete and energetic game. The Purple Eagles killed off penalties, scored on the power play and generally looked like a solid team.
With the win, Niagara improved to 5-5-3 in conference. It also gives the Purple Eagles (5-12-3 overall) five points in their last four Atlantic Hockey games.
“That was a huge bounceback win for us,” Burkholder said. “I don’t think we had a weak link up front at all.”
“That was statement for us coming back from Friday night,” said senior captain Ryan Rashid, who scored the game’s first goal. “Going 2-1-1 in our past four is pretty good. We spent most of the first semester on the road and with 12 freshmen, they don’t know what it’s like to win at home on a Saturday. It’s addicting.”
Rashid kicked it off in the first period, tipping in a shot from freshman Vince Muto at 6:52. Rashid’s reaction was pronounced, with an emphatic, sweeping-the-ice celebration that energized the Niagara bench.
“He was all fired up, got our bench into it,” Burkholder said. “That was big. We were hoping for our confidence and poise level we would get the first one and we did. That allowed us to get our feet going.”
Their feet kept moving as Kohls scored twice in the second, including one on the power play with sophomore linemate Hugo Turcotte assisting on both goals.
Kohls returned the favor late in the second, setting up a goal for Turcotte – his third straight game with a goal.
In the third period, TJ Sarcona put a rebound into an empty net as Ryan Kerpan was out of position. Kerpan came into the game in the third period after starter Hunter Leisner gave up four goals on 21 shots through the first 40 minutes.
Freshman Jackson Teichroeb needed to make just 12 saves to pick up his second collegiate shutout as Niagara held a commanding 32-12 advantage in shots.
It was the third time this season that AIC had been blanked. The Yellow Jackets fell to 5-8-0 in Atlantic Hockey, 5-14-0 overall.
Niagara remains home for a pair of games next weekend, hosting Holy Cross on Friday and Saturday. It begins a stretch of eight home games over the final 14 of the regular season for the Purple Eagles.