LEWISTON — There’s an air of uncertainty that hangs like fog over the Niagara University men’s hockey team.
After winning 20 games three times in six seasons, the Purple Eagles suffered through the worst season in program history last year, winning just a dozen times in 36 starts. Niagara typically hovered near the top of the standings in College Hockey America, but the league disbanded after last season.
And goaltending — long a strength in a program that’s seen Greg Gardner, Jeff Van Nynatten and Juliano Pagliero work between the Dwyer Arena pipes — is a complete unknown, so much so that Niagara coach Dave Burkholder insisted Thursday he still had no clue who his season-opening goalie would be.
In the midst of that fog, though, emerges fifth-year senior Ryan Annesley.
After a series of injuries, including a second shoulder surgery that knocked him out of the lineup last season, Annesley is returning to quarterback a power-play that often struggled during the CHA’s final go-round.
While he’s glad he was granted a fifth-year of eligibility after playing just seven games last season, Annesley is just as eager to restore order to a once-proud program that has seen myriad changes over the past 12 months.
“Obviously, it’s easier said then done, but give a lot of credit to this freshman class. They’re all coming in ready to work,” Annesley said. “They’ve been winners before, a lot of them, and I think that helps. Everybody knows what it’s like to be on a winning team. It starts with the older guys leading by example on the ice and that’s what we’re hoping to do so far.”
The Purple Eagles host a talented Merrimack squad tonight at Dwyer Arena, one that had its best finish since 1996-97 last year, and returns an emerging star in Stephane Da Costa, who drew plenty of interest from NHL scouts after a 46-point campaign that earned him national rookie of the year honors.