While Jake Sibell was playing for the Aberdeen Wings of the North American Hockey League, he got a call from John Lidgett, then a coach for the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League, trying to judge his interest in moving to the higher level.

Sibell decided to stay with the Wings, but that did not deter Lidgett from placing another call to the Isanti native.

“When I got a call from Lidgett in the middle of the 2020-21 season, I wondered, ‘Why is he calling me this time?’” Sibell said with a laugh.

The call was good news, because Lidgett now was an assistant coach at Niagara University, a Division I college hockey program based in Lewiston, N.Y. Lidgett was calling to recruit Sibell to join the Purple Eagles.

“It was a good call to get,” Sibell said.

It was the best news the 6-foot-2, 205-pound goaltender received in a season filled with honors at Aberdeen. Sibell was named the NAHL’s Goaltender of the Year and Player of the Year after setting league records for wins (43), goals-against average (1.19) and save percentage (95.2%) in a season, numbers that led him to be named Dave Peterson Goalie of the Year by USA Hockey.

Those big numbers resulted in interest from several schools besides Niagara, but eventually he settled on moving to the school located just a few miles away from Niagara Falls.

“I felt my conversations with Coach Lidgett and coach [Mark] Phalon and [head] coach [Jason] Lammers were the best conversations, so it made it easy to make a decision when I got a scholarship offer,” Sibell said.

The freshman hopes he is adjusting to Division I hockey. In seven games for the Purple Eagles, including five starts, Sibell has a 3.99 goals-against average and an 88% save percentage.

“It’s a faster level, to be sure, but I really enjoy the differences,” he said. “It takes reps [to adjust]. I’ve been training with college and pro players in the summer, but to get into actual games, where the goals count, takes time to get used to game environment.

“And the skill level is elevated at this level. The speed and the skill are the two things that are a step up.”

As a team, Niagara has a 4-10-2 overall record but has shown it has the ability to win an Atlantic Hockey Association title thanks to a 4-4-2-1 mark in conference play.

“We’ve been playing better as the season has gone on,” Sibell said. “The results aren’t 100% where we want them to be, but this team comes to play every night.

“Individually I’ve had some good games and, even though I haven’t got the results that I’ve wanted, I’ve felt good playing. I need to stick with that process; at the end of the year is when we need to win, and sooner or later the results will be there.”

It is a process that hopefully leads to success in March, when the AHA Tournament will determine which squad plays in the NCAA Tournament.

“I’ve had a couple of occasions when I’ve gotten angry and expressed that anger,” Sibell admitted. “I got reminded that we’re going through a process, and we’re going to get better.

“It’s difficult when you’re coming off a winning season like we had in Aberdeen last year. But I’m understanding the process more, and I’m getting better from it.”

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