PITTSBURGH — Former Pittsburgh Penguins Elite forward Eric Cooley has committed to play Division I hockey at Niagara University for the 2017-18 season.
Cooley, 19, played the 2016-17 season with the Amarillo Bulls of the North American Hockey League, where he scored 14 goals and added 20 assists in 51 games. His 34 points finished tied for third on the Bulls.
“I just thought it was a good fit for me personally,” Cooley said. “It’s a smaller school. Four hours away from home. Just the all-around best fit.”
Cooley follows coach Matt Nicholson from Amarillo to Niagara. Nicholson had been the head coach at Amarillo for two seasons, but is joining a new staff with the Purple Eagles under Jason Lammers.
“I actually talked to Niagara at the end of last season,” Cooley said. “At the time, they were going through a coaching change and they didn’t have a head coach. Whenever they hired Matt, that’s when the ball got rolling. I was able to get up there and I loved it.”
The new coaching staff at Niagara has something of a Pittsburgh flair to it, which was an appeal to Cooley. Lammers is a Pittsburgh native and Nicholson coached for six seasons at Robert Morris.
“His background is so great,” Cooley said of his new head coach. “He’s had success everywhere that he’s been. He’s done well for every program he’s been a part of. It was really a no-brainer.”
Niagara, which is in Lewiston, N.Y., near Niagara Falls, plays in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, the same league as Robert Morris. Instead of playing over 1,000 miles away, his friends and family will be able to see him play just four hours up the road. Niagara also typically plays at least one game in Pittsburgh against Robert Morris every year.
“As a hockey player, you expect to have to play away from home,” Cooley said. “I’m no exception. It’s been nice playing in Texas, but it’ll be good to play back up north. Especially playing against Robert Morris, I watched them growing up and now I’ll get to play against them. That’ll be fun for friends and family to get down and watch the games.”
Before playing in Amarillo, Cooley spent two seasons with the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite U18 and U16 teams. He is a West Mifflin native and attended Pittsburgh Central Catholic High School.
Cooley will join Pittsburgh’s Connor Ford (Bowling Green), Sewickley’s Austin Lemieux (Arizona State) and Adam Pilewicz (Penn State) as local Division I freshman for the 2017-18 season.