The 2012-13 year was a magical time for the Golden Griffin hockey program. Ranging from the announcement of a new home rink to an alum winning the Stanley Cup as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks front office to Cory Conacher ’11 becoming the first Atlantic Hockey player to score a goal in the NHL, Canisius announced its presence on a national stage to the hockey audience.
What really put the Griffs on the map, however, was the program’s first Atlantic Hockey Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.
“We had a really special year last year as a program and the climax of it all was winning an Atlantic Hockey Championship,” said ninth-year head coach Dave Smith. “The announcement of moving into a new rink, Cory Conacher playing in the NHL and then winning a conference championship has catapulted expectations to where I’ve always wanted them to be.”
The Griffs played their best hockey with the season on the line during the 2012-13 campaign, riding a school-record eight-game winning streak to the conference title. Along the way, Canisius defeated the top two seeds in the regular season – beating two-time defending champion Air Force in addition to nationally-ranked and rival Niagara – before topping Mercyhurst, 7-2, in the title game.
Canisius then advanced to its first NCAA Tournament and gave top-seeded Quinnipiac all it could handle in the East Regional Semifinal before falling late, 4-3.
What’s next then for the Griffs? With 22 returning letterwinners – including 17 upperclassmen – from its championship team and the addition of five talented newcomers, it’s time for Canisius to repeat and continue its climb up the ladder on a national stage.
“Our players are excited to score goals and excited to win hockey games,” Smith said. “We like playing for trophies. The focus that we are seeing right now is more dialed in then it’s ever been. I believe our team is well aware of how hard it is to do what we did last year but we have shown the commitment in the offseason and the preseason to improving.
“The goals don’t change now that we’ve won a championship, Our first focus is to get a bye in the Atlantic Hockey Tournament and then it is to get to Rochester for our league’s final four. Then it is to win our championship and a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The one goal that we didn’t have last year was to win an NCAA Tournament game. We didn’t even consider it last year but now we know what we are capable of and know that we can take this even further this year.”
It certainly helps when the Griffs feature 17 upperclassmen – the second-highest total in the country this season. Canisius also welcome back 10 of the top 12 scorers from last season, five defensemen who started each game during the postseason run and a record-setting goaltender. That leadership, headed by captain Ryan Bohrer, is what has Smith ready to go for the 2013-14 campaign.
“The experience of winning a championship last year is coming across in confidence so far this year,” Smith said. “It’s confidence in our systems and excitement to play the game at the level we played in last March. Right now, our seven seniors have been terrific. They’re focused. They’re bringing great work ethic and they’re doing the right things both on and off the ice. Ryan is a single captain and is doing a great job of leading so far – both delegating and being a wonderful mentor and role model. He has a great vision for the entire senior class and I’m really looking forward to seeing how this group leaves their legacy at Canisius.”
Senior Kyle Gibbons
The Griffs return 13-of-15 letterwinners at the forward position and add three freshmen to the roster. The forward line was key during the Griffs’ championship run during the 2012-13 campaign as the team averaged 4.44 goals per game during the final nine contests of the season (averaged 2.18 goals in first 34 games).
After coming off a strong junior season, senior Kyle Gibbons is set to anchor the unit. The 2013 Atlantic Hockey Championship MVP, who participated in the New Jersey Devils Development Camp during the summer, ranked 12th nationally with 43 points last season and his 35 points after Jan. 1 were the most in the country. The Griffs also have the bonus of adding 2011-12 Team MVP Taylor Law to the roster after the senior missed the final 28 games of the season last year due to injury. Law was tied for the team lead with 26 points, 11 goals and 15 assists as a sophomore.
“We are going to have a lot of tough decisions on a nightly basis because of our depth,” Smith said. “We graduated two forwards but we add three talented players and have Taylor Law returning. That provides immediate competition that was already there from a championship squad. Our depth is definitely one of our strengths along with our overall skill level, size and grit up front.”
Ryan Bohrer, Sr • 36gp, 5-5–10, -6, 18 PIM
“Ryan is one of the faster players in the league,” Smith said. “He is a high-energy player that takes pucks to the net and can make a play on the offensive end. He is also a key piece to our penalty kill.”
Kyle Gibbons, Sr • 42gp, 21-22–43, +8, 18 PIM
“Kyle is our highest-skilled player who was one of the best in the country last season after January 1,” Smith said. “He got off to a slow start last year but has taken the necessary steps to correct that this season. We’re really excited to see what he can do in his senior campaign.”
Taylor Law, Sr • 15gp, 2-0–2, -9, 4 PIM
“We’re really excited to have Taylor back after missing most of last season,” Smith said. “He was our Team MVP two years ago and can be a dominant power forward. If he keeps his game simple, he is one of the best pro prospects in our league.”
Patrick Sullivan, Sr • 43gp, 8-14–22, +7, 26 PIM
“Patrick Sullivan is probably our fastest and strongest player,” Smith said. “He is a one-man puck retriever and does a great job of creating space for other players.”
Doug Beck, Jr • 31gp, 5-8–13, -3, 24 PIM
“Doug is a player that was out of the lineup at the end of the season but has the skills and compete level to be in on a nightly basis,” Smith said. “We’re looking for him to be a good power forward for us this year.”
Cody Freeman, Jr • 28gp, 12-8–20, +7, 6 PIM
“Cody has excellent skill for a big man,” Smith said. “He skates well and has a real good net presence. He also showed last year that he has great chemistry with Kyle Gibbons and Patrick Sullivan and we’ll look for more of the same this season.”
Matthew Grazen, Jr • 35gp, 8-4–12, +3, 37 PIM
“Matthew is a high-energy player and a great athlete on the ice,” Smith said. “He led our penalty kill unit last season and will be expected to do much of the same this year.”
Carl Larsson, Jr • 24gp, 0-2–2, -7, 8 PIM
“Carl is a big and strong hard-to-play-against forward,” Smith said. “He has great vision on the ice and is excellent in the defensive zone.”
Mitch McCrank, Jr • 43gp, 5-16–21, +5, 32 PIM
“Mitch played the point on our top power-play unit last year and is maybe our smartest all-around hockey player,” Smith said. “We will look to him for much of the same as an all-situation player.”
Braeden Rigney, Jr • 24gp, 1-4–5, -6, 14 PIM
“Braeden is probably our best faceoff player,” Smith said. “He is pesky and a difficult matchup in the defensive zone. He needs to raise his game in the offensive zone and be hard to play against in all situations.”
Tyler Wiseman, Jr • 37gp, 6-7-13, -5, 18 PIM
“In back-to-back seasons, Tyler has been outstanding for us in the playoffs,” Smith said. “We would like to see him carry that playoff intensity and production into the regular season. It’s a big year for Tyler.”
Ralph Cuddemi, So • 37gp, 4-6–10, -5, 10 PIM
“Ralph has come back with great presence,” Smith said. “He has a big body and protects the puck well. He has a real knack around the net, which we saw late in the season last year. Based on his skill levels and commitment, I see Ralph bumping up his offensive numbers this season.”
Stephen Miller, So • 34gp, 4-9–13, +2, 31 PIM
“Stephen has great hockey skills and a great hockey body,” Smith said. “We saw late last year what he is capable of with the puck. We want him to use his great shot as much as possible.”
Shane Conacher, Fr, St. Michael’s Buzzers (OJHL)
“There are high expectations for Shane this season but he is very capable of backing it up,” Smith said. “He has high skill, high IQ and competes very well.”
Jack Hidi, Fr, Upper Canada College
“Jack is a very good power forward prospect,” Smith said. “As a true freshman, he is going to have different challenges then some of our older players but his learning curve is going to be very steep. The future can be very bright for Jack because of his skill level, size and work ethic.”
Josh Kielich, Fr, Buffalo Jr. Sabres (OJHL)
“Josh has sneaky speed and skills to go with good size,” Smith said. “Learning when and where to use those skills is his initial challenge but Josh brings some exciting elements to our team.”
Senior Ben Danford
Just like at the forward position, Canisius returns nearly every contributor from last season on the blue line. Once again leading the unit is senior Ben Danford, who was named the team’s Top Defenseman in each of his first three seasons at the College and is the program’s all-time leader in assists by a defender.
Overall, Canisius returns five blueliners that appeared in at least 20 games last season and played their best hockey during the team’s title run. The Griffs also add two newcomers to the unit, which includes a transfer from the Penn State club team and a championship-winning defender from the NAHL.
“We graduate two players and brought in two,” Smith said. “We added two good players in a transfer and one that played on a championship team in juniors. We add two talented pieces to an already deep, big, hard-to-play-against defensive unit. We have good size, good mobility and our increased offense at the end of the year was in large part due to the contributions from our defensemen.”
Ben Danford, Sr • 43gp, 2-16–18, +2, 10 PIM
“Ben is the leader of our defensive unit,” Smith said. “He leads our team in minutes and plays all situations. He is also a great skater and competes hard. Already a highly-accomplished player during his time here, Ben will be looked upon to do much of the same as a senior.”
Duncan McKellar, Sr • 37gp, 3-11–14, E, 14 PIM
“Duncan is big and an excellent skater,” Smith said. “He has good skills and has really seemed to settle into the defense position nicely after being converted from a forward. He is a wonderful open-ice player.”
Stephen Farrell, Jr • 24gp, 2-6–8, E, 6 PIM
“Stephen worked hard last year to find a regular spot in the lineup,” Smith said. “He really found a way to contribute to our success down the stretch. He has good size and good stick skills. Stephen has also shown to have a great first pass out of the defensive zone.”
Doug Jessey, Jr • 42gp, 0-6–6, +1, 40 PIM
“Doug is a defenseman that is on the cusp of doing great things,” Smith said. “He has terrific strength in his upper body and in his hands. It is time for Doug to take that next step to be an all-star in our league and he has that ability.”
Logan Roe, Jr • 36gp, 1-6–7, -1, 24 PIM
“This is a big year for Logan,” Smith said. “He is a big body and can play in all situations. He needs to take his game to the next level if he is going to get a crack at an NHL camp. He has been very good for us but is ready for the next challenge.”
Mathew Backhouse, So, • 11gp, 0-1–1, -6, 4 PIM
“Mathew had a really good first year even though he did not get a lot of games in,” Smith said. “He is hungry to show his skating ability, his size and his skills. He has the ability to follow in Duncan McKellar’s footsteps as a big, strong defenseman.”
Chris Rumble, So • 14gp, 2-5–7, -10, 4 PIM
“It was an interesting season for Chris last year coming off of the summer he had,” Smith said. “Now, his body is in great shape. He feels strong and his energy level is up. He might be one of the top power-play defensemen in the league. He only played in 14 games last season and needs to get more time in. If he solidifies his play in the defensive zone, he could be poised for a breakout year as a sophomore.”
Brandon Russo, Jr, Penn State (ACHA)
“A junior transfer, Brandon is a talented defenseman on the power play,” Smith said. “He has shown the ability through junior hockey to run a power play and be creative with the puck.”
Geoff Fortman, Fr, Amarillo Bulls (NAHL)
“Coming off a championship season in Amarillo, Geoff is a talented and strong defender,” Smith said. “He has good stick skills and is really hard to play against. We also have big expectations from Geoff in a leadership role.”
Senior Tony Capobianco
Perhaps the most important returning player for the Griffs from their championship roster is senior Tony Capobianco. As a junior, Capobianco started all but two games for Canisius and set four school records in saves (1,256), save percentage (.929), shutouts (4) and goaltender wins (18). In fact, the team’s MVP led all players in the country with his 1,256 stops, which ranks 12th in NCAA history and the most since the 1988-89 campaign.
While the Griffs are fortunate to have Capobianco returning for one last go around, Canisius will also have one eye on the future and will look for junior Keegan Asmundson and sophomore Adam Harris to show what they are capable of this season.
“The goalie position is probably the most interesting unit on our team,” Smith said. “Having Tony play 95 percent of the minutes last year, we need to have a long-term vision. Tony will continue to be our workhorse and has shown that he is an elite goaltender in college with legitimate pro prospects. With that being said, Keegan and Adam are both going to get a chance to compete for that number two spot and will have a look before Christmas.”
Tony Capobianco, Sr • 41gp, 2.40 gaa, .929 sv pct
“Tony had a great season last year,” Smith said. “His personal challenge this year will be to elevate his number in the win column. His save percentage was good and we were really good on the penalty kill. Tony just needs to translate some of those personal statistics into team statistics. Following up a great junior year with an even better senior season will set him up nicely for a pro contract.”
Keegan Asmundson, Jr • 6gp, 1.49 gaa, .951 sv pct
“Keegan showed early in the year last season that he can win a game for us and has the ability to block pucks,” Smith said. “The key for him is to show that he can do it on a consistent basis after limited games the past few seasons. He is a huge body that is going to get an opportunity to show what he is capable of.”
Adam Harris, So
“Adam is a very athletic and very competitive goaltender,” Smith said. “After sitting out all of last year, we need to be reminded that Adam was the Goalie of the Year in his league in juniors. He is going to have a shot this season and get a chance to show that he can compete at this level.”
Canisius has the bonus of returning most of its contributors from last year’s top two power-play units, which increased its output in the second half of the season. The two units scored on 23.8 percent of their changes in the final 23 games of the season – double the 11.9 conversion rate from the first 20 contests.
With both units staying mostly intact and the addition of a couple key contributors, Smith hopes the Griffs can carry over their success from the second half of the season into the 2013-14 campaign
“In terms of personnel, it looks as if Shane Conacher is the only addition to our power play but we also bring Taylor Law back after injury,” Smith said. “I feel good in what we are returning as chemistry and execution is always critical on the power play. Our first unit will remain the same and second unit will have a slightly different look. The one unknown is Chris Rumble, who I believe can run a power play on a very high level and we saw at times last year the boost he can provide the unit.”
The good news is that the penalty kill was the team’s strongest unit during the 2013-14 campaign and carried the Griffs’ to the conference championship. The Griffs’ successfully killed 90.1 percent of their opponent’s power plays – the 11th-best mark in NCAA history.
The bad news is that the unit was perhaps the hardest hit by graduation with three key contributors now gone. Canisius, however, does have the luxury of returning the team’s anchor in goaltender Tony Capobianco and he will once again look to make the unit a strength during his final campaign.
“The penalty kill unit was so instrumental in our success last year,” Smith said. “Being the 11th-best penalty kill of all-time, you see the results of that in many ways. It gave us a chance to be aggressive and then knowing that if we did take a penalty, that we had the confidence that we can kill it. It’s going to be hard to replace three really important pieces in (forwards) Preston Shupe and Torrey Lindsay and (defenseman) Ben Parker but we have the players ready to step up in their roles. We need to continue to be aggressive and getting pucks down the ice. When those things break down, we have been relying on our goaltender and he will continue to be our most important penalty killer.”