By Marshall Haim
The Griffs in the past have had a very good track record within the Atlantic Hockey Conference. Earlier this month, AHC media voted for how they believe the conference will end up. They also selected Preseason All-Stars, consisting of four forwards, three defenseman, and one goalie.
The conference was projected to finish according to the media as follows:
Robert Morris – The Colonials finished last season with a 19-5-4 record, the best in Atlantic Hockey. Even though they excelled in the regular season, they lost in the conference semifinal to Mercyhurst in overtime, 4-3. Robert Morris comes into the season bringing six new players to the program. Even though they lost their leading scorer from last season due to graduation, they still have Zac Lynch, who was one of the four forwards named to the All-Star team.
RIT – One of Canisius’ rivals within the AHC, the team down Interstate-90 has had very good experience with the conference in years past. Last season, as the four seed, they ended up winning the conference tournament. The Tigers will be suffering a massive blow after losing their leading scorer, Matt Garbowsky, to graduation. With three players (one forward and two defenseman) named to the Preseason All-Stars, the Tigers will be one of the teams to focus in on.
Bentley – Even though the season is still young and being voted to finish third in the conference, Bentley dropped their first two AHC games to Mercyhurst. The Falcons finished third last season and they bring back their leading scorer, forward Andrew Gladiuk, for his senior year. Gladiuk is one of two players from Bentley named as Preseason All-Stars. The other player named an All-Star was goaltender Jayson Argue. He started 20 of the Falcons’ 37 games last season as a freshman.
Canisius – Starting the season off with 12 newcomers to the team could be a tall task for the Griffs, but after their two games against Bowling Green and Penn State, it could give Canisius a very good boost. Key scorers Shane Conacher and Ralph Cuddemi (who was one of four forwards named to the Preseason All-Star team) could be a huge factor for head coach Dave Smith once the conference schedule begins against Holy Cross this weekend.
“There’s a lot of steps and you never stop taking them,” Coach Smith said about the team’s progression through the two non-league games. “Right now, we’re climbing the steps with our team play, our effort, and our attitude. The season will be over before we stop focusing in on improvement.”
Holy Cross – Holy Cross brings in nine new players after their seventh place finish in Atlantic Hockey play with a 12-11-5 record last season. Holy Cross has played three non-league games this season, losing twice to 18th-ranked Quinnipiac, 5-3 and 4-2. Last Friday, they played the #2 team in the nation, Providence, losing 4-1. The Crusaders bring back their top six scorers from last season.
“We’re very aware of Holy Cross,” Coach Smith said. “They played [Quinnipiac] and [Providence] and played them very well. Last year they came here in January with one loss in the conference. They’re a very good team.”
Sacred Heart – After finishing last season as one of four teams under the .500 mark, the Pioneers hope to bounce back. The return of top scorers Zach Luczyk and Jordan Minello could be a key factor. So far this season, they have a 1-1-1 record in non-league play. They defeated Arizona State, lost to UMass, and tied with Union. Defenseman Mitch Nylen was named to the All-Star team.
Mercyhurst – The Lakers currently hold the AHC lead with four points after defeating Bentley in their first two games. Mercyhurst brings in practically a whole new team, as they have 12 newcomers. With a prediction of finishing in seventh place, they may have the media’s initial prediction wrong. After losing the championship game last season to RIT, the Lakers are hoping to get some offense after losing their top three scorers from last year’s team.
Air Force – The Falcons are hoping to finish better than sixth after their 13-12-3 record from last season. Air Force has 13 new members to the club, and have began the season with a 1-2-1 record. They are currently 0-1-1 in AHC play, losing their first match, 5-1, and tying the other, 3-3, to Robert Morris. Like Mercyhurst, the Falcons do not have their top three scorers from last season.
Niagara – The ultimate rival of Canisius, the Purple Eagles are hoping to have a much better season after they finished last place in the conference with a 5-19-4 record. The Purple Eagles will have 10 new players and will be missing their top two scorers from last season. Niagara lost their first two games of the season to St. Lawrence and Clarkson by scores of 5-2 and 4-1, respectively.
Army – The Black Knights will hope to get over the .500 mark after an 8-16-4 record last season. Army brings in nine new players to the team, but brings back their top five scorers. Army, like fellow AHC schools, has played teams ranked in the top 20 in college hockey. The Black Knights faced #1 seeded Boston College two weekends ago, losing by a score of 5-1.
American International – The Yellow Jackets finished one point higher than Niagara last season, finishing with a 4-17-7 record. AIC has 10 new players on their team this season, but brings back their leading scorer, Austin Orszulak along with two more of their top four scorers from last year’s team. AIC has lost their first three games of the season, scoring seven goals and allowing 20.
The next four games for Canisius will be against AHC foes, starting with two against Holy Cross at HARBORCENTER this weekend; both games start at 4:05 p.m. Next weekend, the Griffs will travel to Milford, Connecticut to face Sacred Heart on October 30 and 31, with both games beginning at 7:05 p.m.