By Dominic Chamberlain
It definitely isn’t the start to the season head coach Dave Smith and the Griffs hockey team were looking for, but the team showed huge signs of improvement after falling 4-2 to the 10 ranked Bowling Green Falcons.
The Griffs were able to play a very close game against the Falcons last Friday night; the team even scored the first goal of the contest early in the second period. Senior Ralph Cuddemi found the back of the net for his second goal of the year while linemate Ryan Schmelzer and senior defenseman Mathew Backhouse picked up the assists on the play.
Then the Falcons struck twice to take a 2-1 lead heading into the third period. Junior Shane Conacher tied the game back up at two goals apiece with an assist from Cuddemi. It didn’t take long for the falcons to answer though as they scored just four minutes after the Griffs to make the game 3-2.
The Griffs would pull sophomore goalie Riley Turner for an extra attacker late in the game, but the Falcons were able to score an empty net goal with three seconds left on the clock to seal the victory. Turner saw 33 shots in the contest and had 30 saves.
“We have a really young ‘D’ core this year so it’s a big adjustment for not only them but for me as well,” said Turner. “So I’ve just been reminding them to work hard and play hard. At this level you don’t have a lot of time to make plays so any time you have a chance to move the puck (out of our zone) you got to move the puck.”
The youth of the Griffs is for sure one of the major factors that will be affecting them this season. With 12 freshmen on the roster every line, except the Griffs top line, has a freshman on it. These freshmen will have to play big for the Griffs throughout the year.
Cuddemi and Conacher have seemingly picked up from where they left off last year as they are the only two Griffs with goals thus far. But in order for this Griffs team to be successful, they will need to see production from the other three offensive lines, something coach Smith knows will come with time.
“(The biggest challenge facing the freshman is) Confidence,” said Smith. “So it takes experience. It takes just learning how to get one, and sometimes you get one and it’s contagious and then you get two, three, four so it just takes time. I have confidence that our guys are going to score.”
All of the Griffs understand the unique nature of this team. With having such a veteran presence last year, this year would provide new obstacles in terms of the experience on the team. This fact doesn’t seem to bother Conacher at all.
“I think they are just kind of getting used to the pace of the game still and how much faster it is than juniors” Conacher said. “So I think once they start to understand that we will be just fine.”
“This is the biggest jump in hockey; from juniors to college,” said Smith. “So they are still learning the game, at this pace, at this tempo and where the mistakes are made and where the good plays are made. So I feel good about where they are and what they have learned and I also feel great about where they are going to be.”
You can almost see what the team has learned thus far by looking at the two games. The season kicked off against the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Griffs lost the game 6-1 with Cuddemi getting the Griffs only goal. The Griffs allowed 45 shots to get to Turner, forcing him to make 39 saves over the course of the game. The Griffs also saw sophomore Ryan Schmelzer take a five minute major for checking from behind and a game misconduct that comes along with that penalty.
The Griffs game against the Falcons seems to be in sharp contrast to how they played against the Nittany Lions. The 10 ranked Falcons had their hands full with the Griffs and if anything the Griffs proved that even with a very young core of players, they are still more than capable of playing top tier hockey. Perhaps the game against the Nittany Lions shook out any butterflies the team had and allowed the Griffs to play at the skill level they know they have when they faced Bowling Green.
A good test of that comes this weekend when the Griffs start Atlantic Hockey Conference play against the Holy Cross Crusaders. The Crusaders are yet to play an AHC game and much like the Griffs they are winless this season. The Crusaders have taken on 18 ranked Quinnipiac and 2 ranked Providence.
It’s safe to assume that those games for the Crusaders had a similar effect on their team as Penn state and Bowling Green had on the Griffs. Needless to say, both teams should be more than ready to kick off their conference season and the Griffs know what it will take for them to be successful this weekend.
“We got to be hard to play against,” said Smith. “We got to make sure that our mistakes are in behind their defensemen and that we are playing a fast, up tempo game. If we do those things and generate some offense… then we give ourselves a chance to win.”