After a 1-6-0 start to the season, including embarrassing losses like 8-1 and 5-0 against North Dakota and 7-2 against RPI, Trevor Large and his Golden Griffins squad have turned the page and are playing their best hockey this season. The team has gone undefeated in their last eight contests, including a win and a two point tie on the road at Sacred Heart, the number one team in the Atlantic Hockey Conference.
It’s not entirely difficult to figure out why the team is doing significantly better in this recent stretch compared to earlier this season and all of last year. The teams’ power play percentage has shot up to a solid 21.2 percent, and the penalty kill’s percentage has improved to 80 percent on the year. Last year when the team finished dead last in the conference the Griffs power play percentage was 20.1 percent and the penalty kill was only 74.8 percent.
The biggest change for the Griffs that has driven the team to success lays between the pipes. Last year the Griffs total save percentage was a miserable 88.8 percent and a terrible 3.50 goals against average. This year the numbers have improved slightly overall to 89.3 percent save percentage and a goals against average of 3.39.
While the numbers for this year aren’t particularly stellar in any fashion, the numbers are a bit skewed due to the first seven games and how terrible the performances were on a nightly basis. On this eight game unbeaten streak, the net has been taken over by super freshman Jacob Barczewski.
Barczewski, a 6’1” goaltender from O’Fallon, Mo. has stolen the starting job due to having a save percentage of 92.1 percent and a goals against average of 2.62 has instilled new life on the team. When the goaltending is reliable, it allows a team to play faster and looser, and it’s no surprise that the Griffs have found a groove offensively since Barczewski has taken over.
During this offensive outburst, three of the teams top players were just nominated for the Hobey Baker award as college hockey’s top player. Seniors Matt Stief, Matt Hoover, and Nick Hutchison are now officially on the ballot for players who can be voted for. Nick Hustchison has 20 points through 17 games played this year, while Matt Hoover has 20 points in the 22 games he has appeared in as well. Stief has 19 points in 22 games, and has done a masterful job quarterbacking the team’s top powerplay unit.
With improving special teams and excellent goaltending from Barczewski, the team has catapulted themselves from last in the conference all the way up to seventh. With games at hand on No. 8 Holy Cross and No. 9 Bentley, as well as a significant point advantage on No. 10 Niagara and No. 11 Mercyhurst, it feels like the team is heading their way to a first round series at home in the Atlantic Hockey Conference playoffs in March.
With 12 games left this year, including this weekend’s home and home series against No. 6 RIT, the Griffs have put themselves in a position where it will be hard for teams behind them to catch up to them, while also making it reasonable on themselves to potentially move up from the seven spot within the next six weeks.
While several players have stepped up their games to really propel this team forward, the man deserving of the most credit is undoubtedly Large. Large is now in his third season with the club, and he has endured the highest highs and lowest lows of being the team’s coach. His first season as coach, Large was able to take a star studded team to a 19-17-2 record, including a conference record of 17-11-0. That team finished second in the conference, earning a bye before ultimately beating AIC in the second round of the playoffs and losing to Air Force in the semi-finals.
Last year was a different story for Large and the Griffs. Canisius was picked to finish second in the conference by the coaches poll, but a laundry list of injuries and inconsistent play plagued the team to a last-place finish and a first round loss to rival Niagara. Not only was the season a disaster, but the group lost all four of their top defenseman, as well as one of the greatest Griffs of all time in Dylan McLaughlin.
Coming into this year, expectations were low for a team that lost a lot of talent and coming off a horrendous year. The 1-6-0 start made things feel as if the trend were to continue. Since then Canisius has become college hockey’s hottest team under Large’s watch, the players seem to be happier playing now, and the results are starting to show.
“I think we’re getting close as a team now” said team captain Matt Hoover. “We’re having a lot more fun, guys are together more. When your team is like that, I think that’s when teams are most successful.”