Hockey preview: Ice Griffs look to build on last year’s improvements

Junior defensemen Derek Hamelin is one of many upperclassmen looking to contribute for the Griffs this season (Canisius athletics/GoGriffs)

This time last year, the young Griffs were coming off of a rollercoaster season that saw them finish last in the Atlantic Hockey conference but included a sweep over NCHC powerhouse North Dakota. 

This season, the Griffs are ending another up-and-down season that saw the team make improvements, giving hope to the future. Just as there were many factors last season, like veteran leadership and improved goaltending to move forward, the Griffs will still need to make strides moving forward this season to give them a shot at the Atlantic Hockey conference title.

Veteran leadership will again play a key role for the Griffs after losing captain Matt Hoover, as well as Nick Hutchison and Matt Stief. While the Griffs will miss those massive contributors, the team looks forward to the leadership of new captain Grant Meyer, as well as fellow seniors Logan Gestro, David Baskerville, Matt Long, Blake Wareham and Austin Alger. These veterans will guide this team this season with their talent, awareness and experience. 

Other key contributors for the Griffs will be juniors Derek Hamelin on defense and Lee Lapid offensively. The team also hopes to get continued production out of sophomores Ryan Miotto and Keaton Mastrodonato. As freshmen, Mastrodonato and Miotto were the two biggest standouts last season. If they can build on their production, this team will certainly have a better shot at winning games. 

The biggest bright spot for the Griffs last season came in net from freshman Jacob Barczewski. Barczewski, a 6’1” goaltender from O’Fallon, Mo., was a shining star for the Griffs last season. On top of being named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Academic team, Barczewski appeared in 28 games and made 24 starts last season, was a two-time Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Week selection, and he led Canisius in both goals against average with a 2.92 and save percentage of .905. 

The Griffs are also bringing in seven freshmen to the team heading into this season, including defenseman like Jack Lyons and Jackson Decker, as well as forwards like Cooper Haar, Niclas Puikkonen, Connor Zilisch, Max Kouznetsov, and Jami Virtanen. If the team can get any significant production from the young guys, that’s an added bonus for this team.

Having finished last in 2018-19, and ninth in 2019-20, it is not unrealistic to expect continued improvement from this team. The new division setups due to COVID-19 should make this task a bit easier on the club as well. The team does not have to play the top two teams from the conference last year in AIC and Sacred Heart, nor do they have to play the fourth best team from the conference last year in Army. Rather, the Griffs get to play some of the middle of the pack teams like Niagara, RIT, Air Force, Robert Morris, and the worst team by far in the conference from last year in Mercyhurst. With a favorable schedule, the Griffs may just improve again this year. 

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