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by Jourdon LaBarber / Buffalo Sabres

An unfamiliar energy surrounds the Canisius College hockey team entering this season.

On one hand, the Griffs are preparing to open their first season at the newly-constructed HARBORCENTER. Gone are the old black and orange confines of Buffalo State Arena, replacing it is a state-of-the-art facility complete with the Griffs’ own banners, locker room and training equipment.


On the other hand, the team is coming off a loss to Robert Morris in the Atlantic Hockey Conference Championship last year, a stark contrast from their winning the title the year before.

“Yeah I think guys are still kind of bitter, losing that game the way we did,” senior Doug Jessey said. “I think the year before it was all kind of sunshine and smiles after the year because we’d never been there before. But last year was just not a good feeling because it’s like we missed out on something we could’ve accomplished. So I think guys are coming in with that mindset, that we’re ready to do it again.”

To do it again, the Griffs – picked sixth in the Atlantic Hockey preseason poll – will rely on a veteran roster as they attempt to defy the odds again and christen their new home with a championship.

What To Watch For
No storyline stands taller for Canisius hockey this season than the brand new complex standing in front of First Niagara Center. Along with a Marriott hotel, a brand new Buffalo-themed sports bar and a full service Tim Horton’s, HARBORCENTER will feature two ice rinks – one of which will feature the Griffs’ logo on the ice.

With construction in its final steps, the Canisius players still haven’t seen the inside of their new home. Needless to say, they’re anxious.

“I’m scratching to get in there,” said goaltender Keegan Asmundson. “Now we’ll have our own identity. We’re HARBORCENTER; we’re Buffalo’s college hockey team. Before we were kind of with Buffalo State so it felt like they weren’t our colors – great arena, great time there but we’re really looking forward to getting our own spot and our own rink and calling it home.”

One person who has seen the inside of the new complex is Canisius head coach Dave Smith, and his reports to the team have been overwhelmingly positive. All of the amenities expected of a top-class facility, he says, are there.

And as for the new Canisius locker room, Smith had a simple description.

“It’s a home,” he said.

Key Returners & Newcomers
Canisius certainly lost some key members from their consecutive runs to the Atlantic Hockey Championship. Team captain Ryan Bohrer, top defenseman Ben Danford, leading scorer Kyle Gibbons and all-time saves leader Tony Capobianco all graduated following last year’s campaign.

The Griffs, however, believe that their key returning players are capable of filling those shoes. While the team will miss Gibbons’ scoring, they have reason to expect big things from forwards such as senior Mitch McCrank, who scored nine goals in his last 15 games last season; and junior Ralph Cuddemi, whose 32 points last season were second on the team only to Gibbons. Sophomore Shane Conacher, the brother of former Sabres forward Cory Conacher, will look to build on a rookie campaign in which he tallied 23 points.

On defense, the Griffs can expect Jessey and junior Chris Rumble to replace Danford. Like Danford, both are skilled defensemen with offensive capabilities. Jessey will also have the responsibility of taking over leadership duties from Bohrer after being named captain in September, a role his coach believes he’s already excelling in.

“He’s been great, Doug has been outstanding,” Smith said. “He’s got the demeanor of a man, of a polished veteran, and him and Keegan as the captain and assistant captain are really the bridge between the coaches and the players.”

Asmundson, meanwhile, takes over for Capobianco after a strong showing in 13 games last season. Given the success of his three immediate predecessors, Asmundson looks forward to affirming his own legacy in the program as a senior.

“If you go back in our history, we’ve prepared that goalie well,” said Smith. “The last three goalies in our history have been all-time saves leaders in Capo, Dan Morrison and Andrew Loewen. He’s physically ready, he’s mentally prepared, he wasn’t rushed into anything so it’s his turn to take the ball and run with it.”

In regards to the team’s newcomers, Smith points to their success at the junior level in recognizing their potential. Freshman netminder Reilly Turner was second in his league in saves, while Jeff Murray scored 36 goals. Defensemen David Bennett and Jack Stander, Smith says, already have pro teams calling.

If not for HARBORCENTER, it’s unclear whether or not Smith would have been able to recruit such a strong class. Visiting the team’s new facilities, he said, has already had a profound effect.

“Yes,” he said matter-of-factly. “It’s a simple ‘yes’ with an exclamation mark. On tours of HARBORCENTER since we’ve been bringing kids down here on visits, we’re four-for-four on commitments.”

Key Games
The usual suspects highlight the Griffs 2014-15 schedule, and Jessey points to rivalry games – Niagara, RIT and Mercyhurst – as the ones the team tends to circle year-in and year-out. While Canisius won’t host Niagara at HARBORCENTER this season, they will host RIT on Nov. 14 and 15, and Mercyhurst in their regular season home finale on Feb. 21.

But the biggest game for now, however, will come on Oct. 31, when Canisius hosts Ohio State in what is expected to be their opener at HARBORCENTER. Jessey expects the excitement of having their own home to carry them not only in the opener but throughout the beginning of the season.

“Especially at the start, it will fire guys up and get them excited,” he said.

Meanwhile, the excitement in the locker room has been matched on the Canisius campus, creating a unique buzz entering the season.

“They’re excited, we’re excited,” said Asmundson. “Halloween can’t come soon enough.”

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