Coach wants ’50 more goals’ than last year’s team

Even with the a full season lockout of the National Hockey League on the horizon, a new hockey season is about to get underway in Buffalo. Starting this Sunday, the Canisius College hockey team begins its 2012-2013 campaign and its looking to improve on its first-round exit against Connecticut in the Atlantic Hockey playoffs last March.

The official start of practice is tomorrow, but the players have been doing a combination of on-ice and off-ice conditioning, including a one-week training regimen with the college’s ROTC program.

“[ROTC is] a great opportunity for guys to work together, compete against each other,” senior captain Preston Shupe said. “The whole purpose of the week is to come closer together as a team and face challenges and overcome them.”

The team lost record-setting goaltender Dan Morrison and captain Scott Moser last year (even though both are enrolled in graduate programs at Canisius), but welcome five incoming freshmen. Joining the forward ranks will be Stephen Miller and Ralph Cuddemi who were both over a point-per-game players last season for their junior teams. Defensemen Matthew Backhouse and Chris Rumble add size and depth to the backend. Goaltender Adam Harris was a Team MVP of the Selkirk Steelers in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League and was a finalist for MJHL Goaltender of the Year last season.

“They’re great,” Shupe said. “All five of them fit the puzzle perfectly, they’re good compliments to the team and I look forward to seeing them in action.”

“Our staff did a great job recruiting some talent, some size and some character,” head coach Dave Smith said.

Wearing the “C”s for the Griffs this season will be Shupe and fellow senior Torrey Lindsay. According to Smith, the decisions were easy to make.

“Those are easy decisions that have a lot of importance to the team,” Smith said. “When we talked with our players [about the captaincy], we talked with not only the guys on this year’s team, but last year’s team. Preston was a captain last year, but it’s still clear that he’s an excellent leader on our team.Torrey Lindsay is also an excellent leader, he’s a tremendous person, he’s got the respect of all the players and all the staff.”

In their quest toward an Atlantic Hockey championship, one of the major things that the team will look to improve is their offensive output. Canisius finished last season second last overall in Atlantic Hockey in goals for with 54 in league games (66 overall). Much of the lack of scoring can be attributed to a power play that was last in the league, scoring on just 8.3 percent of opportunities.

“I’d like to get 50 more goals,” Smith said. “Some of that’s going to come on the power play, some of that’s going to come off the rush and some of that’s going to come from offensive zone play and we’re talking a lot about it, but no one guy is going to score 50 goals. [It] will be a team goal to accomplish that 50 goals different from last year.”

The Griffs return the same forward lineup (minus Moser) from last season. The team believes another year of experience will turn into more goals.

“Having pretty much our same forward group back with a year under their belt, everyone’s got more confidence, and we can see it from the first day everyone stepped on the ice,” Shupe said. “At the end of the day, its execution and we’ll be okay there.”

Juniors Kyle Gibbons and Taylor Law led the team in scoring last year with identical stat lines (11 G, 15, A) and will be looked upon again to provide the brunt of the offense. Smith says that sophomores Mitch McCrank, Tyler Wiseman and Doug Beck are ready to take the next step offensively. Lindsay was third on the team in goals with seven last season and Shupe is looking to bounce back from a season where he scored two goals in 30 games after scoring 20 goals in 69 games from 2009-2011.

“I’d like to chip in whenever I can, but hopefully I can put up some pretty good numbers offensively, but at the same time be good defensively,” Shupe said. “First and foremost my job is to lead the team to wins and do whatever I can as a captain to put the team in the position to succeed.”

The first Atlantic Hockey contest for the Griffs will come against Air Force on Thursday, Oct. 5 at the Buffalo State Ice Arena. The Falcons were picked to win the conference and are ranked as the 19th–best team in the nation by USCHO.com.

“You want to be tested,” Smith said. “You want to get your game to the highest level as early as possible and when you play a team that was picked to be number one, that gets your attention.”

The Griffs’ first game against Niagara is slated for Friday, Nov. 16 at Buff State and the teams will play a home-and-home series starting at Buff State on Thursday, Feb. 7 and concluding the following Saturday in Lewiston. The Griffs will play the RIT on Nov. 10 and end the season facing the Tigers on back-to-back nights on March 1 and 2.

Other highlights on the schedule include trips to Anchorage, Alaska on Oct. 13, the University of Minnesota on Oct. 28. Shupe, a native of Weyburn, Saskatchewan, is looking for forward to playing the Gophers in Minneapolis.

“Going to Minnesota will be pretty neat,” Shupe said. “It’s only about 12 hours from home so I’ll have a bunch of friends and family coming to that one. It’s as close as we come to Saskatchewan, so that one’s definitely circled.”

The first test for the Griffs will come against Ottawa University in an exhibition game this Sunday at 2:05 p.m. at the Buffalo State Ice Arena.

“Everyones really excited,” Shupe said. “We’re going to be gripping our sticks tight, but at the same we got to remember we can’t win it in the first period or the first shift. We’ve got to stick to our systems, play good and build some momentum coming up to the NCAA season.”

“Really the challenge for us and a team and as coaches is to prove that we are a good team and we believe we are,” Smith said. “We’ve got great leadership, we’ve got great goaltending, defense. Now it’s time to show it.”

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