It may be the start of a new hockey season, but there must be one thing fresh on the mind of Canisius College head coach Brian Cavanaugh — his early exit from last year’s MAAC playoffs. A 4-3 loss to eventual runner-up Iona brought a sad close to perhaps the finest season in Canisius hockey history.
But Cavanaugh only worries about in the past to learn from it. He approaches this season with plenty of optimism: returning to the club are all-league goaltender Sean Weaver and equally talented counterpart Stephen Fabiilli. With a top one-two punch in net alongside a returning class of 19 letterwinners, it seems a bit surprising that the MAAC coaches could vote Canisius seventh in the preseason poll.
— Canisius head coach Brian Cavanaugh
Cavanaugh, though, is quick to point out that Canisius is a talented team among many.
“I think if you look closely at the rankings, there are a number of teams that are within a vote or two from being in seventh or second or third,” said Cavanaugh, entering his 20th season behind the bench for the Griffs. “I think it speaks to the parity in our league.
“I can see that teams like Quinnipiac and Mercyhurst are teams that others will have to shoot for, but I think you’re going to see a lot of parity.”
Cavanaugh’s Griffs were in fact selected seventh in the preseason poll, but when the voting was tabulated, they finish just two votes behind Sacred Heart and UConn, who tied for fifth, and three points behind newcomer Army, who sits alone in fourth.
As the Griffs enter the third season in the MAAC, Cavanaugh notes that the evolution of the league has translated a lot into the evolution of coaches. As the talent pool has increased, so has what coaches do with the talent.
“You have to do your homework to be a good coach,” said Cavanaugh. “We were down at the bottom of the league last year on our power play, so we need to look at ways of being more opportunistic.
“This is no longer a situation where every team has one line of good players. Most teams have three good lines, so it’s important to develop this to stay competitive.
Canisius College itself has made more of a dedication to the sport of ice hockey. Under the direction of new Athletic Director Tim Dillon, Canisius has dedicated more funds to building up the program, and that begins with the head coach. For the first time in the program’s history, a head coach — Cavanaugh — has been retained full-time. The team also is rumored to be examining admission into the ECAC, along with crosstown rival Niagara University. That move will play out over the course of the season.
For now, though, Cavanuagh looks to the development of depth in his program to help pave a course to success in the upcoming year. With the realization that injuries cost the Griffs dearly last year, particularly with the loss of key forward Chris Duggan, Cavanaugh hopes to keep his team healthy.
“You’ve got to stay healthy — for us that’s a big thing,” Cavanaugh said. “When you stay relatively healthy throughout the course of a long season, you find yourself at the top of the standings. When you start to lose a key player here and there, it starts to affect your chemistry and the little things here and there that might mean a couple of wins.”