As the youth movement rips across the MAAC, one coach isn’t overly thrilled. And Canisius coach Brian Cavanaugh won’t pull any punches when he tell you.
“We’re a young team,” Cavanaugh said very matter-of-factly. “We graduated pretty much all the name players that people are familiar with and gave us a lot of wins and success over the last four years. Now we’ve got a total of 18 freshmen and sophomores. So who knows what will happen?”
— Brian Cavanaugh, using a grocery analogy to his new recruiting class
Though that sounds like a negative, it may not be. The simple fact is that Canisius will enter this season with one overwhelming question mark: whether those 18 players dotting the lineup can produce enough to win.
Canisius returned just 12 players from a 2001-02 team that finished a disappointing 14-17-4. Only Iona (11) returns fewer.
With that in mind, Cavanaugh set out to recruit players who would complement what the team already had — speed — and bring a missing element: physical play. Thus, Cavanaugh’s rookie class is comprised of players like Dan Bogner (6-3, 200 lbs.), Jon Durno (6-4, 200 lbs.), David Ovcjak (6-3, 210 lbs.) and Tim Songin (a whopping 6-5, 230 lbs.)
“Last year’s freshman class was comprised of smaller, faster kids and I think we got outsized and beaten by a lot of teams,” Cavanaugh said. “So this year I went out and recruited a balance, because if you have a good mix of both size and speed, you feel you can match up with any team.”
So with a freshman class that would make the school’s basketball coach jealous, Cavanaugh can head to the drawing board to work at developing the club. The next question: how will these players fit in?
“When you go to the market, you see a group of bananas and you have to figure out, do you pick this one or this one and wonder which one will mature,” Cavanaugh joked. “That’s what we have here. We have a lot of young kids who are green around the ears and we have to see which ones will mature and grow quickly.”
Cavanaugh admits that he will rely heavily on players’ leadership to not only guide this year’s team, but to make sure that the freshman class quickly becomes acclimated. Leading the club will be tri-captains representing each of the returning classes: senior Tom Wnuk, junior Rob Martin and sophomore Mark Persick.
Those captains will have a quick opportunity to welcome the rookies into college hockey, as the Griffs begin the season in Buffalo at HSBC Arena, the site of this year’s Frozen Four, against the likes of North Dakota and either Niagara or Michigan the second night of a weekend tournament.
“We should have a great atmosphere to begin the year at the College Hockey Showcase,” said Cavanaugh. “It will be good for the club to play in front of a large crowd each night to get them used to college hockey.”