Last year, it was boys against men. A lineup filled with freshmen and sophomores meant growing pains from day one. Add to that the fact that Canisius put together one of the toughest nonleague schedules in the MAAC and you had the recipe for disaster.
“Each year is a new year,” said head coach Brian Cavanaugh, the dean of Atlantic Hockey coaches, entering his 23rd season behind the Canisius bench. “But it’s a little different to tell 17 or 18 kids how hard you have to play and practice to play North Dakota three times but also be ready to play a talented Quinnipiac squad and a veteran Mercyhurst squad.
“Verbally you can explain it, but going out and playing the games and seeing what they need to do are two different things.”
What gives Cavanaugh confidence entering the 2003-04 season is the fact that those 17 or 18 players are no longer wet behind the ears. The Canisius lineup will sport five freshmen, but that’s a far cry from 16 underclassmen who dressed at points last season.
Cavanaugh knows that he’ll be staring at hockey players this season — not blank looks on faces.
“Instead of looking around the room and wondering, ‘What’s he talking about?’ we can have guys understand what’s going on.”
The understanding begins on offense. The Griffs return eight of their top ten scorers from a year ago, led by junior Fred Coccimigglio (12 goals and 23 points).
“Our top scorers from last year have the potential to put up some points,” said Cavanaugh. “Whether a few of them break away from the pack and have banner years is yet to be seen.”
In goal, Bryan Worosz — who last year had all but three decisions for the Griffs — will be supplemented by rookie Max Buetow.
“We feel like we’ve solidified our goaltending and given it depth,” said Cavanaugh.
When all is said and done, though, Cavanaugh really hopes that his team can mature enough to produce offensively.
“If you only score two goals a game in college hockey, you’re not going to win too many games,” said Cavanaugh. “We have to make the most of opportunities. Whether maturity will help with that or it’s just learning to wait an extra second and figure out where the opportunities are, hopefully a year of experience will provide that.”