Former Canisius hockey coach Brian Cavanaugh once said that the Jesuit way is to gradually but continually improve. Current Golden Griffins coach Dave Smith has his team along that path. For a few years, his better players have been his younger ones, and as those classes have matured, the wins have started to come — from just nine in 2006-07 to 15 last season, the most since 2001.
Last year, Smith said his squad was the most talented he had assembled, and he feels the same way this year. Expectations around the league are that this is a team that can challenge for a title.
“It’s a different feel,” Smith said. “It’s exciting. The pieces to the puzzle are here and now its up to us to meet our own expectations.”
Smith says his team was close last year, but let itself down with a fifth-place finish.
“We stubbed our toes against Bentley,” he said. “They beat us six times last year. We need to continue to get better individually and as a program. The expectations change every year. They create excitement as we improve and can see what we are capable of, but at the same time we haven’t been in this situation before. Maybe individually in juniors or whatever, but not as this group.”
This group returns 87 percent of its offense, all but one defenseman, and all three goalies.
Sophomore Dave Kostuch was Rookie-of-the-Year in Atlantic Hockey last season, racking up 21 goals. Also back are Jason Weeks (39 points last season), Cory Conacher (35 points) and Josh Heidinger (33 points).
Senior Carl Hudson (eight power-play goals) returns to lead the defensive corps, and Andrew Loewen is back for his final season after posting a .919 save percentage and a 2.81 GAA last year.
The Griffs will open with nine of their first 12 games at home, including hosting a season-opening series
against Ferris State.
“This is a hard-working group and soon we’ll see if that hard work pays off,” Smith said. “We’re looking forward to it.”