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Junior class a big part of the plans for Canisius

Canisius treaded water in Atlantic Hockey last season, finishing with a similar record to the 2010-11 team that was loaded with senior talent. Last year saw some new leaders emerge and a more balanced team in general.

Twenty-two players return to a team that is expected to finish in the same position in the standings. The Golden Griffins placed ninth last season, and that’s where the coaches’ poll finds them again.

“The poll can be more about what you’ve done than what you’re going to do,” coach Dave Smith said. “What [the coaches] have said by picking us ninth is you did not have a special year last season. We were young and got better throughout the season but a lot of that lesson plan isn’t visible to the public. We’re not disappointed in last year.”

The Griffs’ top five scorers last season all were sophomores. Kyle Gibbons and Taylor Law led the way with 26 points each.

“That class has already emerged as on-ice leaders,” said Smith. “Throw in [junior goaltender] Tony Capobianco, too.”

Capobianco came into his own splitting time with Dan Morrison, who graduated holding the all-time saves record at Canisius. Capobianco is expected to carry the majority of the load this season, backed up by junior Keegan Asmundson and rookie Adam Harris, who was his team’s MVP in juniors.

“We’re still learning about [the freshmen],” Smith said. “But we could afford to be very selective with 22 guys back.

“[Freshman forward] Stephen Miller has an excellent background and passion. We’re not going to rush him but he’s going to be a very good player in this league. He reminds me of Taylor Law. [Rookie defenseman] Matthew Backhouse can flat-out play.

“Our assistants have done a good job and I think we have a good product to sell to recruits. The success of guys like Cory Conacher, who was MVP in the American Hockey League last season, helps our team and our league, that you can come to Canisius, come to Atlantic Hockey and develop into a pro player if that’s what you want to do.”

Canisius is in negotiations with the Buffalo Sabres to be a part of the Harbor Center in downtown Buffalo, N.Y., next to First Niagara Center. The plans are for an 1,800-seat ink that could be a new home for the Golden Griffins, who currently play their home games at Buffalo State.

“Nothing is settled, and we’re very happy at Buffalo State,” Smith said. “We’re also honored to be partnered with the Sabres on this and other initiatives and to be part of the Buffalo hockey community.”

About the Golden Griffins

2011-12 overall record: 10-22-4

2011-12 AHA record: 10-14-3 (ninth)

2012-13 predicted finish (coaches poll): Ninth

Key losses: F Scott Moser, G Dan Morrison

Players to watch: F Taylor Law, F Kyle Gibbons, G Tony Capobianco

Impact rookie: Stephen Miller had 61 points last season for the New Hampshire Jr. Monarchs and made the EJHL all-star team.

Why the Golden Griffins will finish higher than the coaches poll: Canisius has had a year to mature its large freshman and sophomore classes, returning virtually intact.

Why the Golden Griffins will finish lower than the coaches poll: Canisius will need rookies like Miller to contribute on offense immediately if it wants to score more goals than last season.


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