Canisius has found its man, and to many it comes as a bit of a surprise.
Dave Smith, who was an associate head coach this past season at Mercyhurst College, leading the Lakers to this year’s NCAA tournament, has been hired by the Griffs it was announced at a news conference Friday. Smith replaces Brian Cavanaugh, who was fired by the college in December 2004.
Smith, though extremely qualified for position, was not on a short list of names reported late week by USCHO.com. He was, though, the final in a group of candidates that interviewed on campus this week. Those candidates included Colorado College assistant Joe Bonnett, Niagara associate head coach Jerry Forton and Maine assistant Campbell Blair.
Having recruited not only within Atlantic Hockey but also within a similar geographic region (Mercyhurst is only an hour away from Buffalo-based Canisius), Smith is considered a prime candidate to take over the reins. He is only the third head coach in the school’s history, much of which was played as a Division II school in the ECAC West before the program elevated to Division I and the MAAC in 1998.
“Dave Smith has proven his worth as a top-notch recruiter and assistant coach in Division I hockey,” said Canisius president Rev. Vincent Cooke. “We look for him to continue the strong tradition of hockey here at Canisius and help take the program to the next level.”
Smith has also had coaching stints at Miami and Bowling Green, and was a graduate of Ohio State in 1992. To finally become a head coach is an opportunity Smith has long awaited.
“This is a very exciting moment for me as a coach and for my family,” Smith said. “We look forward to becoming a part of the Canisius College community and the city of Buffalo. I am excited to continue the strong tradition of Golden Griffin hockey and the challenge of taking the program to the next level.”
Though Mercyhurst has lost its top assistant and top recruiter, it can once again take solace in the fact that it has produced a solid coaching prospect. The Lakers program also turned out Mike Sisti, who heads up the extremely successful Mercyhurst women’s program; Greg Klym, who went on to become an assistant at Union; Craig Barnett, who was head coach at Findlay from that program’s start until one season before the program folded last year; and Seth Appert, assistant coach for this year’s national champion Denver.
“It’s bittersweet when you work with a guy for three years [and lose him],” said head coach Rick Gotkin. “I’m really, really happy for Dave and his family. It’s something he’s wanted to do. Most assistants aspire to have their own program, and we knew it was just a matter of time before he got it.
“He’s a bright, innovative, caring coach. Any success that we’ve had he’s been a very big part of it. His fingerprints are all over this program.”
No doubt, one of Smith’s toughest tasks will be to rein in a program that this past year was burdened with massive discipline problems. Within a short span of time this past December, the Griffs team had one player arrested in Buffalo and another injured jumping off of a bed while drunk on a road trip to North Dakota.
The lack of discipline in the team led to an investigation that cost both athletic director Tim Dillon and associate athletic director Marshall Foley their jobs.
Canisius finished this season tied with Mercyhurst for second place, its best finish since joining Division I. Still, the Griffs lost in the opening round of the Atlantic Hockey playoffs to Bentley, 4-2.