We have reached the last team to preview in the Atlantic Hockey Conference, the reigning regular season champion Canisius Griffins. After years of being a bottom of the league to middle of the pack type team, Canisius has found some success since moving into the HARBORCenter as their home, a joint venture gift from the Pegula family and Buffalo Sabres. This commitment to a state of the art facility with the increased scholarship limit in Atlantic Hockey had helped Canisius recruit better under coach Dave Smith.
This reached a peak in 2016-17 with the Griffins winning their first Conference Regular Season Championship in program history. Canisius will have two huge assets to replace in 2016-17 replacing coach Dave Smith (now at RPI) and Hobey Baker Finalist goaltender Charles Williams. This season for Trevor Large, a 1st time head coach, will be a challenge as the Griffins try to match their season of a year ago.
The advanced analytics show that Canisius was definitely a team that was elevated by an excellent goaltender beyond what their offense was producing last season. The Griffins were second to last in the conference with a Corsi For of 45.7% and were 37th in the country scoring just 2.74 goals per game. This was a team that was winning above their level of play because they featured one of the top goaltenders in the nation, playing in a conference known for being somewhat defensive.
Luckily for Canisius they do return their top nine scorers, so it is possible to see players develop as collegiate scorers. I would not expect this team to play more up-tempo under Large. He was a player at Ferris State under Bob Daniels and has coached at traditional defense first teams as an assistant also.
The Griffins featured great team defense, ranking 5th nationally surrendering just 2.18 goals against per game. Cameron Heath returns for his junior season after back-to-back seven goal seasons. Heath is a strong 2-way player who can balance contributing offensively with also being a plus player. Heath will be leaned on, especially early in the season to help a new goaltender transition to being the leader.
The player with the biggest skates to fill will be Daniel Urbani who as a sophomore will be the odds on favorite to grab the starting goaltending job. Urbani came to Canisius last season after having a banner season with the Trenton Golden Hawks of the OJHL. Urbani led the league in goals against average (1.69), was a First Team All-Star, Playoff MVP and led his team to a championship. Urbani received limited play last season, but still put up a respectable .926 save percentage with a limited sample size. Urbani could be the difference in Canisius staying within the top five of the league standings.
Player to Watch- I think this has to be Urbani. The style of play at Canisius combined with the graduation of Williams makes goaltending the most exciting position to watch at Griffins games.
Breakout Player to Watch- Matt Hoover enters his sophomore season looking to improve upon a 7-13-20 line last season. Hoover was a 38 goal scorer in 57 games played his last season in the BCHL and if he can find his comfort in the NCAA game could easily be a 15+ goal scorer for the Griffins.
Freshman to Watch- Chayse Primeau, the son of Keith Primeau of NHL fame, arrives to Canisius this season. Chayse did not have a huge season production wise in Lincoln (USHL) last season but could be a depth forward that the casual fan will want to follow due to name recognition alone.