Golden day marks progress for Canisius athletics

The temperature spiked to 80 degrees that day, but aside from giving students in the Quad a few final hours of a fleeting Buffalo summer, it seemed like just another day on campus.

Last Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011, turned out to be anything but ordinary. It will go down near the top of the list as one of the best single days Canisius athletics has had. There have been championships and upset wins before, but rarely, if ever, such a combination of events in the national spotlight all in one day.

It’s a big day when one of your former players, Cory Conacher, scores a goal for an NHL team. It’s a big day when one of your athletes, Andrew Incho, gets on SportsCenter and it’s a big day when two of your former all-stars, Adam Jones and Dave Coates, are first-round draft picks. When all three happen in the span of a few hours, it’s a gigantic day.

“It ranks up there as one that I won’t forget,” said Matt Reitnour, director of Athletic Communications who has spent the last decade at Canisius. “It was kind of crazy because we knew about Cory… we knew Jones and Coates had a chance to get drafted in the first round… the Incho thing kind of came out of nowhere. It was just cool to be a part of it.”

“There’s a lot of positive things going on here. I don’t know where it ranks, but certainly it’s near the top,” Associate Athletic Director John Maddock said. “I’ve been here since 1981, and obviously we’ve had a lot of good days, but to have all three of those things go on at the same time is pretty neat.”

Forecasts called for rain as the men’s soccer team boarded its bus and drove the 6.8 miles from the Koessler Athletic Center to UB Stadium, well in advance of their 7:30 kickoff.

Weather.com will have you know there was a light rain shower just after 7 p.m. in Toronto, where the National Lacrosse League’s draft was taking place. The Colorado Mammoth owned the third and eighth overall draft picks, both coming before the Buffalo Bandits’ first selection at ninth overall.

After Philadelphia and Rochester had selected, Colorado went up and grabbed former Griff Adam Jones, a left-handed forward who was Canisius’ first lacrosse player ever to be named an All-American. When the Mammoth got back up at eight, they selected former Canisius defender Dan Coates, a First Team All-MAAC selection a year ago.

South of the border, a strong but short-lived thunderstorm moved through the Buffalo area during the 8 o’clock hour. Canisius athletics’ @GoGriffs twitter feed noted at 8:16 that the soccer game at UB (played in Amherst) was suspended due to weather, and picked up just after 8:45.

Lightning struck again minutes later beneath mostly cloudy skies in Orlando, Fla., where former Griff Cory Conacher slammed in a power-play goal in a preseason game for the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

“Ladies and gentlemen, Cory Conacher,” @BoltProspects tweeted at 9:14. “We told you.”

Best video there seems to be of Conacher’s goal… make it full screen and watch the scoreboard.

Jason Veniskey from Athletic Communications, who coincidentally happens to be the sports information contact for the ice hockey, men’s soccer and men’s lacrosse teams, almost couldn’t keep up fast enough.

A Canisius throw in took three hops before junior Andrew Incho planted his left foot and drove his right foot through the ball toward the UB net from distance. “Andrew Incho with a perfect lob over the UB goalie gives Canisius a 2-1 lead,” @GoGriffs posted just three minutes after Conacher’s goal, at 9:17.

“It was a tremendously difficult strike,” men’s soccer coach Dermot McGrane said. “It was probably about 35 yards out and it both dipped over the goalkeeper and swerved away from him as well. We were right behind it so we could see it. It was tremendous.”

The circus strike sprung Canisius to a victory in a big meeting of local schools, but it wasn’t done traveling. Word — or perhaps video — of the goal made it all the way to ESPN headquarters before landing as the No. 2 top play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 the next morning, even beating out two highlight goals from the Serie A, Italy’s top professional soccer league.

Reitnour was taking his daughter to day care when he first got the word.

“I checked my cell phone and I had missed some calls. I didn’t know where the 860 area code was from. And then I checked my email on my BlackBerry and the producer from SportsCenter said, ‘We’d like to use a goal from your men’s soccer game on Top Plays today. Can we get permission to use it?’ Yeah you can use it.

“When ESPN calls and leaves you a voicemail at 6:48 or whatever time it was in the morning looking to get permission to use video, that’s a pretty good jump to your Thursday.”

Top 10 got cut from the 9 o’clock SportsCenter because of time constraints, but it aired on every episode from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. “We all had TVs on in the whole building,” Maddock said. “As soon as they showed it you could hear people yelling down the hallway.”

Incho (pronouced ink-oh) hits the ball from about the 14 yard-line. Add on 10 yards for the end zone and the distance he was off to the side, and that makes one heck of a strike.

“It was crazy,” Incho added. “I’m speechless about it.”

You would be too if you didn’t know you were about to be on SportsCenter.

“I was in study hall, actually. One of my roommates texted me and told me and I almost had a heart attack. I didn’t think it was real. It was amazing, really.

“My Facebook wall is blowing up beyond belief. My parents were ecstatic. It was a once in a lifetime thing and I’m glad we caught it on tape so I can see it again.”

Speaking of that, props to Jeff Rahmlow, Athletic Com’s multimedia graduate assistant, who not only traveled to the away game but also braved the weather to get the shot.

In his first year as Canisius coach after spending nine seasons at Niagara, McGrane could only smile while admitting that no, this type of thing never happened when he was with the Purple Eagles.

He has fielded calls and emails from all over the country, from friends, coaches, and even random alumni who were excited to see good things about the program. Even one of the coaches from Major League Soccer’s Chicago Fire, a friend a McGrane’s, dropped him a line.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve ever seen a college goal on Top 10 plays,” McGrane said. “I don’t know another soccer program in the country that could tell their recruits, ‘Yeah, our goals were on ESPN.’ ”

Canisius has been in the national spotlight before. Not even two years ago, Elton Frazier had the No. 1 Top Play when he threw down a half-court alley-oop from Frank Turner. But never have the Griffs received this much national recognition for so many different sports, especially not all on one day. It’s one thing when Canisius athletes can be the best in Western New York or the best in the MAAC; it’s another when they can not only compete with, but excel against the best athletes this country – this planet – has to offer.

When Canisius dropped its football program in 2002, the school said its resources were spread too thin, that football was hindering other sports. The school promised to develop its other teams, and this one day – this one hour – shows maybe, just maybe, the school is reaping the benefits of that decision. The Griffs have arrived.

Canisius basketball player ruled ineligible

Canisius freshman Jose Agosto, who signed a National Letter of Intent last April to join the men’s basketball team, has left the school permanently after being ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA.

Canisius was informed earlier this week that Agosto did not meet requirements the NCAA demands all student-athletes meet, which are different from the requirements needed for acceptance into the college. Though players are frequently ruled ineligible because their test scores (SAT, ACT) were too low, head coach Tom Parrotta said Agosto’s problem was with “core classes,” not test scores.

After being declared as a non-qualifier by the NCAA, Agosto was not able to receive his athletic scholarship. Faced with a full Canisius tuition bill, Agosto and his family decided it was in their best interest to leave the school.

“It’s one of those things that’s happened, and you deal with it and move on,” Parrotta said. “I would probably think about it differently if it was something in our control, but it’s just one of those NCAA things. They give us a final answer and we take it.

“A lot of times it’s out of your control. The NCAA rules on something, you say okay. What are you going to do?”

Parrotta said Agosto will probably play at a junior college and he doesn’t think there is any chance Agosto comes back to Canisius.

After falling into the NCAA’s three-week window for Clearing House review, Agosto was not allowed to participate in any team activity, even weight lifting. Parrotta and associate head coach Rob Norris were becoming worried for his development.

“It’s really, really put him in a position where he was falling further and further behind. He was probably a good redshirt candidate based on the people that we have here and based how the other kids have looked, the newcomers,” Parrotta said. “He was the normal freshman anyway, trying to get accustomed to things. So he just fell way, way, way behind.”

Agosto is originally from Puerto Rico and finished his high school in Tennessee. He has an aunt in Pennsylvania who drove to Buffalo to pick him up earlier this week, Parrotta said. Agosto declined an interview request Thursday.

The men’s basketball team will now have an extra scholarship it can use next season. Marial Dhal is the only senior who will graduate after this year, with Isaac Sosa forced to sit out this season after transferring from Central Florida.

NFL Week 3 picks

Who would have thought Week 3’s only matchup of 2-0 teams would be New England versus Buffalo? The News gave the Bills eight and a half points, but even with Buffalo’s great play this season, I like the Patriots by double digits.

Ryan Fitzpatrick has performed admirably this season, but the Patriots defense will come at him like nothing he has seen so far.

New England (-8.5) over BUFFALO

San Francisco (+2.5) over CINCINNATI

NEW ORLEANS (-4) over Houston

Giants (+7) over PHILADELPHIA

CLEVELAND (-2.5) over MIAMI*

TENNESSEE (-7) over Denver

Detroit (-3.5) over MINNESOTA

CAROLINA (-3.5) over Jacksonville

SAN DIEGO (-14.5) over Kansas City

Jets (-3.5) over OAKLAND

Baltimore (-4) over ST. LOUIS*

Atlanta (+1.5) over TAMPA BAY

Arizona (-3) over SEATTLE

CHICAGO (+3.5) over Green Bay

Pittsburgh (-10.5) over INDIANAPOLIS

Washington (+6) over DALLAS

Last week:
BUFFALO (-3) over Oakland
Bills 38-35. Win
NEW ORLEANS (-6.5) over Chicago
Saints 30-13. Win
DETROIT (-8) over Kansas City
Lions 48-3. Win
JETS (-9.5) over Jacksonville
Jets 32-3. Win
Arizona (+3.5) over WASHINGTON
Redskins 22-21. Win
Baltimore (-6) over TENNESSEE
Titans 26-13. Loss
Seattle (+14) over PITTSBURGH
Steelers 24-0. Loss
CAROLINA (+10) over Green Bay
Packers 30-23. Win
Tampa Bay (+3) over MINNESOTA
Bucs 24-20. Win
INDIANAPOLIS (+2) over Cleveland
Browns 27-19. Loss
Dallas (-3) over SAN FRANCISCO
Cowboys 27-24. Push
Houston (-3) over MIAMI
Texans 23-13. Win
NEW ENGLAND (-7) over San Diego
Pats 35-21. Win
Cincinnati (+3.5) over DENVER
Broncos 24-22. Win
Philadelphia (-2.5) over ATLANTA*
Falcons 35-31. Loss
GIANTS (-6) over ST. LOUIS
NYG 28-16. Win
11-4-1, 0-1

Overall (best bets):
Always Game Seven 16-12-3 (0-1-1)
Skurski 15-13-3 (0-2)
Northrop 14-14-3 (1-0-1)
Sullivan 14-14-3 (0-1-1)
DiCesare 13-15-3 (0-0-1)
McKissic 11-17-3 (1-1)
Gaughan 11-17-3 (0-1-1)

New potential hockey conference for Canisius, Niagara and… UB?

Air Force rumor in opposition to coach’s decree

With the future of the once-prestigious Central Collegiate Hockey Association in jeopardy, reports have a new potential suitor for the Canisius and Niagara hockey programs: the Western Collegiate Hockey Association.

Bruce Ciskie from KQDS-FM radio in Duluth, Minn. reported Friday that Bowling Green, currently a CCHA team with an invitation to join the WCHA, had a meeting this week with the four Atlantic Hockey schools who previously met with the CCHA — Canisius, Niagara, Robert Morris and Meryhurst.

The WCHA had originally given BGSU a deadline of Sept. 22 to accept the invitation, but that date was extended to Oct. 7 late this week.

Kevin Gordon of the (Bowling Green, Ohio) Sentinel-Tribute wrote that “The extension further fueled speculation Atlantic Hockey members Canisius, Mercyhurst, Niagara and Robert Morris are being considered for WCHA membership.

“Those four schools have expressed an interest in leaving their present league because it offers only 12 scholarships, six below the NCAA maximum. The CCHA and the WCHA use the NCAA maximum.”

The WCHA currently has 12 teams. It will shrink to eight in 2013-14, losing eight teams to the National Collegiate Hockey Conference and Big Ten while poaching four from the CCHA.

“Adding those four schools would help balance the revamped WCHA geographically,” Gordon continued. “If BG[SU] and the four Atlantic Hockey schools joined the WCHA, the league would have 13 schools — six in the south/east; and seven in the north/west.”

The league could actually get up to 14: Ciskie’s source said there was one more school involved in the meeting, one that doesn’t currently have a Division I program but is interested in adding one — the University at Buffalo.

Gordon wrote more about UB and said the athletic department member he contacted hadn’t responded to an email seeking comment at the time he published.

The Canisius athletic department would not confirm or deny any details about the new meetings and issued the following statement:

“With the current landscape of college hockey, a number of discussions have taken place and continue to take place. Because of the sensitive nature of these conversations, and out of respect to the schools and conferences, we feel that it is in the best interest to show consideration for the ongoing process and not discuss these conversations through the media.”

Ciskie also reported that Air Force and RIT were invited to the meeting, though neither attended. Air Force, he said, was interested but couldn’t get someone to the meeting; RIT was not.

Air Force’s supposed interest in a conference jump is directly opposed to statements its head coach Frank Serratore made Tuesday at Atlantic Hockey Media Day.

“All these programs in football and in hockey, they’re changing conferences like they change their underwear,” Serratore said in his closing remarks at the podium.

“I would like to go on record as saying the Air Force Academy is a proud member of Atlantic Hockey. This is our league, this is where we are and we ain’t looking anywhere.”

Niagara’s Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin also recently backed the AHA, saying his school is “not considering any move to a league that may disband,” referring to the CCHA, and that it “look[s] forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”

Spin:

I see UB’s involvement in a meeting like this as more of a let’s-show-up-and-see-what-they-say type of deal. The school isn’t going to announce tomorrow that it’s starting a new program.

With all the conference moving going on, this might seem like a good time to get into the action, but building a program takes time. The 2013-14 season is still a while off, but even that would probably be too soon for a new team to jump in.

All I’ve ever heard about UB’s hockey program is that it probably won’t get one. Stranger things have happened, but there are a lot of things to take into account. Hockey programs are extremely expensive to run, and the Bulls would almost certainly have to add a women’s program as well to comply with Title IX.

UB has a club team that competes in the ACHA. Everyone seems to love mentioning that fact, but I’m not sure why. It’s not like those players could just go into a D-1 league and be competitive. I play in the ACHA — there’s no way.

Google Maps shot of the Northtowns Center, located at the bottom-left corner. The back lot and baseball diamond and at the arena's immediate right. UB Stadium and Alumni Arena are also listed. Maple Road is cut out from the bottom of the image.

The only other reason I could think of is to see where the club team plays — if there is a rink on campus. Technically there isn’t, but the Northtowns Center (formerly Pepsi Center) might as well be. UB baseball’s home field lies on the Northtowns Center’s grounds and the rink’s back parking lot is the same one you would use for a ballgame.

The Northtowns Center is great for youth hockey, but for a Division I team? I’m not so sure.

The Feature Rink is really the only one of the four pads a D-1 team would use. It (generously) says it can seat 1,800 (no individual seats, all bench seating), smaller than a D-1 team would like. There is limited press seating, if any.

Plus, the thing looks like it was built for roller hockey. The boards have a concrete base all the way around, dangerous because it has no give to it. You always see the boards shaking at NHL games… that’s for safety. Why be crushed between a shoulder and a hard place when you could be hit into something that gives? Plus, the benches (and penalty boxes) are small. Really small. We disliked playing there in high school for that reason; it’d be even worse with big college guys.

So where would the team play? Not only would UB have to fund two programs, it would also have to build a rink, unless it rented time out somewhere or threw a lot of money into renovating the Northtowns Center.

The largest college in one of the country’s most hockey-crazy cities really should have a D-1 team, but there are a ton of obstacles. I wouldn’t get too exited.

Air Force was the Atlantic Hockey champion last year, but the school is better suited to remain in its current league, despite the geological difference.

Air Force coach Frank Serratore.

Especially when it can make use of military flights, Serratore said the travel back-and-forth from Colorado really isn’t that bad.

Air Force would be more competitive in the 12-scholarship Atlantic Hockey Association than in any of the other major conferences, which allow the NCAA-maximum 18.

As a military academy, Air Force can’t give athletic scholarships. Plus, upon graduation, athletes can’t really try to enter hockey’s professional ranks like former Golden Griffin Cory Conacher is doing. All graduates owe the country five years of service, Serratore said. Even Jacques Lamoureux, the best player ever to come out of Air Force, is only playing part-time for the ECHL’s Alaska Aces while stationed in Seward’s Folly

There’s nothing formal that says the two schools must remain together, but the Air Force enjoys playing in the same league as Army, too.

Atlantic Hockey commissioner not worried about CCHA

Possibility of conference jump dwindling for Canisius, Niagara

ROCHESTER — Canisius College and Niagara University were two of four Atlantic Hockey schools that met with Central Collegiate Hockey Association executives in July about the possibility of switching conferences, but with the stability of the CCHA in question, that move is seeming less and less likely.

AHA commissioner Bob DeGregorio said Tuesday that he isn’t worried the teams will leave his conference.

Athletic directors from all 12 Atlantic Hockey schools completed a thorough review of the league’s strategic plan during a lengthy directors meeting at Bentley University last week, DeGregorio said.

“Based on what I heard there… I think that everybody’s going to stay right where they are. … I have the confidence that the issues the league has to deal with will be addressed by the directors as we move forward. I think that we will stay at 12 teams and continue to be a very strong conference and get better as we move down the line.”

The main perk of moving to the Central Collegiate Hockey Association is the increase in scholarship players allowed on the roster — CCHA teams may award up to 18 scholarships while Atlantic Hockey limits its members to 12.

Frank Serratore, head coach of reigning champion Air Force who flew in from Colorado for Atlantic Hockey Media Day, said he understands the competitive aspect of schools who look into switching conferences and has no problem with it.

“You’ve got to do what you feel is in your best interest. Those programs have operated up front and the league knows that they’re talking to different people. They’ve ultimately got to make a decision like everybody will.

“I don’t care what anybody says: Nobody’s making decisions out of the goodness of their heart. They’re making decisions based on what they feel is in their best interest. If those four teams feel it’s in their best interest to look elsewhere, then that’s what they have to do.”

The CCHA currently has 11 members that include national powerhouses like Michigan and Notre Dame, both Frozen Four teams a year ago. However, when the new Big Ten and National Collegiate Hockey conferences rock the landscape of college hockey in 2013-14, the CCHA looks to be the hardest hit — at least seven members will be defecting for the greener pastures of the new leagues and the mighty Western Collegiate Hockey Conference, with even more departures likely.

It’s the shaky foundation of the league that is keeping the prospective teams — Canisius, Niagara, Mercyhurst and Robert Morris — at a distance from the once-prestigious conference.

“As of today, only two teams currently in the CCHA – Notre Dame and Bowling Green – have committed to league membership past 2014 and BGSU has been extended an invite to the WCHA. To that end, we are not considering any move to a league that may disband,” Niagara Athletic Director Ed McLaughlin said via email.

Canisius Athletic Director Bill Maher chose not to comment further for this story, only reiterating the blanket statement the four schools jointly released following their July meetings with the CCHA.

If the four teams were to leave Atlantic Hockey, DeGregorio said the league would not immediately look to add replacement teams, but it wouldn’t be out of the question.

“What I would urge the directors to do is always keep the door open,” DeGregorio said, adding that the league would take interest if schools like Rhode Island, Navy or even the University at Buffalo added Division I programs. “If they were to leave, we’d be at eight, [a] very workable number. … My urge to the directors would be to take the eight, redo the schedule, redo the playoff format.”

The vastly depleted CCHA would then add the four AHA teams to its remaining two schools, just meeting the NCAA’s minimum requirement of six teams for a conference to qualify for an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. For the four Atlantic Hockey schools, that would mean 60 percent of their “new” conference schedules would be against teams they already compete with.

Further complicating matters is the commitment Atlantic Hockey teams have to the conference. Per league rules, teams would have until June 30, 2012 to give notification that they plan to leave. But that is a two-year notice, DeGregoiro said. The soonest any team could leave the AHA would be for the 2014-15 season.

If a team wanted to leave sooner — say, for the 2013-14 season when the NCHC and Big Ten start playing — it would need to pay the Atlantic Hockey Association a cash buyout. DeGregorio couldn’t say how much the buyout would cost because it is determined by a formula, but if schools hopping leagues for football give any indication, the cost could very well be in the millions.

If either Canisius or Niagara chooses to stay, it is likely the other will do the same. At least for right now, it appears that Niagara is leaning toward remaining a member of Atlantic Hockey.

“Any chance to improve our program is attractive but we like the rivalries we have in Atlantic Hockey,” McLaughlin said. “We look forward to helping Atlantic Hockey grow.”