Canisius Team of the Year selection 2011-12

The last poll at the end of the student senate elections last weekend asked students to nominate a varsity athletic team of the year. In a down year for Canisius sports across the board, I can understand why some people thought this was a joke, but it actually is a real award.

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Quick-strike Niagara beats Canisius in home-and-home opener

Chris Lochner and Ryan Murphy scored goals 18 seconds apart early in the second period Tuesday night at Buffalo State Ice Arena to put the Niagara Purple Eagles up 3-0 and sink Canisius into a hole it would never recover from.

Dan Morrison is now just 11 saves away from Canisius' all-time record of 2,771, set by Bryan Worosz in 2005. However, sophomore Tony Capobianco will likely get a start in net Thursday.

The Griffs controlled the tempo of the game early on but lost momentum with four first-period penalties and untidy play in their defensive zone. They struggled to put offensive chances together in the second and third periods, but any Griff who was able to elude defenders on the way to goal was met by a purple brick wall — Niagara’s senior goaltender Chris Noonan, who ranks second nationally in goals against average and save percentage.

“Going into the game, we talked about how it’s not an X’s and O’s type game, it’s who can play with passion and intensity,” Canisius coach Dave Smith said. “I thought from a Canisius perspective, they had a couple of sloppy goals … it’s tough to win against anybody with that many sloppy goals.”

Noonan stymied Mitch McCrank’s one-timer from point-blank range early in the first period and was sharp all night, finishing with 30 saves to improve to 10-5-4 on the year.

Niagara went up 4-0 later in the second period before Doug Beck’s fourth goal of the season got Canisius on the board shortly after. Senior goaltender Dan Morrison got the start in his final home game against Niagara and made 32 saves in the 4-1 loss. He is now just 11 saves shy of Canisius’ all-time record.

Morrison was beaten in the first period on a point shot from Dan Weiss that found its way through traffic and went in to the lower portion of the net. The second was a power-play goal from just outside the crease and the third came on a 2-on-1 break.

Niagara scored its fourth goal after Duncan McKellar tried to knock a puck out of the air in the neutral zone but instead sent it toward his own net. Morrison came out in desperation and tried to swipe the puck away, but it went right to Giancarlo Iuorio, who shot into an empty net.

“The difference in tonight’s game was they capitalized on our sloppy plays,” Smith said. “That’s why we keep score — credit goes to Niagara for capitalizing.”

Morrison had a similar take, noting how his team’s play has changed over the course of the season.

“We have to find our team defense again and build off that,” Morrison said. “Earlier in the year we had good team defense. We might not have had as many scoring chances, but at least we’d be in every game. Right now it’s just getting away from us.”

Canisius had five power-play opportunities on the night but couldn’t convert. The unit had trouble getting situated in the Niagara zone and, when it finally set up, couldn’t get shots through. Both of those are recurring problems this season: After going 0-for-5 with four shots on the night, the power play unit now runs at just 9.6 percent on the season and averages only 1.02 shots per power play.

In contrast, Canisius’ opponents score on 22.2 percent of power plays and record 1.63 shots per man advantage.

The teams will meet again Thursday night, this time at Niagara’s home rink.

“Man,” Morrison said, shaking his head, “we can’t lose Thursday.”

‘Movember’ is a success for Canisius hockey team

Mustaches support good cause, look great

Hockey players have a reputation as being a good-looking group of guys. Never is this truer than the month of November – or as they call it, Movember – when players grow mustaches all month long in support of prostate cancer awareness.

Some of the mustache-wielding players, including Coach Dave Smith, pose for a picture after practice this week.

The Canisius College hockey team joined forces with players and teams across the globe through Movember.com, which is quite literally committed to changing the face of men’s health awareness.

Even coach Dave Smith joined the party this year, but he wanted his players to do it for the right reasons, not just because the NHL guys do it, too.

“He pushed not just growing the mustache, but being more knowledgeable about what it really stands for,” said junior forward and mustache virtuoso Torrey Lindsay, whose uncle had prostate cancer. “He was kind of pushing that everyone know, if somebody asked you what Movember was, you’d be able to explain it to them. So if you saw someone with a moustache in November, it’s gaining awareness for prostate cancer.”

The NFL does a great job supporting breast cancer awareness by wearing pink throughout October, but men’s health awareness month in November often goes under the radar. Movember is doing its best to change that.

“By putting a fun twist on a serious issue, Movember aims to change the way a large number of men think about and treat their health,” its website reads. “The moustache is Movember’s catalyst for change and will be used to bring about change and give men the opportunity and confidence to talk about their health with friends and family.

“[Supporters] effectively become walking, talking billboards for the 30 days of November. Through their actions and words, they raise awareness by prompting private and public conversation around the often ignored issue of men’s health.”

Senior captain Scott Moser will admit that the team hadn’t gone all-out for the movement in years past, but this year all the guys got in on it and he enjoyed it. He forgot about his mustache the first day he had it, and then looked in the mirror and said “Oh my gosh, I have to go to school like this.” But the more players who joined in, the easier it became.

Junior forward Preston Shupe, also a captain, made it known early in the month that players were to register with the website and start growing mustaches. When Lindsay’s started coming in (he took a head start), players took notice, and once Coach Smith made the commitment, everyone knew they should too.

“We were surprised because [coach] didn’t say anything about it, and then he just came in for a pregame talk like a week into November and he shaved off his chin hair and his pregame speech was all about Movember and being committed to things,” Moser said.

“He was like, ‘you know what, I’m going to be committed to Movember this year. We’re going to be committed to playing team games, so if you guys want to commit to Movember, I’m all in.’ ”

“I’m motivated,” Smith said. “I thought Movember was a great cause, but I wasn’t committed. So I said, ‘I’m going to commit to doing what you guys are doing and I’m going with Movember,’ and it feels great. …A lot of people asked about it because it is out of character for me [to wear a mustache], but it feels good to tell people why were doing it as a group and be a small part of something bigger.”

About a week later, senior goaltender Dan Morrison gave a lecture in the locker room. He had given a speech about Movember for his Oral Communication class, and Smith suggested he do the same for the team so everyone was clear on what the mustaches were about.

So Morrison gathered his note cards in the middle of the dressing room and addressed his teammates. He rattled off some info about when you should start getting checked – age 50 for most men; 40 if there’s a history of it in your family – before giving the damming statistic that 1 in 6 American men will develop prostate cancer. Then he looked around the room. That’s four of five of his teammates and coaches who will eventually have it.

The U.S. has the highest rate of prostate cancer of any country Movember partners with (followed by Canada, the UK, New Zealand, Australia and Ireland) and it is estimated that prostate cancer will kill 33,000 Americans 2011, according to numbers Movember publishes from its research partners in each country.

From seniors to freshmen, the Griffs are doing their best to support the cause and spread awareness.

“I was a newbie to Movember, so I thought it was a hockey thing, just doing it for fun or to stand out, but then I realized it’s for prostate cancer so it’s for a good cause that means something,” said freshman Logan Roe, who enjoys his facial hair freedom after attending a prep school that mandated a clean shave.

“There’s a lot of different styles [of mustaches], too,” Moser said. “There’s just the straight mustache, you have the handle bar, I kept the flavor savor… you get food kind of stuck in it, so it’s the flavor savor down there. Then there’s the pirate look, when you keep a little bit on the chin.”

Lindsay’s mustache is certainly impressive, but the players are quick to give the best ‘stache award to a pair of sophomores, forward Taylor Law and goalie Tony Capobianco, both of whom turn 22 this winter. They are earning the Griffs respect on the ice as well as off it.

Goalie Tony Capobianco, voted one of the best mustaches on the team.

Lake Superior State’s coach made them shave for the team picture,” Moser said. “Usually when you’re walking through the handshake line, you don’t say anything, but a couple of them were like ‘man, you’ve got a great bunch of dusters on your team.’ I was like, ‘thank you very much!’ ”

The players weren’t even aware that they had raised $115 for men’s heath by way of their page on Movember.com. The top earning member on the team page was play-by-play announcer Nate Lull at $25, and most of the donations earned by the players came from Lull’s girlfriend, who gave $5 to each player registered on the site.

“Basically, Preston Shupe came to me this year and said ‘you did a great job helping us last year, would you want to participate this year?’ I tried to help the guys out by saying it as much as I could on the air, so maybe family and friends would go to the website,” Lull said. “They really got into the spirit of it this year. Torrey Linday, Taylor Law, Braeden Rigney…it was pretty incredible.”

The money will go toward Movember’s global funds, which have grown exponentially since startup in 2003. Movember now has over 1 million “Mo Bros” and “Mo Sistas” registered across the globe and has raised over $170 million for the cause – and neither of those are including numbers from 2011.

Movember took the NHL by storm this year, backed by the likes of Twitter mogul Paul “Biz Nasty” Bissonnette and the legendary mustache memento that is Jonas Hiller’s goalie mask, which is covered with pictures of his teammates, all with crazy facial hair drawn on. Locally, several Sabres like Thomas Vanek and T.J. Brennan got attention for their mustaches.

As November comes to a close and the Griffs look forward to shaving, something they’d like to do better next year is start it up sooner, to get more publicity for it and raise more money. Moser said he’d even like to see other teams on campus – men’s teams, that is – put down their razors and support the cause.

And then the senior had a great idea: Next year, the team should do a mustache night as a promotion.

“We should hand out fake mustaches to everyone at the game. I’d even come back for that one.”

It could turn into one of the most successful promotions the team has ever had. They’ll need to start planning it soon – it’s just 11 months until Movember starts up again.

Surprising Griffs need to continue winning ways

Has there ever been this much excitement around a Canisius team with only one win through its first five outings?

Even the most optimistic of Griffs hockey fans tempered their expectations heading into this season. The team has 12 freshmen and 20 underclassmen. There are only two seniors, and one of them is a goalie. Add in the fact that the program’s top two career scorers just graduated and the outlook wasn’t very bright.

Canisius coach Dave Smith prepares his team for a series with Bentley this weekend.

The first three games of the year were ugly, perhaps even worse than expected.

An exhibition against Queens University didn’t count towards the standings but stayed fresh in the minds of players and fans. After Niagara beat the Canadian club with ease the pervious day, 7-2, Canisius lost a 2-1 lead less than five minutes to go and ended up skating to a 2-2 tie.

A weekend trip to Connecticut on Oct. 15 and 16 didn’t go any better. Quinnipiac manhandled the young Griffs over the two-game set, winning both games by a combined 11-1 score. Canisius was held to an abysmal nine shots in the first game and 14 in the second.

With a Thursday night game the following week against preseason favorite RIT, things looked to go from bad to worse. The Tigers had beaten Canisius eight times in a row, each loss furthering rivalry status between the schools.

Nobody really thought Canisius had a shot against an RIT team that was getting votes in the national poll.  But lo and behold, they pulled it out. The freshman played like seniors and the seniors looked like Hobey Baker candidates. The defensive unit came together and gave Tiger players all they could handle in the corners. Scott Moser’s game-winning goal was arguably the biggest goal of his career and nearly every one of Dan Morrison’s 33 saves was highlight reel material.

Suddenly, the Griffs looked like a real hockey team – and a dangerous one, at that.

“Going into Quinnipiac was a real eye opener,” junior forward Preston Shupe said. “We have a real young team and everyone got to see what it’s going to take to play at this level and especially to succeed. They’re a strong team and the next couple weeks at practice we knew we had to do everything we could to get to the next level. And that’s what we did. We practiced hard, worked hard and we’re getting there.”

The Griffs took their newfound confidence all the way to Colorado Springs last weekend for a meeting with the defending Atlantic Hockey champions, Air Force.

That’s an awful long way to travel for just one game, but after the performances the Griffs gave in the first three games, no distance was too far for a shot at redemption, an opportunity to prove the first victory over RIT since 2008 was no fluke.

Nothing brings a team together like some last-minute heroics. Trailing 3-1 with less than two minutes to play, the Griffs pulled the goalie in favor of an extra attacker and were immediately rewarded with a Kyle Gibbons goal. The team continued to pour on the pressure, and with six seconds left, the puck found its way onto the stick of freshman Doug Beck, whose first career goal couldn’t have come at a better time.

Canisius had the better of the chances in overtime and had a goal waved off at the buzzer before skating to a 3-3 draw.

The Griffs have still only won one game on the season, but a 1-0-1 conference record has them sitting in third place in the Atlantic Hockey standings. After two emotional conference games, those… whatever they were against Quinnipiac seem like a distant memory.

Now here’s the dilemma for Canisius – Bentley comes to town this weekend.  The Falcons were one of three teams to be ranked below Canisius in the AHA preseason poll and finished 10th in the conference last year. It’s one thing to be able to hang with the big boys in the conference, but it doesn’t mean anything if you can’t take care of the little guys.

There’s no such thing as an easy win in Atlantic Hockey, but if the Griffs want to be contenders, this homestand is a great opportunity for four big points.

“I think it was my sophomore year, coach threw out a stat that we had a great record against the top half of our league, but then we’d slip up against the bottom half,” Moser said. “We can’t let that happen. Definitely the games against the middle-of-the-road to bottom teams… are just as important, if not even more, than the ones against the higher-ranked teams.”

Early points are especially important to widen the gap between good teams that are starting slow, like RIT, Niagara and Robert Morris, who don’t yet have a conference win between them.

Coach Smith acknowledges that his teams have never played as well as he’d like against Bentley. In a year when the success of the team will be so dependent on the play of the freshmen, it’s time they learn some new winning ways  – a Canisius team that takes care of business.

Canisius seniors beat rival RIT for first time

Canisius captain Scott Moser had never beaten the RIT Tigers in his first three seasons at Canisius. No wins, eight losses and no ties, outscored 39-10 and shut out three of the last four games.

And that was when Cory Conacher and Vinny Scarsella were in the lineup. What would it be like without the program’s top two career scorers? Who would step up? The senior captain had never scored in eight career games against RIT.

Ninth time’s the charm, right?

Moser and Taylor Law broke down the ice on a 2-on-1 with just over five minutes remaining in the game, the score tied at one. Law fed a pass over to Moser, whose one-timer beat RIT goalie Josh Watson for the game-winning goal. Kyle Gibbons added an empty-netter with 45 seconds left to seal Canisius’ first win over RIT since Feb. 10, 2008.

“When we got that empty-net goal, it really set in,” said senior goalie Dan Morrison, who made 33 saves and picked up his first career win against RIT. “I went over and hit the ‘Easy’ button that the lax team brought and that’s when it really set in. We played so well and it finally paid off.”

RIT senior goalie Shane Madolora, who led the nation with a .935 save percentage last season, did not play for the Tigers. Coach Wayne Wilson said he wanted to give Madolara rest with a game against Union this Saturday, which is ranked No. 12 in the country.

RIT opened the scoring early in the first period with a power-play goal from Nolan Descoteaux with freshman Logan Roe in the penalty box for hooking. The RIT defenseman moved in with the man advantage and hit a one-timer from Chris Haltigin that found its way past Morrison.

Canisius answered with a power-play goal of its own just over a minute into the second period as Preston Shupe beat Watson with a one-timer to his stick side. Kyle Gibbons made a nice play in the corner to feed Shupe, with Ryan Bohrer also assisting on the goal.

The game was deadlocked at one until Moser’s goal broke the tie.

“It felt great; I was kind of shocked when it went in,” Moser said. “You know I’m not a real big goal scorer, but it was a great play by Taylor Law and I’m glad I was able to finish.”

RIT had its would-be go-ahead goal waved off with 7:48 left because of a high stick.

One of the biggest things Canisius did better than last weekend’s games against Quinnipiac was shoot the puck. RIT outshot Canisius 34-24, but the 24 shots were one more than the Griffs had in both games combined last weekend. Canisius took a pounding in Hamden, Conn., losing games to QU on Oct. 15 and 16 by a combined score of 11-1.

The Bobcats opened the scoring less than two minutes into the first game and would go on to beat Morrison six more times on the night, four of which coming on the power play. Down 4-0 in the second period, Gibbons scored the only goal of the weekend for the Griffs with assists from Bohrer and Mitch McCrank.

The Griffs had 18 penalty minutes in the game and were outshot miserably, 37-9.

The team gave a slightly stronger performance in Sunday’s contest but was shutout 4-0 and outshot 40-14. Sophomore Tony Capobianco played all 60 minutes in net and made 20 saves in the second period alone. The Canisius power play, which was stopped on its only opportunity Saturday, went 0 for 4 Sunday.

Quinnipiac freshman Matthew Peca, a seventh round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Lightning, had two points on the weekend but has no relation to former Sabre Mike Peca.

Mustard out for season

Defenseman Jordan Mustard is recovering from an injury will not play this season. Head coach Dave Smith said the sophomore is still dealing with effects of the concussion he had last year.

Mustard, a 20-year-old from Markham, Ontario, looked good in his first 12 games last season before missing the last 26 due to injury. He is listed as a Student Coach on the team’s website.