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.
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.