Mills’ halfcourt buzzer-beater ranks among top finishes

The team piled on Mills after the shot went in.

The team piled on Mills after the shot went in.

Two thousand school children roared for Tiahana Mills as she ran down the court as fast as the legs on her 5-foot-5 frame would take her. The freshman dribbled four times as the clock ticked from three seconds down two and then one.

Mills took one last stride and launched a half-court shot fractions of a second before the buzzer sounded and was pummeled by her teammates after the ball banked off the glass and went in, giving the Canisius women’s basketball team a 65-62 win over Siena Friday in another wacky and wildly exciting Kid’s Day at the Koessler Athletic Center.

Kid’s Day games are always something special, and Mills’ buzzer-beater ranks Friday afternoon’s game as the best finish I’ve seen in my four years at Canisius.

Mills said her high school teammates used to put up half-court shots after practice and she once made one before halftime of an AAU game, but this was her first true buzzer-beater.

“Its amazing. When the team fell on me at half court, I never had that before,” Mills said.

Here’s a look back at the Top 5 best finishes I’ve seen in four years at Canisius:

2. Hockey 3, RIT 1, Oct. 20, 2011

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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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Former teammate on Conacher: ‘Nobody deserves it more’

Conacher dressed for Tampa and scored a goal during the preseason.

It’s official: Cory Conacher has signed a two-year deal with the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning.

News was leaked Wednesday that the posterboy of Canisius hockey had a deal in the works and the Lightning made the official announcement Thursday afternoon.

“When we did hear about it, obviously it was awesome and we’re so proud. Nobody deserves it more than him,” Canisius hockey captain Scott Moser said over the phone Thursday night. “It’s more than just somebody signing a contact; it’s a great story for everything from what he’s had to fight through with his medical condition (Cory has diabetes) and even just his size and then coming from a small school, it’s a great story.”

Conacher spent this season with the Norfolk Admirals, the minor league affiliate of Tampa Bay. He is currently third in scoring in the AHL with 64 points (30 goals, 34 assists) through 57 games played. He was named a starter for the East in the AHL All-Star Game last month, where he scored two goals and added an assist.

“Soo many people to thank,” Conacher (@conhockey19) tweeted last night. “Coaches, past players/teammates, uptownsports (the agency that represents him), friends, and most certainly my family.

“Love all you guys and wouldn’t have been able to do it without you guys. Half way there! Next step is to make it.”

Conacher, the man who could always be found stickhandling in his dorm room, graduated from Canisius last spring and left the school with 12 hockey records, including career marks for goals, points and game-winning goals.

Moser said Conacher’s story gives reassurance to programs that don’t get a lot of national recognition.

“There’s always people that may doubt maybe the size of the school and the conference, but Cory’s proof that if you have the skill, scouts will find you and if you want to play Division I hockey, anywhere you play there’s going to be scouts. I think it says a lot about where the league’s going but also our program, that he’s able to improve that much year-by year and get noticed by scouts at the highest level.”

A report from TrueHockey.com gave details on Conacher’s contract:

“Because of his age, the 22 year old will sign a two-year, entry-level deal that pays him $832,500 in 2012 and $725,000 in 2013. He’ll get the maximum $70,000 AHL salary with the max $92,500 in signing bonus.”

“He turned into my richest friend overnight, that’s for sure,” Moser cracked. “Cory’s definitely doing well for himself but I know this is just a stepping stone for him, this is just part one. I’m sure he’s not getting too far ahead of himself right now. He has his head on straight and he’s focused.”

Conacher’s contract is a two-way deal, which means he is eligible to play in both the minors and the NHL. Whether he actually plays with the Lightning is up to management. His previous contract only allowed him to play in the AHL.

Tampa Bay made two moves at the deadline, acquiring a depth forward and defenseman along with two draft picks. Tampa is also dealing with several injuries, including one to top center Vincent Lecavalier, who is out until at least mid-March with a broken hand.

Tampa Bay is currently fourth in the Southeast Division and tied with Buffalo in the conference standings, with 64 points through 63 games. Buffalo plays at Tampa on March 19.

“Just to say that I was a linemate for a while with someone who’s an NHL player now is pretty awesome,” Moser said, “especially Cory – I wouldn’t have picked anyone else.

“I’ll be sitting down and be like ‘yeah, I played on that kid’s line.’ I’d be honored to say that I played with Cory.”

‘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.