The Griffs look to play “in-sync” heading into Mercyhurst this weekend

By Canio Marasco

Sports Reporter

Despite strong effort and determination from the young Griffs, the team has started the season rather slowly.

On Saturday November 7th the Griffs played the sixteenth ranked team in the country, the Merrimack College Warriors. Although the Griffs played tough, they fell 3-2, despite a strong response to a poor first period. The Griffs allowed three early goals, then answered strongly with two goals of their own, but couldn’t complete the late comeback. Sophomore Mike Sabatini and Freshman Dylan McLaughlin both tallied goals for the Griffs.

Head coach Dave Smith said of the loss to the Warriors, “We kept it simple. We put pucks deep, we took pucks to the net, but in the second and third period we didn’t come out to a great start. But, we saw a glimpse or flash of what we’re capable of – that was the biggest takeaway.” The Griffs were outshot twenty to seven in the first period, a strong indication as to why the score was lopsided early. The first period has been a weak point for the Griffs this season, having given-up a total of seventeen goals, while only netting three themselves.

Over the weekend the Griffs played the Ohio State Buckeyes twice. In the first game, the Griffs were defeated soundly 4-1, with Senior Ralph Cuddemi scoring the only goal. After Cuddemi’s tally, the team began to apply significant pressure, but were unable to find the back of the net again. The Buckeyes, a struggling team, picked-up a nice victory to help correct their early season slump.

Smith said of the trouncing, “We had good goaltending, but we’re still struggling to get in-sync, a little bit. We haven’t been breaking the puck out clean, we haven’t been entering the zone clean, but the more the game goes on, the more we learn. This has allowed us to practice these different things. But, the first game against Ohio State didn’t go great.” Freshman Simon Hofley played well, turning away forty-two shots by the Buckeyes. However, Coach Smith attributed these “out of sync” moments to the team being too aggressive, something that he feels is correctable.

In their second game against the Buckeyes, the Griffs fell again, by the score of 6-4. Much like the Merrimack game, the Buckeyes scored three first period goals and were then able to fight off a late rally by the Griffs to secure the victory. The Griffs scored two goals in the third period to make the game 5-4, but the Buckeyes were able to seal the result with an empty net goal. The Griffs goals were scored by Ralph Cuddemi, Junior Shane Conacher and Freshmen Cameron Heath and Daniel LaFontaine.

Smith said of the second loss to the Buckeyes, “In the second game we were down 5-2, but we just stuck to the gameplan, we kept working hard and we were able to get within one goal late. But, we got some secondary scoring, which was important, but our penalty kill is what got exposed that night.” The secondary scoring that Coach Smith was referencing is Cameron Heath, who scored his first goal of the season and Daniel LaFontaine, who now has two goals on the season. However, the largest issue the Griffs faced against the Buckeyes was their penalty kill, which allowed three power play goals.

Over the last several games, Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher, have proven that they are a major factor in their team’s success. Cuddemi, in six games, has totaled five goals and six assists. Conacher, in the same amount of games, has totaled five goals and five assists. This output is unparalleled for the Griffs, with the next top scorer only having two goals. Coach Smith, on the importance of Cuddemi and Conacher, stated, “They’re as important to us as any other top two players are to their team. You can’t find success without someone being on the top, like those guys are. They’re special: I mean Shane brings an energy and Ralph brings a focus, preparation and will to win. Together they are leading the team right now.”

The Griffs next two games are against the Mercyhurst Lakers, who are 7-5 overall and 5-1 in the Atlantic Hockey Association. The Lakers split their games against the Buckeyes this season, and most recently defeated AHA rival, Air Force, 3-1. At home, the Lakers are an impressive 4-2, making the match-up even more difficult for the Griffs. The Lakers top scorer is Taylor Best, who has totaled four goal and six assists on the season.

Smith said of the upcoming matchup with Mercyhurst, “We need to defend well, we need to get out of our zone quick and efficiently and need to take pucks to the net, with a net presence. If we do all those things, then it comes down to special teams and being hard to play against.” The Lakers have barely outscored their opponents this season 42-40, the narrow goal differential, for such a lofty record, indicates that they aren’t winning big, but they are winning often.

The Griffs have been very inconsistent this season, a common pain that many young teams suffer from. Smith said, “With the young team, right now, we’re seeing that if it’s not one things, it’s another: we worked well in some areas on one night and then other nights that goes away. Our challenge right now is just to hit on all cylinders every Friday and Saturday.”

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