Slowly getting better: Griffs continue to improve entering matchup against AHC’s top offense

By Dominic Chamberlain

Sports Editor

Although the record may say the Griffs hockey team is 4-10-1, there isn’t exactly reason to panic; yet.

Sure that record doesn’t look nice on paper but that is the team’s overall record not the team’s Atlantic Hockey (AHC) record. The Griffs’ AHC record is much more respectable at 4-5-1.

This record puts the Griffs right in the thick of the AHC race with three other teams having 4-win records one team with a 3-win record and another team with a 5-win record. This just shows that even though the Griffs are under a .500 win percentage, it’s still way too early to give up on hope and the team will look to prove that to us over the next few weeks.

The Griffs have slowly, yet noticeably, started to improve their play. At the beginning of the season the Griffs seemed to be losing the games just in the first period; often times letting up as many as three goals in the first. But it wasn’t just the defensive side the Griffs were having issues on as the offense struggled to score in the first period as well. More than once the Griffs entered the second period of play with no goals to their name and a large deficit to make up over two periods.

The past few games however have been much closer as the Griffs are starting to see more secondary scoring from the freshmen as well as more consistent play in net.

These two positive aspects of the Griffs recent play certainly needs to continue in this weekend’s matchup when the Griffs will take on the conference leading Robert Morris Colonials.

The Colonials bring a high powered offense mixed with a stout defensive unit that has given one of the best teams in the nation trouble this year.

Earlier this year the Colonials traveled to Ann Arbor, Michigan to face off against the then 10th ranked Michigan Wolverines. The first game of the two game series saw the Wolverines win 5-3 but in game two, the Colonials proved that they are not only the AHC team to watch out for but also they are capable of dominating the big name schools. The Colonials won game two over the Wolverines 4-0.

But since this was the Colonials only scheduled non-conference series of the year, we won’t know for sure if this team is for real but we can safely assume they are.

The Colonials offense leads the AHC with 55 goals for within conference play with 62 goals for if you add in the games against the Wolverines. It will be a tough task for Junior Geoff Fortman and the Griffs defense.

“We definitely are going to have to play good defense,” said Fortman. “We’re going to have to shut it down, we’re going to have to play tough, we’re going to have to close it down early on them and take away their time and space. They have a couple of players up there that if we back off and let them do their thing, then they are going to take advantage of us.”

The players Fortman is referring to are undoubtedly Zac Lynch, Greg Gibson, Brandon Denham, and Brady Ferguson. All four of these Colonial players find themselves within the top six for total points in the AHC.

Lynch leads the AHC with 22 points while Gibson and Denham are in a four-way tie for second with 19 points. Right behind them is Ferguson with 18 points.

However the Griffs have familiar names within that list too. Junior Shane Conacher finds himself in the four-way tie for second with 19 points and Senior Ralph Cuddemi is tied with Ferguson with 18 points.

For the Griffs to beat the Colonials they will have to make sure they don’t fall behind big in the first period. It was a problem in the beginning of the year and a problem the offense knows about and one that can’t be repeated against the AHC’s top offense.

“In the beginning of the year we didn’t really have the greatest first periods,” said Cuddemi. “But I think they are starting to kind of change. Guys are coming to the rink with better attitudes for the first puck drop. So we’re not really waiting for teams to bring the pressure to us. We want to start off strong every game and finish strong as well.”

By this time last season the Griffs were in a similar boat; they weren’t exactly struggling but they hadn’t really found their stride yet. It wasn’t until January of last year that the Griffs started their memorable unbeaten streak and we saw the team really focus on their strength which was defense.

Guys like Doug Jessey and Kegan Asmundson really started to shine and the team adjusted accordingly to their new found strength. However Jessey and Asmundson are gone and Head Coach Dave Smith thinks that this year’s team still has to find their identity.

“I think we are progressing in both (offense and defense)” said Coach Smith. “There is a lot of hockey left and we need to keep getting better in both of those areas. Last year we finished in second place but if you look deep into the numbers we were really strong defensively, really strong in special teams and really strong in goal. Those things we want again but we also have tried to change our team a bit to get more offensive depth, it all hasn’t come to the realization yet but we are working on it.”

This series will be a bit unique in that it’s a home and home series. The Griffs travel down to Pittsburgh Pennsylvania to play the Colonials on Saturday, and then come back up to Buffalo to host the colonials on Sunday.

But just because the semester ends next week does not mean that the Griffs do. Over winter break the Griffs will play some of their most interesting matchups of the year. First they will end non-conference play when they travel to Massachusetts to play Merrimack on Dec. 20. Following a matchup against AIC, the Griffs will travel to Rochester to play the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, the team that knocked the Griffs out of the postseason last year. The following week, the Griffs will host the rival Niagara Purple Eagles for the first time inside the HARBORCENTER.

By the time next semester starts the Griffs will have played seven games and will only have 10 more remaining. But if history does decide to repeat itself then the Griffs will have found their strength and will prove to be one of the best teams in the AHC.

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