By Canio Marasco
After playing with Shane Conacher and Ralph Cuddemi last season, Ryan Schmelzer now has to assume the workload that accompanies being the Griffs’ top offensive player and assistant captain.
Last season as a sophomore, Ryan Schmelzer was one of the Griffs’ best offensive threats. At the end of the year, he totaled 10 goals and 22 assists on the season. These numbers were certainly bolstered by the fact that he was able to play with both Conacher and Cuddemi. Conacher totaled 46 points on the season – 20 goals and 26 assists. His play warranted him a minor-league contract with the Toronto Marlies, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Cuddemi was able to total 20 goals and 22 assists last year, as well. Following the season, he signed a contract with the Carolina Hurricanes’ East Coast Hockey League affiliate, Florida Everblades.
The loss of the Griffs’ two top players from last year has certainly left a hole on the first line. Conacher was awarded Most Valuable Player and Top Forward last season. Cuddemi was named the Top Forward for the 2014-2015 season and was awarded the Tom Chapman Memorial Award last season, given to the unsung hero of the team. Although Schmelzer played on the top line last year, he will have two new, and less lauded, wingers this season.
Coach Dave Smith, on the Griffs’ top line this season, stated, “The wingers are going to change around him. He’ll be asked to do a couple different things this season – it will be a completely different line. Ryan has to go from being a complementary guy to carrying the workload on his line.”
Schmelzer will be missing two professional quality wingers this season. The idea that his numbers could drop due to the lack of talent around him is something that should certainly be a concern. Not only will he be playing with a different caliber of players, he will also be playing with new linemates, and chemistry can be a tough thing to develop.
“I don’t really expect my production to change,” said Schmelzer. “Shane [Conacher] and Ralph [Cuddemi] were great players, but we have guys in here who can certainly step in and do the same thing.”
The Griffs will look to players such as sophomore Dylan McLaughlin and sophomore Félix Chamberland. McLaughlin scored eight goals last season and add[ed] 18 assists. He was given the Griffs’ Rookie of the Year award after last season. Chamberland was able to produce six goals and eight assists last year. He played his first season with Canisius last year after playing for the Pembroke Lumber Kings of the Central Canada Hockey League (CCHL), where he amassed 99 points (48 goals) in his final year with the Lumber Kings. Chamberland’s natural offensive ability was evident several times last season, but it could become common occurrence if he plays with Schmelzer.
Assuming the role as the top forward on the Griffs is a position that comes with serious pressure and precedent. In the last couple of years, players such as Cory Conacher, Kyle Gibbons, Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher have all performed at a high level as the Griffs’ leading offensive threat.
“I don’t necessarily feel pressure to produce,” Schmelzer stated. “Everyone in that room [the team] can score. It doesn’t matter who’s going to score, as long as it happens. So, really, I feel no pressure. I’ve played a lot the past two years, but being an upperclassman, I certainly have more responsibilities. I think I’m ready for it.”
Yesterday, the program released who would assume the role of the team’s captain and assistant captain for the upcoming season. Senior Geoff Fortman was named captain and Schmelzer was named the assistant captain – an honor given to players who not only produce on the ice, but also act as leaders off the ice.
On the ice, the Griffs know what Schmelzer can produce. While playing with Conacher and Cuddemi, he thrived. He grew from 14 points in his freshman season to 32 points last season.
“He’s going to be our top forward,” Coach Smith said about Schmelzer. “He’s the toughest guy on the puck and he’s wearing a letter for a reason. He plays the game the way we want the team to play it. We want guys to emulate his style, personality, and attitude on the ice, and I expect him to be a huge part of our success.”
Although he has proven he can produce on the ice, Schmelzer has also proven that he’s a leader. Though Schmelzer is a rather quiet person and a man of few words, he possesses a maturity in the locker room that few can achieve.
“He’s not a loud leader. He’s a ‘lead by example’ type of person,” Coach Smith continued. “Ryan is a very effective communicator – you can see this in his maturity. He can bounce between any type of personality or conversation, tough or easy. When you add all those things up, it makes a leader.”