By Emyle Watkins
Sports Reporter and Photographer
BUFFALO — This past Tuesday brought a special opportunity for any Golden Griffins Hockey fan: the chance to meet and jump on the ice with the team. Canisius brought their talents to the rinks at RiverWorks for an inaugural outdoor open practice, where fans had the chance to grab a cup of hot chocolate and watch the team get ready to host nationally ranked St. Lawrence. Afterwards, they were able to join them on the ice for an open skate.
“It’s a really cool environment. It’s great to see the fans come out,” sophomore defenseman Cameron Heath stated. “It’s a really cool experience and looking forward to it next year.”
Heath was just named Atlantic Hockey’s Defensive Player of the Week, after scoring two goals in last week’s 3-0 win over Holy Cross.
As a free event to the public, people of all ages came out to watch the Griffs run drills and put in hard work on the ice. After the hour and a half practice, fans could rent skates from RiverWorks or bring their own, and spend time skating on the ice with the Griffs. Players raced some of the younger fans, made a form of a conga line and took the time to talk to alumni.
One of the alumni in attendance was A.J. Block, an alumnus from the class of 1973. Block was one of the members that helped start the hockey program at Canisius.
“It’s great,” Block said. “I’m a season ticket holder, so I go to as many games as I can, and it’s just great to see these guys.”
Block, was just a sophomore in the fall of ‘71 when a group of students came together to form Canisius’ first hockey club. By spring of ‘72, the team was taking shape and won its first game, before going 6-2-0 that year. In fall of ‘74, shortly after Block’s graduation, the team became a part of the Finger Lakes Collegiate Hockey League and began to play teams throughout the area.
The team has only continued to grow since then, becoming a Division III team following the 1979-80 season, earning their first ever NCAA win on Nov. 22, 1980. Eighteen years later, the Griffs would become Division I program, joining the Atlantic Hockey Conference (AHC) in 1998. In 2012-2013, after 42 years of Griffs hockey, the program would claim their first ever championship title.
“Really happy, of course, the best part is the HARBORCENTER and just the way it’s a first class team. I’m very, very proud of them,” Block added.
With the rest of the 2016-2017 season ahead of them, Canisius hosts the 16th ranked St. Lawrence Saints at HARBORCENTER tonight and tomorrow. Both games will start at 7:35 pm.
“It’s going to be a good test for us,” Heath said about facing St. Lawrence. “Hopefully we come out there and battle.”