On the top of Atlantic hockey

By Dominic Chamberlain

Sports Editor

The Griffs hockey team is rolling as they continued a six game win streak against the school’s biggest rivals, the Niagara Purple Eagles.


The Griffs, who haven’t lost a game since Jan. 7, walked into the home of the Purple Eagles, Dwyer Arena, as one of the hottest teams in all of college hockey. The six-game win streak, coupled with an eight-game unbeaten streak, garnered national attention, most notably from the college hockey guru himself John “Bucci” Buccigross.


Bucci tweeted to his 360,000 followers on Jan 31, the day of the game between the Griffs and Purple Eagles, “Big game for Canisius tonight at Niagara. @GriffsHCKYCoach doing a great job for @GriffsHockey.”      


“GriffsHCKYCoach” refers to head coach Dave Smith, who has done a fantastic job this season. Smith has the offense producing at Cuddemi/Conacher rates. The Griffs scored six goals in one game twice last month; one game was against the Rochester Institute of Technology Tigers, and the second was against American International College.


Both Dylan McLaughlin and Ryan Schmelzer have over 20 points thus far in the season, with 24 and 22 points respectively. Not far behind is Nick Hutchinson with 16 points, who is also tied for the team lead in goals with 10. The Griffs have won every one of their games in 2017 by at least two goals, in most games by at least three.


Smith has also seen his defense step up over these past few games. The Griffs have only allowed more than two goals once in 2017, with that being a 3-3 tie against the 16-ranked St. Lawrence Saints.


Two of the Griffs’ top defensemen have played a major part in this.  Geoff Fortman and Cameron Heath have blocked 49 and 48 shots this season respectively. The team has blocked 402 shots all-together this season, whereas all of the Griffs’ opponents this season have blocked 335 of the Griffs shots.


And we can’t mention this team and success without mentioning Charles Williams. The senior goaltender has been standing on his head for seemingly the entire season. Coach Smith and the Griffs hockey staff found gold in their transfer, who has come in and proven to be a game-changer.


But it’s not just the Griffs who have seen what Williams is capable of. It was announced on Jan. 30 that Williams was a nominee for the Hobey Baker Award. The Hobey Baker Award is awarded to the NCAA Division I player who best “exhibits strength of character both on and off the ice” and “contributes to the integrity of the team and displays outstanding skills in all phases of the game,” according to the Hobey Baker Memorial Award Foundation. Simply put, this is college hockey’s highest award, much like the Heisman in college football, and has been won by the likes of Ryan Miller (also the last goaltender to win the award), Jack Eichel, and “Johnny Hockey” himself Johnny Gaudreau.


Williams is one of college hockey’s top netminders, as he leads the country in save percentage and is also tied for eighth with three shutouts this season. Williams was also named Atlantic Hockey (AHC) Goalie of the Month behind a 7-1-1 record, a .958 save percentage, and a 1.44 goals against average in the month of January.


All of this came together for Coach Smith against the Purple Eagles. The Griffs struck first and fast when Hutchinson scored just two minutes into the game, but the Purple Eagles found two goals to answer and temporarily lead the Griffs 2-1. The Griffs responded with a deflection goal to tie the game and, in the second period, Heath helped out his offense by scoring his fourth goal of the year to give the Griffs a 3-2 lead.


The game remained tight for most of the remainder of the contest. The Griffs looked to Williams to once again remain a brick wall in his net until they scored late in the third period to go up 4-2. After an empty net goal, the game would end with the Griffs at five goals to the Purple Eagles’ two.


The most impressive aspect of this game is that the Purple Eagles were 0-7 on the power play, showing just how good the Griffs have become defensively and that even when he’s a man down, Williams is still a wall.


The win put the Griffs in sole possession of first place in AHC with 30 points, separating themselves from the Air Force Falcons, who have 28 points. The Griffs have only lost four games within the conference to the Falcons’ five in conference losses.


The Griffs and Falcons are both in action this weekend with both teams having the opportunity to grab four more points in the standings. The Griffs will host the Army West Point Black Knights, who sit in fourth place in the AHC.


Earlier this season, the Black Knights handed the Griffs two of their four conference losses with scores of 3-0 and 5-2. Those games happened back in November, before the Griffs really found their rhythm as a team.


The Air Force Falcons will take on the AHC’s other set of Falcons from Bentley University. Bentley sits sixth in the AHC with an 8-8-4 record.


As the season winds down, the Griffs and Air Force Falcons will be battling each other for first place in the AHC, and if both teams can keep up this pace of play, we should have a very interesting Atlantic Hockey Tournament in March.


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