By Sam Brouwere
The Canisius hockey team is heading to Fairfield, Conn. to take on the Sacred Heart Pioneers this weekend.
The Griffs currently sit atop the Atlantic Hockey Conference Standings, holding a conference record of 14-4-5 (33 points). The Pioneers sit toward the bottom of the standings with a record of 8-12-2 (18 points).
Canisius comes into their weekend series riding a 10-game unbeaten streak, whereas the Pioneers are coming into the series with a modest three-game unbeaten streak.
Canisius is being led into the series by senior goaltender Charles Williams, who has a record of 15-6-4 and a save percentage of .946 on the season, the best in the entire nation. Offensively, sophomore forward Dylan McLaughlin is coming into this series red hot, leading the Griffs in scoring with 25 points (11 goals, 14 assists) on the season.
The Pioneers go into the series being led by sophomore goaltender Brett Magnus, who owns an 8-8-3 record and a save percentage of .904. The Pioneers are being led in scoring by senior forward Justin Danfourth with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists) on the season.
For team statistics, the Griffs rank fourth in the Atlantic Hockey Conference in team offense with 3.00 goals per game, while the Pioneers rank ninth in the same category (2.45). For team defense, the Griffs rank first with 1.83 goals allowed per game. The Pioneers rank eighth with a 3.00 average.
The upcoming two-game series between Canisius and Sacred Heart will be the only meeting between the Atlantic Hockey opponents on the season. The records and statistical rankings of both teams show that each team is having polar opposite seasons. However, the Pioneers do have quality wins on the season, going unbeaten against Holy Cross and losing just one out of four meetings with Mercyhurst. Canisius lost to Mercyhurst, 5-1, on Nov. 25 at HARBORCENTER.
“Sacred Heart has a lot of team speed,” said Canisius head coach Dave Smith about their upcoming opposition. “They have a couple really big wins this year and they’re playing extremely hard, so we need to be aware of what their strengths are and make sure we focus on our game and make sure our game is ready to go.”
Good preparation for this series will be key for the Griffs, like any series.
“Our guys have a lot of energy here. It’s back to a normal week,” Coach Smith stated. “We haven’t had any midweek games and the focus has been very good. We’re addressing things that were starting to slip a little bit, but the attention to detail has been there and the energy and enthusiasm has been outstanding.”
Including the games against Sacred Heart, the Griffs have five remaining regular season games, making this series especially important for Griffs. Canisius’ lead for first place is only separated by one point with Air Force, and Coach Smith says they don’t want to overlook the Pioneers.
“We don’t want to make it less or bigger than it really is. It’s two points on Friday and two points on Saturday,” he said. “If you continue to add those two points up, then you end up with a good record at the end. We’re in a good spot because we’ve taken it weekend-by-weekend and day-by-day. The points count the same now as they did earlier in the year.
“I think because of what we’ve done in the past, it feels as though the points are bigger, but the truth is that it’s the same amount and we need to focus with the same intensity that we’ve had all year.”
It should be assumed that the Griffs have their own expectations for this series and the remainder of the season.
“Our expectation is to win every single game and it has been all year, no matter who we’re playing, but I think now we’re feeling more confidently than ever that we do have a chance to win every single night,” senior defenseman Geoff Fortman said. “Air Force has a game in hand at us, but every night we want to put the pressure on them that if they lose a game, we’re coming and we’re ready to take first. We have a lot at stake, and that’s a good thing because it keeps us pushing. We want to finish as high up in the standings as we can and we want to be on a roll going into the playoffs.”