By Adam Duke
On March 21, the Manchester Monarchs of the ECHL signed Griffs goaltender Charles Williams to a standard player contract, after the Griffs season came to a close on March 17. Likewise, Griffs defenseman Geoff Fortman penned a contract with the ECHL’s Rapid City Rush the following day.
After four seasons with the Ferris State Bulldogs, Williams joined the Griffs as a fifth-year senior. This season, he led the Griffs with a 1.82 goals-against average, stopping 1,016 shots and allowing just 61 goals in 34 games. His goals-against average is the best in school history, so is his .943 save percentage. He also set both a career-high and a school record in shutouts, earning six.
Tuesday, Williams signed with the Monarchs, the affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Los Angeles Kings and the American Hockey League’s Ontario Reign.
“It was great. Playing hockey, you always want to do more,” Williams said on his signing.
He recalled growing up with the goal of playing professionally one day and said that he was glad to have accomplished that goal. He said that his goal in the ECHL is to take every opportunity he gets and to use those opportunities to get better.
He added that during his time at Canisius, he learned a lot from both his team and time on the ice, as well as the people and the culture around the school.
Williams received the Arthur Ashe Jr. Sports Scholar award in 2016 and was named the Atlantic Hockey Conference’s Player of the Year, as well as having earned the league’s Goaltending Trophy. He is only the second Griff to win each award, as Cory Conacher of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization received Player of the Year in 2009-10 and Sean Weaver received Goaltender of the Year in the 1999-2000 season.
“For a goaltender to go into pro hockey, where there are five or six NHL goaltenders under contract throughout their system, to go into the [ECHL] and have an opportunity to play and prove himself again is a great opportunity,” said Canisius head coach and Atlantic Hockey Coach of the Year Dave Smith. “It’s a reward for him and it’s exciting, as well, to start the next chapter of his hockey playing career.”
On March 15, it was announced that Williams was a top 10 finalist for the Hobey Baker Memorial Award. He is the first player from Canisius to ever be named a finalist. The winner will be announced at the Frozen Four in Chicago, Ill. on April 7.
The voting was done by all 60 Division I hockey head coaches as well as a fan ballot on hobeybakeraward.com. The next round of voting is currently in progress and will conclude on Sunday (March 26), with the top three finalists being unveiled next Thursday (March 30).
“It’s definitely a huge honor, it’s very special to be stacked with some of the top players in college hockey,” said Williams.
He also credited his team, saying how his qualification for the award wouldn’t have been possible without the daily efforts of his teammates.
According to the Hobey Baker’s official site, “Criteria for the award includes: displaying outstanding skills in all phases of the game, strength of character on and off the ice, sportsmanship, and scholastic achievements.”
The award has been distributed every year since 1981. Past winners of the award include Jimmy Vesey of the New York Rangers, the Buffalo Sabres’ Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau of the Calgary Flames, as well as former Sabres Ryan Miller and Chris Drury.
“The Hobey Baker goes to a person that is a great hockey player, a person filled with dedication and perseverance,” Smith said. “The characteristics and qualities necessary for this award, Charles does them every single day. All of those things.”
Williams is also a finalist for the Mike Richter Award, given to the top goaltender in Division I hockey. This is the fourth year the award will be presented.
Fortman, the Griffs’ captain this past season, also signed an ECHL contract this week, joining the Rapid City Rush, the affiliate of the NHL’s Arizona Coyotes and AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners. In his debut with the Rush, Fortman picked up an assist on the team’s second goal in Rapid City’s 3-2 loss to the Colorado Eagles.
This year, Fortman was second on the Griffs in blocked shots among skaters with 61. He was also fifth in plus/minus, with a plus six. He was one of eight players to play in all 39 contests this season. He posted a personal best two goals and 11 assists this season, leading the top defense in Atlantic Hockey with a 1.89 scoring percentage, 53 goals allowed, and .899 penalty kill percentage.
“It’s terrific, the recognition that those guys are [getting]. One day after the season ended, you get a call on both of them, saying, ‘We want you and we’ve been watching you and know what you’re capable of,’” Smith said. “I think it’s a great opportunity for Geoff.”
Last season, Fortman was named to the Atlantic Hockey All-Academic Team.
Upon the conclusion of the 2015-16 season, former Griff Ralph Cuddemi signed with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, while Shane Conacher inked a contract with the AHL’s Toronto Marlies. Conacher’s brother, Cory, remains the only Canisius alum to make it to the NHL, playing with four teams. He currently plays with the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch in the Lightning organization.
With the departure of the seniors from the 2016-17 season, juniors David Bennett, Jeff Murray, David Parrottino, Mike Sabatini, Ryan Schmelzer, Nolan Sheeran, and Jack Stander will seek to lead the team next season.