PROVIDENCE, R.I. — There is something special about being the first team to make it to the NCAA Tournament.
The Canisius Golden Griffins have balanced the pressure of the moment with the exuberance of the experience. And through it all, they’ve remembered that they’ve arrived in their inaugural NCAA tournament thanks to the groundwork laid by their predecessors.
“There will never be another Canisius College hockey team that gets the first NCAA bid and that’s special,” coach Dave Smith said. “We have worked hard at connecting the alums and what we saw at the Atlantic Hockey tournament in Rochester, guys coming from Long Island, guys coming from Toronto. ... All of a sudden this experience seems to have brought us all together. And if we accomplish one thing from this and that’s it? Successful. That’s great.”
It’s a history lesson the current players know, understand and embrace.
“It’s pretty special for that exact reason – we’re the first Canisius team to a championship which is pretty cool,” junior forward Kyle Gibbons said. “It’s something that myself, the rest of the guys in the locker room and everyone in the athletic department can share.
“It’s pretty surreal but we wouldn’t have been able to be here without alumni like Dr. [David] Deitz, who founded the program, as well as some of our former coaches like Brian Cavanaugh and players like Cory Conacher, who is in the NHL, Vinny Scarsella, Phil Rauch and Pete MacDougall. They all laid the groundwork for us to come in and have success.
“We’re going to enjoy this as a team, but we also have to recognize the guys who came before us who helped us get here.”
With that in mind, some former Griffs voiced their support on Twitter:
Andrew Loewen, who graduated in 2009, tweeted: “Obstacles are what you see when you take your mind off your goal. #playoffhockey #believe.
Cory Conacher tweeted: “What a day to be a griff. Lets go boys!!!”
Canisius now has a 5-23-2 all-time record against nationally-ranked schools since moving to Division I in 1998. Entering Saturday’s game against Quinnipiac, the Griffs were 2-4-0 against nationally ranked teams this year, grabbing two of three against No. 15 Niagara (the first time they played, the Purple Eagles were not ranked). Canisius lost twice at then-No. 12 Western Michigan (3-0, 2-1) and at No. 2 Minnesota (1-0).
The matchup against Quinnipiac was the sixth time Canisius had played the country’s No. 1 ranked team. The Griffs lost twice to North Dakota in the 2002-03 season, once to New Hampshire in 2003-04 and twice to Miami in 2007-08.
Combined with the loss by Niagara to North Dakota in the Purple Eagles’ first-round game, Atlantic Hockey moved to 4-11 all-time in the NCAA tournament.
The first win for Atlantic Hockey came in 2007 when Holy Cross upset Minnesota. Air Force defeated Michigan in 2009 while RIT advanced to the Frozen Four in 2010 with wins over Denver and New Hampshire.