ROCHESTER — Perhaps once the sting of losing fades, they will understand just what they accomplished.
The defending Atlantic Hockey champion Canisius Golden Griffins didn’t go down without a fight, advancing back to the title game before falling to Robert Morris, 7-4, at Blue Cross Arena Saturday.
But getting back to the conference Final Four is difficult enough let alone the title game. And the Griffs’ senior class leaves a legacy to build.
It was the final game for seven Canisius seniors: forwards Patrick Sullivan (Derby), Kyle Gibbons, Taylor Law and Ryan Bohrer; defensemen Ben Danford and Duncan McKellar; and goaltender Tony Capobianco.
The class was bounced from the quarterfinals their freshman year, losing in three games at Holy Cross. As sophomores they were swept in the first round by Connecticut.
Then things started to click. Last year the group won their first Atlantic Hockey tournament and ensuing NCAA bid and this year’s epic run back to the conference finals was built on the strength of senior leadership and the emerging talent of the underclassmen.
“Last year we had great leadership and some of the younger guys stepped up, and this year the same thing,” Bohrer said. “The seniors led as a group, and the younger guys stepped up over the last few weeks. I think that says a lot about Coach Smith and where he’s taken the program.”
“We’ve been to Rochester twice with our class,” Gibbons said. “We own the first-ever championship. I mean, I say we left a pretty good legacy if you ask me. … Even for us getting back, it’s hard to defend your title. We learned that tonight. The fact that we got back here and gave ourselves a chance is all you can ask for. I think our legacy will be long remembered here at Canisius. I hope so anyway.”
This will be the first trip to the NCAA tournament for Robert Morris as the Colonials grabbed their first conference title in three tries.
The Colonials, who joined Atlantic Hockey four years ago with Niagara after College Hockey America folded, twice made the title game in the CHA but lost both games in overtime.
The Colonials will find out their opponent, which likely will be No. 1 Minnesota, in today’s selection show at noon when the 16-team field is revealed on ESPNU.
The regional rounds will be March 28-30 in Cincinnati (Midwest), Bridgeport, Conn. (East), St. Paul, Minn. (West) and Worcester, Mass. (Northeast).
The Frozen Four will be held April 10-12 at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia.
Atlantic Hockey will not earn an at-large bid into the field this year.
This marked the eighth year the Atlantic Hockey Final Four was held in Blue Cross Arena in Rochester. The 14,000-seat arena has served the conference well, although some are ready to revisit the site of the semifinals and championship game.
The attendance for Friday’s semifinals was 1,385, which for college hockey in Western New York is a decent crowd. Only thing is that 1,385 people in a 14,000-seat arena doesn’t look good nor does it create a great atmosphere.
Some coaches have talked about moving back to campus sites, although that presents another set of challenges and would be perceived by many as a step backwards.
Looking for a slightly smaller rink – perhaps in Elmira or Glens Falls – has also been discussed.