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Griffs' top line Con-Vince-ing

In the hallway after practice, Canisius hockey coach Dave Smith called Cory Conacher the sophomore dynamo.

"No," Conacher said. "I just help Vince."

While the sophomore forward has plenty of talent to contribute himself, there's a certain air about the potential that Vincent Scarsella brings to the Golden Griffins' hockey team.

Scarsella, a sophomore from Lackawanna, was an offensive surprise for the Griffs last season. As a freshman, he led the team in scoring with 31 points (nine goals, 22 assists), which ranked first among Atlantic Hockey rookies. His almost a point-per game production (0.84) ranked him 13th in the country among first-year players.

He will again be the focal point of the Canisius offense as the Griffs kick off the season with a pair of games at Ferris State tonight and Saturday.

"He looks great. He's going to center our top line. He's explosive," Canisius coach Dave Smith said of Scarsella. "He's always had a high hockey IQ but it's almost as if he's expanded it a little bit more. To go with that, Cory Conacher has gotten faster and stronger and he's extremely dynamic. It's exciting to have those two guys together. They go hand in hand right now."

Conacher and Scarsella played together for most of their freshman seasons and will comprise the top line for the Griffs along with junior Jason Weeks. Conacher had 17 points (7 goals, 10 assists) in 20 games after missing the first

17 with a wrist injury.

While both came into camp ready to go this year, Scarsella got a bit of a confidence boost after participating in the Buffalo Sabres developmental camp over the summer.

"I got called the day of camp actually," Scarsella said. "Coach Smith called me and said they wanted me to come out. Everything went real fast for me. One minute I'm at home eating breakfast and the next I'm at HSBC Arena lifting weights and working hard there.

"You get to see how many good players are out there. All the guys there were basically drafted and trying to make their way into the NHL. Every day we were on the ice two or three times, then we'd work out for about an hour, then scrimmage later in the day. It was long but it was good experience for me. Looking at guys like [Sabres prospect] Nathan Gerbe and seeing how he prepares you learn things to do to get better every day."

While the workouts helped Scarsella fine-tune his skills, what he gained mentally may be just as important.

"The skill development is great but I think to understand, he's a kid that went from St. Francis High School to Canisius College and there weren't a lot of those kind of guys at the Sabres Development camp," Smith said. "He got bigger and smarter and stronger from that. I think it helped with his inner confidence. He was playing with other guys and seeing where he fits in the big picture."

In the big picture that is the Griffs' upcoming season, Scarsella's role is to help produce offense and offer leadership on a team that is young, but finally has some quality collegiate experience.

Canisius returns 21 players from last year's team -- the majority of them juniors and sophomores who took their growing pains through last year's 11-20-6 season.

It's no secret what the Griffs need to do to improve upon last season's 10-13-5 mark in Atlantic Hockey: cut down on goals against, improve play on special teams and play a more consistent game.

A bump in their 2.5 goals-per-game offensive average wouldn't hurt either.

And while Scarsella will need to lead the way in that area, it's not a role he's concerned about.

"We have a lot of good players here so even if I struggle we've got tons of guys who can pick up the pace," Scarsella said. "I'm not putting any pressure on myself. We've got a great team and we've got 26 guys who can all go out there and play their best. We feel we can beat anyone in the country."

e-mail: amoritz@buffnews.com

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