The Canisius hockey team just won its first-ever Atlantic Hockey Conference regular-season title. It graduates only two active players. Nine of the top 12 scorers this season were freshmen or sophomores.
Why mess with success?
The Golden Griffins embraced continuity Monday in introducing Trevor Large as the new head coach. Large, 36, was the right-hand man and recruiting coordinator the past three years for Dave Smith, who left on April 6 to take the head job at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
“We have so many positive things going,” Large said. “We’re coming off a league championship. The culture has been built for many, many years, and it’s extremely strong. At the same time we need to grow. We need to get better. We need to push. Most people I met with here know me. I wanted them to hear that message that we’re going to grow.”
“The continuity was huge,” said Canisius Athletic Director Bill Maher. “Recruiting in hockey happens several years out. So there’s a number of kids committed to our program and kids who are committed in the future. . . . We’re a program that had great success this year with a relatively young team. How do we continue that positive growth is really the key. That doesn’t mean somebody else can’t continue it. But the continuity was a big piece of it.”
Maher brought two other finalists for the job on campus for interviews.
“I’m nothing if not methodical,” he said. “It wasn’t because we didn’t have faith in Trevor, but we wanted to make sure we were making the right decision for our program.”
Large steps into his first head-coaching role with a strong recruiting track record. He spent six years before Canisius at Army as an assistant coach and recruiting coordinator. He was at American International College three years before that.
“Canisius went through an exhaustive search and they came back to somebody who was in their own backyard because it’s the right fit,” said Smith, who returned to Buffalo for Large’s introduction. “When we brought Trevor here it was the right fit. He’s got ties to Ontario. He’s got ties to Michigan. He’s got ties to the East Coast and the West Coast. Some people have been to lots of places. He has connections in all those places. Friends.”
Canisius’ recruiting has been bolstered the past three years by the move downtown to HarborCenter, the Griffs’ fabulous home rink.
“It has been instrumental,” Large said. “When I came, I was very fortunate to walk into a brand new rink. Seeing what that does for the entire area is great. When you’re able to get downtown and be part of what’s happening there, it’s a special feeling. I think we’ve felt it, being able to now attract high-end talent in Western New York. It’s obviously helped us in recruiting.”
Canisius has six Western New Yorkers on the roster, including its top two scorers, sophomore Dylan McLaughlin (Lancaster) and junior Ryan Schmelzer (Buffalo). The Griffs have nine Canadians.
Large, a native of Brampton, Ont., sees Canisius’ geographic position as another advantage.
“I think it’s a very solid pool of elite players in this area,” he said, “and I see it growing. That’s exciting for me.”
The one hole to fill for next season is at goalie, where the Griffs graduate Charles Williams, who Large recruited a year ago as a graduate transfer from his alma mater, Ferris State. Williams led the nation in save percentage. Who takes over?
“I thought that question would come,” Large said. “I think we have a really good internal battle, with Daniel Urbani, Simon Hofley and Blake Weyrick. And we have Tucker Weppner coming in. . . . It will be a battle for the position.”
Urbani and Weyrick were freshman this year. Hofley was a sophomore. Weppner is an Amherst native and a Buffalo Junior Sabres product.
Canisius made the NCAA Tournament in 2013. The Griffs went 21-11-7 this year. The program is committed to increasing its scholarship level from 14 last season to the NCAA maximum of 18 over the next four seasons.
“I believe he can take the program to the next level,” Smith said. “We can all define what the next level is differently. But Trevor is such a connector of people, he’s such a warm coach who has great experience, I think people are going to give more of themselves to be a bigger part of Canisius hockey moving forward.”