Dylan McLaughlin spent the summer in HarborCenter, working out with the Academy of Hockey and former Buffalo Sabre Matt Ellis.
He worked on his skating. He worked on his shooting.
And the attention to detail is paying off for the junior from Lancaster.
McLaughlin scored twice Saturday afternoon to help the Canisius Golden Griffins to an 8-2 win over rival Niagara in HarborCenter. That gives him 11 goals through the first 15 games of the season. With 13 assists, he's averaging 1.6 points per game, one of the top averages in all of Division I hockey.
"I think a lot of guys are playing good right now, and as a line I think we're connecting really well," McLaughlin said when asked about his strong first-semester performance. "I think it's a mix of the team playing well and the line connecting for sure."
Perhaps McLaughlin undersold himself a little bit. Let his linemate, senior captain Ryan Schmelzer, explained this year's McLaughlin magic.
"He's a special player. His skill level, his ability to make plays and just do things himself are unbelievable," Schmelzer said. "I've played with some really, really good players in the past in my career here. He's definitely up there if not the best one I've played with. Just his ability, his confidence that he has to take the puck and make things happen. It's something I've never seen before.
"His will to get better and to be the best he can be is off the charts and that's what makes him so great."
Trevor Large, in his first year as head coach for the Griffs but who has been with the program since 2014, sees an improvement in McLaughlin's skating, which elevates his already impressive offensive skill.
"It's very obvious that his skating is elite and his skill and ability is unbelievable," Large said. "The plays that he makes, the tight-area plays, he's really difficult to take the puck off of. ... His ability to just read a play and beat you to the left or beat you to the right, I think it's two things. It's his skating and his skill and ability. That combination is pretty deadly right now for sure."
Saturday's win gave Canisius 10 straight victories over Niagara and put the Griffs three points ahead of the Purple Eagles in the Atlantic Hockey standings heading into the semester break.
The Griffs, the defending regular-season champs, are 10-4-0 in conference, 10-5-1 overall.
"We kind of stumbled in the beginning and couldn't find our footing," said Schmelzer as the Griffs started the season 3-4-1. "But as we found out who we were and who we wanted to be, we expected to be here. Maybe it wasn't first, but definitely near the top of the standings halfway through the year. We're happy with where we are, but we can't be complacent."
"We haven't done anything yet, but it's a nice start," McLaughlin said.
A nice start includes ending the first semester with a sweep of Niagara. The Griffs did that with an explosive game on Saturday as 1,418, the third largest HarborCenter crowd in program history, created an energetic college hockey atmosphere.
Canisius jumped out to a 1-0 lead when freshman Grant Meyer scored just 1:09 into the game. Casey Jerry then scored at 10:21 and the floodgates opened for the Griffs. McLaughlin scored both his goals in the opening period while a tally from Mike Sabatini gave Canisius a 5-0 lead after the first.
Niagara got on the board at 7:08 of the second thanks to Sam Rennaker, but Schmelzer responded just nine seconds later for a 6-1 lead. The teams again traded goals within seconds of each other — a score from Niagara's Derian Plouffe was followed 28 seconds later by a goal from Nick Hutchison.
Jesse Periera scored at 17:32 of the second for the final 8-2 margin.
Niagara used all three of its goaltenders. Starter Brian Wilson left after giving up three goals. David Krejcik gave up four while Guillaume allowed one.
For Niagara, it's a game that goes into the garbage can. Throw it out. Forget it. After all, the Purple Eagles still enter the break in second place and are 8-4-1 in conference and 9-7-1 overall.
"I think one, two, three, four, five, six, seven of us standing here would not have said this would be our record," Niagara coach Jason Lammers said. "Hey, the scoreboard doesn't look good but we're in a good place. ... We're learn on some guys and we need to evaluate some players, but this one will get thrown out and we'll restart.
"The nice part is hockey has a long memory. We get to play these guys again and we're going to work really hard to get better and give them a better game the next time we play them."
The teams end the regular season with a rematch home-and-home series Feb. 23-24.
Meanwhile Canisius is off until Dec. 30 when it plays at Cornell, starting a four-game road swing against non-conference opponents. The Griffs return to Atlantic Hockey action Jan. 12-13 when they host American International.
Niagara is off until Dec. 29-30 when it plays at Ohio State. The Purple Eagles return to Dwyer Arena to host RIT Jan. 5-6.