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Canisius hockey will play in HarborCenter

Canisius College and the Buffalo Sabres will formally announce a partnership today that will have the Golden Griffins hockey team playing in the downtown HarborCenter facility.

The Griffs will call HarborCenter its home rink beginning in the 2014-15 season. The hockey complex, which will have two NHL-sized rinks outside of First Niagara Center, is scheduled to be completed in September 2014.

Canisius officials are reserving comments until today’s official announcement at First Niagara Center.

Without a rink on campus, the Canisius hockey program had been itinerant for years, playing home games and practicing at available venues, usually Nichols’ Dann Memorial Rink and the Northtown Center at Amherst (formerly known as the Pepsi Center). The Griffs started playing home games at the Buffalo State Ice Arena in the 1999-2000 season and since the 2009-10 season have called Buffalo State home, playing every regular season home game there.

While this rink still isn’t on campus, it is a partnership with an NHL team, something unique in the college hockey world.

And it comes at a time when Canisius hockey is experiencing an upswing.

This past season, the Griffs advanced to their first NCAA tournament after winning the Atlantic Hockey championships at Blue Cross Arena in Rochester.

The Griffs finished the year 19-19-5 overall, including an eight-game winning streak to win the conference title and automatic bid into the NCAA field. They lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, 4-3, to top-seeded Quinnipiac.

Among the key returning players for Canisius are leading scorer Kyle Gibbons (21 goals, 22 assists) and goaltender Tony Capobianco who set four school records including saves (1,256) save percentage (.929), wins (18) and shutouts (four). Both players were invited to NHL developmental camps — Gibbons by New Jersey and Capobianco by Minnesota.

While 19 Canisius hockey players have signed professional contracts, it was put in the spotlight when one of its favorite sons, Cory Conacher, had a breakthrough season in the NHL. He began the season with the Tampa Bay Lightning with 24 points (nine goals, 15 assists) in 35 games. He was traded to Ottawa where he played in 12 regular seasons games and scored three goals in eight playoff games for the Senators.

This spring, the school extended the contract Dave Smith through the 2016-17 season. He will be entering his ninth year as Griffs head coach.