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McCrank a calming influence for Canisius hockey

There was one key aspect to his game that Mitch McCrank added this year.

He calmed down.

The junior forward for the Canisius hockey team had just one goal and seven points in his first 21 games of the season and over Christmas break did a mental adjustment.

Since then, he has doubled that output with 14 points in his last 15 games, including a hat trick that clinched a berth in tonight’s Atlantic Hockey semifinal game for the Golden Griffins.

“I just started calming it down,” McCrank said. “I think I was gripping my stick a little tight. It’s just about playing my game, remembering how fun hockey is and not just about all the pressure. Just calming myself down. It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get a lot of points.”

And there lies one of the truisms of hockey: The calmer you are, the more you enjoy the game, the more the results begin to take care of themselves.

“The big goal for Mitch came because he didn’t change anything,” coach Dave Smith said. “He didn’t try to do anything different. The big goal comes not when you force it and try to do something different. It comes from doing what you always do. If you believe you’re doing the right things, good things will happen.”

Part of the postseason success for the Griffs has been their offensive depth. The top line of Kyle Gibbons, Cody Freeman and Patrick Sullivan has anchored the attack, but is only one option.

In fact, when Freeman went down with a head injury early in the second period of Game Two of the quarterfinal series at Bentley, other lines had to step up to keep the defending Atlantic Hockey champs alive for one more day.

McCrank’s line with sophomore Ralph Cuddemi and freshman Shane Conacher has scored eight of the team’s 19 postseason goals.

“We’re all good friends off the ice and that makes a difference,” Cuddemi said of his line. “We’re all looking for each other. There’s not really a selfish guy on our line, so it helps a lot when you know the guys are going to look for you on a pass or do whatever they can to help.”

Cuddemi has helped the Griffs offensively all season long. Last year he had 10 points, half of those in March. This season he ranks second on the team in scoring with 28 points and 13 goals.

“I don’t know if last year was a lack of confidence but I feel this year I have more confidence,” Cuddemi said. “I’m shooting the puck more. I’m getting to the dirty areas. I’m getting to the net.”

Want more numbers? How about a look at those put up by junior Braeden Rigney? In his first two seasons with the Griffs he played in 55 games with 11 points and a minus-18 rating.

This season in 35 games he has 14 points and a plus-10 rating, bouncing between the third and fourth line. But the numbers are merely an indication of what Rigney brings to the team: physical, gritty play and a keen understanding of his role and strengths.

“I’ve had a better year just on hard work,” Rigney said. “I don’t think I’m going to go out there and go end to end. I’m not going to be scoring from 30 feet out. If things are going to go well for me, I just have to work hard, go to the net and do the little things, just dirty jobs that are going to help make me successful.”

The team’s success in the playoffs relies on depth and it showed in the quarterfinal round against Bentley, when the Griffs had to fill the spots of Freeman and defenseman Geoff Fortman, who were injured during the series. Both will be out for tonight’s game.

“Any college team that is playing now has three or four lines that can produce offense,” Smith said. “You have to be able to put out one through four and have confidence in all of them. And we do.”