They don’t have flashy numbers. Their resumes aren’t filled with program records or lengthy lists of superlatives.
Perhaps that’s what has made the group of 10 seniors integral to the elevation of the Canisius College hockey program.
Individually they don’t create headlines.
Collectively they’ve cultivated what has evolved into one of the top programs in Atlantic Hockey.
Canisius will recognize the senior class Saturday night when the Golden Griffins host Mercyhurst (7:35 p.m., TWCS) in the last regular-season game at HarborCenter.
Led by captain Doug Jessey and alternate captain Keegan Asmundson, the class also includes Doug Beck, Stephen Farrell, Cody Freeman, Matthew Grazen, Mitch McCrank, Braden Rigney, Logan Roe and Tyler Wiseman.
As a group they have done the most to set the tone and solidify the culture for the Griffs’ program, seeing themselves as caretakers of a legacy.
“I think a lot of us didn’t really expect to take the reins and do something with it,” Jessey said. “We were just more passengers along with the team. In that time, especially starting sophomore year, we’ve seen this is as much our program as it is the other guys’ who have been here before us. I think we’re just trying to leave it in a good spot.
“We just want to leave it in a better place than when we started because the program has given us a lot. It’s made us all better people and definitely better hockey players.” We’re “just making sure that’s the same thing for the freshmen and incoming recruits.”
This senior class has seen a little bit of everything. It was bounced from the Atlantic Hockey playoffs in the first round as freshmen and won it all as sophomores to earn the program’s first NCAA bid. It fought its way back to the championship game as juniors last year with two double-overtime wins, only to lose the title to Robert Morris.
Along the way they saw that the most talented players didn’t always win. The most talented guys didn’t even always get the high-pressure game-winning goals.
They saw freshmen step up big. They saw the critical nature of a blocked shot or effective penalty kill.
They learned avenues to winning emerge when the team is bigger than a handful of players with good stats.
That’s how culture translates into success and success turns into championship opportunities.
“Maybe they don’t get enough notoriety but they deserve it,” said assistant coach Scott Moser, who was a senior captain when the current seniors were freshmen. “I’ve got tons of respect for all of them, guys like Rigney and Doug Beck and how they’ve really bought into what they’re doing for the team, making the right plays when needed, blocking shots on the penalty kill, then getting points and goals when they can. They take those roles and you need that to be a team that’s going to go far.”
While it buys into roles and embraces gritty play, this senior class also has scored some of the biggest goals in program history.
It was Wiseman who scored two goals against nationally ranked Niagara in the Griffs’ conference semifinal win in 2013. Farrell scored the program’s first NCAA Tournament goal against No. 1 Quinnipiac on March 20, 2013. McCrank had a hat trick in the deciding game against Bentley in the 2014 quarterfinals.
As a group, they’ve experienced that big goals and big plays can come from unexpected sources. They’ve learned that winning is hard, culture is important and that loving the game and the guys you play with trumps all.
“I think I didn’t realize how hard it was,” Freeman said. “Coming from junior hockey, we were all pretty successful and that’s what got us here. You expect to have the same level of success but it doesn’t always happen that way and it’s not as easy as I think we thought it would be.
“I think another thing I learned is just how close we all come together. Playing junior hockey, the team wasn’t that close. You’d have cliques that would hang out, but going to school every day, coming to practice every day, being with these guys, I don’t know how many hours a day, probably too many, it just is about the brotherhood we’ve formed.”
For Asmundson, who waited out his time as a backup before getting a true starting goaltender spot as a senior, the message of his four-year journey is remember to have fun.
“If you’re not enjoying it what’s the point?” Asmundson said. “You find out a lot in four years, about yourself as a player and about yourself as a team. You’re never as bad as you think you are when things aren’t going great and you’re never as good when things are going well. It’s just finding the balance. Hard work is never a bad thing. Just being part of this team is awesome.”