Let's be clear about one thing -- college hockey season never really ends. There's recruiting and pro deals and off-season workouts and always something to write about.
But as the official close to the 2014-15 season comes upon us, here's a look back at the season that was in Western New York and for Western New Yorkers. We started the season by looking at the state of college hockey in the 716 and asking Why Not Us?
After a slow start, Canisius caught fire in the second semester and made its third straight appearance in the Atlantic Hockey semifinals:
- The biggest story of the college hockey season in Western New York was the opening of HarborCenter. Standing room sellouts of 2,000 packed the downtown venue for both games as Canisius battled Ohio State to a tie on opening night while dropping the second game. It proved quite a homecoming for Amherst native Christian Lampasso, a freshman at Ohio State.
- Canisius junior Chris Rumble became the first player since Cory Conacher to be named a first-team All-Atlantic Hockey selection. In his time with the Griffs he cultivated his dual identity as a standout defenseman and a cancer survivor.
- Chemistry isn't all that mythical when you put two puck-hungry guys who love to play with each other on the same line. That's what happened for Ralph Cuddemi and Shane Conacher who combined for a special offensive year. While Cuddemi and Conacher drove the top-line mentality, freshmen Ryan Schmelzer and Nolan Sheeran took turns centering the dynamic duo.
- The Griffs were picked to finish sixth in Atlantic Hockey but not one player in the Canisius dressing room felt they were a sixth-place team. The 10-member senior class was void of superstars, but collectively they changed the culture of Canisius hockey. Meanwhile senior captain Doug Jessey set the tone for the Griffs, not just on the ice but in the room showing a leadership style that put as much emphasis on the future as it did on the present.
- Among the keys to success for the Griffs, who finished second in Atlantic Hockey tying the program record, was commitment to defense. It started with the goaltending tandem of Keegan Asmundson and Reilly Turner and a few "Gold Rush" episodes. Senior Tyler Wiseman provided one of the keys on a penalty killing unit that launched Canisius on a second-semester hot streak.
It was a challenging season for Niagara, which began with high expectations with a loaded sophomore class and highly-touted freshmen. But injuries kept Niagara on the wrong side of the struggle for most of the season. The Purps had their worst record in program history, but a late-season surge left the Purps feeling good about their future:
- Niagara's late-season surge included a first-round playoff upset of Holy Cross that was fueled by the return of goaltender Jackson Teichroeb.
- Offensively the return of sophomore forward TJ Sarcona from a freak dryland training accident helped the Purps find an offensive compass late in the season.
- Stan Dzakhov couldn't wait to put on a game jersey. The freshman for Niagara had to sit out 10 games due to an NCAA amateur status ruling. But the journey to Monteagle Ridge from Russia had enough twists, turns and bumps that 10 games was really just an annoyance for the forward.
- The rivalry between Canisius and Niagara has always been intense but as more local players choose to stay, or return, to Western New York for their collegiate careers, the hockey series takes on a new level of intensity. This year, it was the Griffs who owned the series, sweeping the Purps in Dwyer Arena.
Outside of the 716, Western New Yorkers were making an impact on college hockey in all areas of the game:
- It was an unusual send off for an student assistant equipment manager. But Amherst native Joe Vicario wasn't your typical student helper. The Amherst native spent four years helping out the RIT men's and women's hockey team, providing a role model for adversity. Vicario was born with a rare congenital birth defect, underwent 28 surgeries before he was 12 years old and then in 2012 he was diagnosed with an aggressive testicular cancer. "He doesn’t look at everything like a challenge, he just looks at everything like an opportunity."
- Western New York's impact on the hockey world doesn't just come from producing players. Cheektowaga native and Buffalo State graduate Mark Randolph literally wrote the book on American officiating. He was honored by the National Collegiate Hockey Conference this year.
- Eden native Alex Iafallo helped Minnesota-Duluth into the national spotlight and back to the NCAA regional final. The sophomore worked on developing versatility in his already gifted offensive game with former Buffalo Sabre Derek Plante.
And of course we had some fun at BNRinkside this year, including a few videos taking us behind the scenes: