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Buffalo State filling women’s hockey void − and flourishing

Building a program usually takes time. There are small steps upon small steps until the key class becomes seniors and busts open the door of possibilities.

But Candice Moxley had the Buffalo State women’s hockey on a speed build.

Her recruiting centered on homegrown talent and her young team took off last season. Now, a year older, the sophomores are leading the charge as the Bengals sit at 12-3-0 overall, already a record for most wins in a season by the Bengals.

“It’s the players in the locker room,” Moxley said of the rapid improvement. “They are the hardest working group of girls that I’ve ever coached. They bought into a picture; they bought into our vision as a program, and we’ll go as far as they want to run with it. We’re just here to supply the support and the resources and whatever else they need to do that, but we’re going to go as far as those girls in the locker room, and they want it bad so I’m really excited about that part.”

The previous record for wins was 11, in 2000-01 – the second season when the Bengals went 11-4-1 as a Division III independent. That also was the only winning season.

When Moxley took over just before the 2013-14 season the team had just 12 skaters and two goalies and finished 3-21-2. But the record didn’t show where the Bengals were headed.

With a strong freshman class, the Bengals went 10-13-3 last season, faltering at the end with a 1-7-1 mark over the final nine games.

That sputtering finale set the tone for this season.

“Last year our season ended on a bit of a sour note because I thought we deserved better and I don’t know if it was the pressure mounting or what that made us crack, but I think this year our girls have taken those experiences from last year and they don’t want them to happen again,” Moxley said.

The Bengals started the season on an eight-game winning streak but suffered three straight losses to close out the first semester, including a two-game sweep by national No. 1 Plattsburgh. They rebounded after the break with four straight wins, a sign of maturity for a roster that features 13 sophomores and five freshmen.

“We had a very young team,” Moxley said. “And that’s the exciting part for us is there is still so much more maturity and growth to happen on our team that it’s really right now I don’t exactly where the ceiling can be. But I know we’re just going to keep pushing it as high as we can.”

Sophomore goaltender Justine Silva has been backstopping the Bengals. She ranks 14th nationally with a 1.44 goals-against average and a .946 save percentage. Silva, a California native, arrived at Buffalo State after her older sister attended school in Buffalo.

But 10 of the team’s 22 players are Western New Yorkers, including leading goal scorer Erin Gehen. The sophomore from West Seneca is tied for 15th nationally in scoring (21 points), tied for sixth in goals (14) and ranks first in shorthanded goals with five.

Moxley, who played her college hockey at Niagara, said that Buffalo is becoming a hotbed for women’s hockey and Buffalo State is reaping some of the benefits.

“It’s amazing and it makes me wonder why still to this day − I’m going to bring it up − why Niagara dropped their program because Buffalo has a little bit of a hotbed going here,” Moxley said. “There’s a lot of strong programs. The girls are here and they want to play and they want to play in college and Buffalo State is in their backyard with in-state tuition.

“There are a lot of things that make sense and our program is doing well now. In the past they would look to go away to Oswego and other schools in New York State but now we have a product here we can put on the ice and we’re excited about it. Now they’re deciding to stay closer to home.”

The Bengals are 6-2-0 in ECAC West play and travel to Geneva to play William Smith in a two-game series Saturday and Sunday.

The schedule heats up when Buffalo State hosts Oswego Jan. 29-30 and current national No. 2 Elmira Feb. 5-6.