It was 2005 when Dave Smith took over the hockey program at Canisius College. The Golden Griffins, quite frankly, weren't in a good spot. Alumni were fractured. The school had just fired their long-time coach. The on-ice results were mixed while off-ice issues made headlines.
The process was a slow build, but bit by bit, Smith guided the Griffs back to center. Then came the breakout season in 2013. Then came the expectation of success.
As the program grew, so too did Smith who on Thursday was officially announced as the new head coach at Rensselaer.
"At Canisius, I really felt we were on such a positive path, not only toward being and staying at the top of the league, but sniffing the NCAAs on a regular basis," Smith said. "When you get to the NCAAs anything can happen, and those kinds of conversations became real at Canisius.
"I believe RPI is starting in a different place with its history, its tradition, with success in the Frozen Four and as a member of the ECAC. I felt it was the right time. All those things being said, it had to fit in with our family and it was a family decision."
RPI went just 6-16-0 in the ECAC this past season, 8-28-1 overall. The last time the Engineers made the NCAA tournament was in 2010-11, entering as an at-large team with a 20-13-5 record. Since then RPI has had just two winning seasons.
But the Engineers have a storied past, producing a number of NHL players, including Joe Juneau and Adam Oates. The program won national titles in 1985 and 1954 and, according to the stats on USCHO.com, first played a collegiate game back in 1901.
Smith takes over the program after 12 seasons with Canisius, leading the team, which didn't become Division I until 1998, to its first NCAA tournament appearance (2013) and its first regular season Atlantic Hockey title (2017).
"If there's one word to describe those 12 years, it would be growth," Smith said. "From 12 years ago when I first took the position to today, for me there's been a lot of personal growth, growth as a coach on how I did things. There was a lot of growth as a staff, from our strength and conditioning coaches to our video guys to our analytics people. All of the people in and around the program, we all grew. There was a lot of growth with our alumni and bring Brian Cavanaugh back on the ice and getting him into the Canisius Hall of Fame.
"We were committed to growth and we had the support from the top down. We were growing as a program and growing the profile of college hockey in the Western New York community."
And Smith strongly threw his support behind assistant Trevor Large, who is likely the frontrunner to take over the Canisius program.
Large has been with the Griffs for three seasons after spending six years as an assistant at Army West Point (2008-14) and two at American International (2006-08).
"Trevor Large has been 11 years in Atlantic Hockey and has been at diverse institutions from AIC to Army West Point," Smith said. "He's been critical in driving the culture we've created at Canisius and in my opinion he is 100 percent ready to take that position and continue to grow."
Large was named interim head coach by Canisius athletics director Bill Maher in a statement issued by the school on Thursday.
“We are grateful for the tremendous contributions that Dave Smith made to the growth of our hockey program,” Maher said. “His dedication to building our hockey program and ensuring the student-athletes had a broad impact on our campus community were as important to Canisius as the championship success they achieved on the ice. Dave led our program to new heights, and the Smith family will always be an important part of Canisius. We wish him well in this next step of his career.
“Canisius is committed to building a program that can compete for championships in Atlantic Hockey. The search for the next head coach to continue our championship tradition will begin immediately. Assistant coach Trevor Large will serve as interim head coach until a permanent successor is named.”