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Danford signs pro deal in France

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Ben Danford signed to play next season in France. (buffalonews.com)

 

by Amy Moritz

It's a big weekend for Ben Danford what with his graduation from Canisius College and his birthday wrapped into one neat celebration. Friends and family members stumped for a gift might want to look at English-French phrase books or perhaps an edition or two of Lonely Planet tour guides.

Danford became the first member of the Ice Griffs class of 2014 to secure a hockey job next year, signing with Strasbourg of France's Ligue Magnus.

"I've never been to Europe and this is a good opportunity to not only play hockey but to see the world," Danford said. "I think looking back when I'm older I won't regret the decision."

A native of Stillwater, Minn., Danford's 74 assists are the most in program history by a defenseman while his 84 points rank second. A Third-Team All-Atlantic Hockey selection he was named the Griffs' most valuable player this season.

After Canisius lost in the Atlantic Hockey championship game, Danford signed an amateur tryout contract with the Manchester Monarchs with the AHL. He played in three games before injuring knee -- an irony after Danford went his entire four year collegiate career without missing one game. That's a 158-game streak, the 13th-longest streak in NCAA history.

Danford said he never expected to have an AHL opportunity this season and while he could have tried the pro hockey route in North America and attempt to make a club out of a fall training camp, he opted for the opportunity in France.

"In the long run, this is a better fit for me," Danford said. "I think with my age and where I stand in my game right now, it just suits me better."

As far as the knee, a strained ligament from an awkward hit, he has been working his first real round of rehabilitation in his hockey career.

"I've been working out regularly and lifting the same amount of weight I did before the injury," Danford said. "It's back to normal and I can start skating soon.

"I've been very lucky in college and even in my youth years, I never had any injury that put me out this long a time. It was always just minor things here and there. This is the first time I've experienced anything like this. It's not easy. But I stayed diligent and kept working on it. The knee is stronger and feels good now."

Danford will graduate from Canisius with a degree in management on Saturday -- the same day he turns 25. He will have two months before he packs and heads over to France for training camp in August.

"It really hasn't all hit me yet," Danford said. "Once I start packing I'll probably have a huge culture shock."

The culture shock will be eased slightly by his former teammate and roommate Preston Shupe who will join Danford on the Strasbourg team. Shupe, who graduated from Canisius in 2013, played this past season with the Columbus (Georgia) Cottonmouths in the Southern Professional Hockey League.

"We pretty much signed at the same time and it was a bit of a package deal for us to go to the same team," Danford said. "We talked it over with each other and thought this opportunity was the best for fit for us.

"They start up in the beginning of August and the exhibition games start soon after that. The season runs from late August through earlier April so it's a little earlier than North America. They play a lot less games which makes it attractive and easier on the body. They play a little more than 40 games so it's similar to a college season."

Canisius hockey announces team awards

by Amy Moritz

Final exams are wrapping up and Canisius College said a final farewell to the 2013-14 season by announcing its team award winners.

Senior defenseman Ben Danford was named the Ice Griffs Most Valuable Player. He's just the third defenseman in the Division I era to earn the honor. Danford set a career this season with 27 points (five goals, 22 assists). During his four year career he played in every game -- 158 straight games. He set the program's DI record for most assists by a defenseman with 74. He also became the first player in program history to be named the team's Top Defenseman for four straight years.

Senior Kyle Gibbons was named the team's Top Forward for the second straight year. He led the Griffs with 38 points (15 goals, 23 assists) and finished his career ranked fourth in program history with 130 points and second (to Cory Conacher) with 57 goals.

Freshman forward Shane Conacher earned the team's Rookie of the Year award. He ranked 20th nationally among rookies with 0.72 points per game after collecting 23 points (six goals, 17 assists). His best hockey came in the Atlantic Hockey Playoffs where he had eight points (three goals, five assists) in seven games.

Junior Braeden Rigney keeps getting better and better, winning the team's Most Improved Player Award for the second time. He had 14 points with nine goals this season after recording 11 points with three goals in his first two seasons combined.

Senior captain Ryan Bohrer received the Dr. David B. Dietz Award which goes to a player for his dedication to athletics and academics. Bohrer has a 3.979 grade point average and played in all 41 games this season.

Senior forward Patrick Sullivan, a native of Derby, was named the team's unsung hero with the Tom Chapman Memorial Award. Playing in all 41 games he had 24 points (13 goals, 11 assists).

Junior goaltender Keegan Asmundson received the team's Community Outreach Award for his work in off-ice community service programs. 

Reggie Witherspoon headed to Alabama as assistant coach

By Rodney McKissic

Reggie Witherspoon, the former University at Buffalo coach, has resurfaced at Alabama where he will assist Anthony Grant, The News has learned.

Witherspoon, who was fired at UB in 2013 after 14 seasons at the school, did not coach during the 2013-14 season. A source said Witherspoon attended the King James Shooting Stars AAU tournament last weekend in Akron, Ohio, apparently evaluating prospects for the Crimson Tide.

Witherspoon held a news conference at his home this afternoon.

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Photo gallery: Reggie Witherspoon through the years

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Alabama finished 13-19 overall and 7-11 in the SEC under Grant, who is entering his sixth season with the program.

Last summer, Witherspoon was prepared to accept an athletic administrative position at Erie Community College until a contract dispute between Witherspoon and UB couldn’t be resolved. Witherspoon was hesitant to commit to the job given UB’s stance that doing so would relieve the university of its remaining financial obligation to him. He had two years remaining on his deal with UB, which apparently is off the hook with Witherspoon now that he’s headed to Alabama.

Canisius hockey inks four recruits

by Amy Moritz

The ink is dry on the National Letters of Intent and Canisius hockey officially announced that four more players will be joining the Golden Griffins next season.

Forwards David Parrottino and Mike Sabatini, defenseman David Bennett and goalie Reilly Turner were formally announced by the program on Friday.

"Our program is excited about the entire incoming class," Canisius coach Dave Smith said. "We feel this class brings players who are great teammates with a lot of on-ice skill and off-ice character. It is a diverse group  that will have the opportunity to make an immediate difference in our lineup."

A quick look at the incoming class:

  • Parrottino played in 56 games for the Lincoln Stars of the USHL this past season, finishing with 32 points (nine goals, 23 assists). Parrottino is a native of Rochester Hills, Mich., and is a teammate of defenseman Zack Pittman, who signed his letter of intent to join the Griffs in November.
  • Sabatini was named the team MVP of the Soo Eagles of the NAHL after leading the squad with 41 points (19 goals, 22 assists). A native of Grosse Point Woods, Mich., he was selected to the 2014 NAHL Top Prospects Tournament.
  • Bennett, a native of Ottawa, Ontario, was a second-team CCHL All-Star with the Cumberland Grads. He ranked sixth in the league in scoring among defenders (37 points, 11 goals, 26 assists).
  • Turner was a teammate of Bennett's with the Cumberland Grads. The Temiscaming, Quebec native posted a .909 save percentage and a 3.24 goals against in 44 games.

The four join a freshman class that includes Pittman, forwards Jeff Murray, Ryan Schmeizer and Nolan Sheeran who signed in the fall.

A shootout win for Capobianco as he makes an unexpected AHL debut

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Tony Capobianco picked up his first pro win. (phantomshockey.com)

 

by Amy Moritz

The first intermission was almost over and Adirondack's starting goaltender Carsen Chubak was still in the training room with an undisclosed injury. The Phantoms needed someone to lead them out onto the ice and, oh yeah, take the net.

Hey, Tony Capobianco. You're up.

The former Canisius College goalie saw his first action in the American Hockey League Wednesday night and picked up his first professional win as the Phantoms defeated the Syracuse Crunch, 5-4, in a shootout in Onondaga County War Memorial Arena.

Capobianco had just signed an amateur tryout contract with the Phantoms over the weekend as injuries in the Philadelphia Flyers organization had a trickle-down effect. (Buffalo Sabres fans, you know the drill.) He had originally signed a contract with Elmira of the East Coast Hockey League after the Golden Griffins' season ended in the Atlantic Hockey championship game. He played in two games for the Jackals but the team ended up with a glut of goalies and Capobianco was released.

When his agent called with the opportunity from Adirondack, he jumped on it, although he wasn't expecting to jump into his first game quite like that.

"The first shot was a breakaway and I made the save. That helped my confidence," Capobianco said. "The second shot was a breakaway and they scored on it. I thought, 'This will be interesting if this is the way it's going to go.' The guys played well in front of me and helped me settle down."

Capobianco gave up two goals in the third period, the second one which he would like back. The Phantoms tied the game and after a scoreless overtime it went to a shootout -- which lasted nine rounds.

The last time Capobianco participated in a shootout?

"I can't even remember it but it had to be juniors," he said. "The guys on the bench were laughing about it, that it was my first game and I was throw into a shootout. I only had two or three skates with the team before the game and I never took any breakaways or shootouts with them. I aksed the ref about the rules for skating from the crease, touching the puck. I didn't want to make a rookie mistake and look foolish."

The shootout went back and forth with Capobianco making the final two saves to earn the win.

The Phantoms, who did not qualify for the AHL playoffs, have two games left in the season. Capobianco isn't sure if he'll get a call back into the net or if Chubak will return.

The two goalies and former rivals are now actually roommates. Chubak stared for Niagara in the 2012-13 season winning Atlantic Hockey Player of the Year. He left school last year after his junior season to pursue pro hockey opportunities.

Capobianco stayed for his senior season and became the most decorated goaltender in Canisius College history (seriously, if you need a reminder, revisit gogriffs.com).

The two have plenty to talk about.

"We talked about last year and playing against each other and other guys in the league," Capobianco said. "I'm rooming with him for the rest of my stay here. We have some common ground to talk some Atlantic Hockey."

The highlight package features the goals, so not exactly Capo at his best, but does finish with his game-winning stop in the shootout.

Conacher named Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Month

 

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Shane Conacher was named Atlantic Hockey Rookie of the Month. (gogriffs.com)


by Amy Moritz

Shane Conacher finished his freshman season at Canisius College with some incredibly strong performances in the playoffs. Hence, he caps off the season being named Atlantic Hockey's Rookie of the Month.

Not a bad way to end the year after a bad luck start. Conacher missed nine games after his jaw was broken in the season opener at Niagara.

He found his stride as the season progressed and came into his own in seven post season games where he posted eight points (three goals, five assists) and was a plus-8.

His first career game-winning goal came in his first collegiate playoff game as the Golden Griffins swept Sacred Heart int he first round.

He was instrumental in the Griffs' third-period rally in an elimination game second-seeded Bentley. He had three points, a goal and two assists, as the Griffs rallied from a 4-1 deficit for a dramatic 5-4 double-overtime win in Game 2. He then picked up an assist on the game-winning goal in the decisive Game 3.

At the Atlantic Hockey Final Four in Rochester, he had two assists in the semifinal win over top-seeded Mercyhurst and scored a third-period goal against Robert Morris in the title game.

Conacher finished his rookie season with 23 points (six goals, 17 assists) in 32 games.

Two transfer from St. Bonaventure

By Rodney McKissic

Add two more names to the ever expanding transfer list: St. Bonaventure's Matthias Runs and Jean Yves Toupane who the school announced will not return to the program.

These aren’t huge losses. Runs, a 7-foot sophomore center from Hilversum, Netherlands, played in just two games while Toupane, a 6-foot-7 forward from Dakar, Senegal, played in six and scored four points.

The only other Big 4 player who has elected to transfer thus far is Niagara's Tajere McCall.

Canisius and Niagara's Class of 2014 in the pros: An update

by Amy Moritz

Ben Danford never missed a game in his four-year career at Canisius College. Not one single game. The defenseman from Minnesota played in 158 games for the Golden Griffins -- the 13th longest streak in NCAA history.

So of course he gets injured in his first pro hockey stint.

Danford signed an amateur tryout contract with the Manchester Monarchs, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Los Angeles Kings, when the Griffs' season ended in the Atlantic Hockey title game.

He played in three games for the Monarchs and had a plus-one rating before injuring his knee last Sunday. Danford said it was an awkward hit where his knee bent inwards. The injury appears to be short term and Danford is already working out and putting the knee through rehab.

Catching up on the other seniors who signed professional deals first for Canisius:

Kyle Gibbons -- signed with the Toledo Walleye of the East Coast Hockey League. The Walleye did not make the playoffs but Gibbons recorded three assists in 10 games.

Taylor Law --  played in four games and scored two goals for the Elmira Jackals of the ECHL. The Jackals played their last game on Sunday and Law was released from his amateur tryout contract on Monday.

Duncan McKellar -- played in one game for Elmira and was released from his ATO on March 31.

Tony Capobianco -- signed with Elmira and was released by the team. He then signed an amateur tryout contract on Monday with the Adirondack Phantoms, the AHL affiliate of the Philadelphia Flyers. Capobianco, the most decorated goalie in Canisius history, played in two games with Elmira recording 38 saves including 31 in his only start for the Jackals. He joins a goaltending corps in Glens Falls which includes, wait for it, Carsen Chubak who left Niagara after his junior season last year to pursue pro hockey opportunities.

Speaking of Niagara:

Kevin Ryan -- signed with with the South Carolina Stingrays. The defenseman was officially named to the team's playoff roster as the Stingrays compete for the Kelly Cup. Ryan played in eight regular season games and has a goal and two assists.

Ryan Rashid -- played six game with the Elmira Jackals with two goals and two assists.

Matt Williams -- went the Central Hockey League (CHL) route and signed with the Brampton Beast. He had one goal in three games for the Beast, who were eliminated from the playoffs.

Patrick Divjak -- also signed with the CHL making the Rapid City Rush roster for the playoffs. He has yet to play a game.

Hartman takes position at Rice

By Rodney McKissic

Carlin Hartman will join the staff at Rice University and serve as associate head coach under first-year coach Mike Rhoades.

Hartman, who starred at Grand Island and is a 1990 graduate, recently completed his fourth season at Columbia University where he was also the associate head coach. Columbia finished this past season tied for third-place in the Ivy League with an overall record of 21-13 and 8-6 in league play.

Hartman, who played at Tulane 1990-94, returns to where his coaching career began in 1996 when he was an assistant at Rice. He also served as the director of basketball operations at the school from 2002-04. This is Hartman’s eighth stop in his coaching career.   

Bonnies look to extend Schmidt's contract

By Rodney McKissic

Now that Mark Schmidt has moved on from Boston College, St. Bonaventure is looking to extend his contract.

Schmidt’s current deal runs through the 2018-19 season and the Bonnies hope to extend the coach another two years, according to a source.

“We are thrilled that Mark has decided to continue as the head coach of our men’s basketball program," St. Bonaventure AD Steve Watson said in a statement released by the school. “He has done a remarkable job of building the program. We hope Mark will be our coach for a long time, and to that end, we have started discussions about an extension of our commitment to him.”

ESPN reported Tuesday morning that Schmidt was no longer an option at Boston College. A source confirmed that Schmidt spoke with former South Carolina coach Eddie Fogler, whose search firm is working on behalf of Boston College. According to the source, Boston College athletics director Brad Bates did not ask St. Bonaventure athletics director Steve Watson permission to speak with Schmidt, a common practice among ADs, although Bates was not obligated to do so.

Fogler spoke directly to Schmidt, who kept Watson apprised of the proceedings, the source said. Neither Schmidt nor Watson were available for comment.

Schmidt has a 106-109 record at St. Bonaventure and in 2012 he led the Bonnies to their first NCAA Tournament bid since 2000. Schmidt played at Boston College from 1981-85.

“It is an honor to be the head coach at St. Bonaventure,” Schmidt said in a statement released by the school. “This is a fantastic University with passionate fans in a community my family and I are proud to call home.”

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About Campus Watch

Bob Dicesare

Bob DiCesare

Western New York native Bob DiCesare covers UB football, Big 4 basketball and writes an occasional column. He still holds a grudge against Chris Ford who, he's convinced, cost St. Bonaventure the 1970 NCAA basketball championship.

@TBNDicesare | bdicesare@buffnews.com


Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz

Amy Moritz, a native of Lockport, has covered colleges for The Buffalo News since 1999. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism/mass communication from St. Bonaventure University and a master’s degree in humanities from the University at Buffalo. An endurance athlete, she has completed several triathlons, half marathons and marathons.

@amymoritz | amoritz@buffnews.com

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