Anticipation builds with Canisius hockey just over the horizon
By Colton Pankiewicz, Sports Editor
A shaky 2023 regular season did not matter after the Griffs clinched the fourth seed in the Atlantic Hockey Playoffs. They defeated Army then Niagara in a best-of-three series before advancing to the Conference Championship where Canisius, for just the second time ever, clinched their ticket to the Frozen Four Playoff in a 3–0 victory against Holy Cross. Pairing up against number-one–seeded Minnesota, who carried 14 NHL draftees at the time, Canisius was an afterthought to what Minnesota was eyeing.
Head coach Trevor Large led his group into Fargo, North Dakota and went toe-to-toe with the talented Golden Gophers for 40 minutes. They headed into the locker room after the first period, knotted at one with the number-one seed in college hockey. Holding Minnesota to a pair of goals in the second period, Canisius trailed just by one goal heading into the final period before the Gophers netted six goals in the final 19 minutes, putting Canisius’s historic season to rest.
Moving into the offseason, the Golden Griffins lost their superstar goaltender Jacob Barczewski, who started 100 games for the program over the past four years. As the oldest team in the country, they, of course, lost a considerable amount of their championship-winning team. They were however able to bring back three of their top five leaders in points.
Arguably, their best returnee was graduate student David Melaragni, who graduated last spring and moved into the professional world before it was announced on X (formerly known as Twitter) that he was returning to the school for a fifth season. Melaragni led Canisius’s defenseman with 25 points and 21 assists a year ago. Just weeks after it was announced that he would return, the Atlantic Hockey Association named Melaragni to the Preseason All-AHA Team.
“I'm fortunate to be back with the team. It's good to be named to [All-AHA], but it’s not the focus. The focus is to win games while also taking things one day at a time,” said the former Griffs captain.
This offseason, head coach Trevor Large announced 13 new names to the roster, with five of those names being freshmen and the remaining eight transfers. Coming from notable schools like Maine, Michigan State, Providence, Ferris State and a handful of others, Large brought in more experience to an already mature group. One player in particular, Killian Kiecker-Olson, a transfer from the University of Maine, expressed his excitement to be at Canisius. “I felt like everything just aligned. I knew some guys here that I was on a junior team with and we were all very tight. I’m excited to be here of course, but I’m going to have the mindset that I have every season – focusing on one thing at a time,” said Kiecker-Olson.
Weeks after the Golden Griffins started organized activity, they announced that Max Kouznetsov would be their 2023-2024 captain. The senior spent last year as one of the team’s assistant captains, and in three seasons with the team he totaled 48 points through 91 games in his career.
“It’s an honor considering the leaders that have come before me. J.D Pogue, [Keaton] Mastradonato and [David] Melaragni have all set the example of what great leaders look like,” said Kouznetsov. After the announcement was made, teammates and coaches gave praise to their now captain.
“I consider him a brother, he’s the best person I know,” said a teammate.
"He is selfless, determined and focused on becoming the best leader and player he can be. He helps define what it is to be positive, competitive and team-first on a daily basis. We are all in great hands with Max as our captain,” added his head coach.
After his best finish as head coach for Canisius, Trevor Large reflected on their Frozen Four Tournament game: “In retrospect, we scared the number one team in the country,” he said. Going into his seventh season after being named head coach in 2017, Large explained the outlook for the 2023-2024 season. He expects transfer student, David Fessenden, to lead the way in the net. “He’s separated himself. He looks like a really good goalie, with lots of experience.” The six-foot-six senior spent the last two seasons with the University of New Hampshire where he appeared in 36 games, posting a .911 save percentage. Large said his goal is to compete for a regular season championship, but it's going to take the team time to learn how to play with each other. “The plan is to do it again, to play [Minnesota] again and win a national championship as the head coach of Canisius,” he finished with.
Canisius starts their season on Oct. 13, playing against Miami of Ohio before heading to Michigan State the following week. The Griffs home opener is not until Nov. 3, where they get a championship rematch against Sacred Heart for their first conference game of the season after being notched at fifth in the AHA Preseason rankings.