By: Jay Ashdown
With Canisius’s hockey season starting next Friday at Penn State, there’s already a lot of hope surrounding a Griffs squad that is returning a large majority of the roster that took the team to the Atlantic Hockey championship game last year. With many of the players from last year returning, the team has also brought in seven new players from the transfer portal as well to boost the roster. None of them quite have the excitement centered around them like sophomore Randy Hernandez does.
Hernandez is a 6–0 winger who comes from Robert Morris after the Colonials program folded back in May. Hernandez, a Miami, FL native, went to Robert Morris after playing for the United States Hockey National Team Development Program (USNTDP) for two years when he was 17 and 18 years old. While playing for the USNTDP, he had the chance to play with three current NHL players, including defenseman Quinn Hughes with the Vancouver Canucks, forward Brady Tkachuk with the Ottawa Senators and Joel Farabee with the Philadelphia Flyers.
After his two years with the USNTDP, Hernandez played two years in the USHL with the Sioux City Musketeers and the Lincoln Stars. He spent the next year in the 2019-20 season playing for the Brooks Bandits in the AJHL, posting 95 points in 57 games, including 42 goals. In his one season with Robert Morris, Hernandez posted 11 goals and 14 assists for 25 points in 24 games.
After his impressive rookie campaign, Hernandez was named AHA Western Pod Rookie of the Year, as the Colonials went on to win the western pod division title before being eliminated in the first round by Niagara in three games.
The situation with Robert Morris’s program folding is incredibly unfortunate for both the Atlantic Hockey Association (AHA) as well as college hockey and its players in general. Regardless, Hernandez has kept a very positive attitude throughout the whole process, and he now finds himself here at Canisius with former teammate Simon Gravel, whom he played with at Brooks back in the 2018-19 season.
“I talked to Keaton Mastrodonato in the summer and I knew Simon from Brooks, so we had that connection,” said Hernandez. “It's great to already know and talk to some of the guys and it made my decision easier.”
To add to the excitement surrounding the new sophomore forward, Hernandez was also named to the Coaches’ Preseason All-AHA Team, along with junior goaltender Jacob Barczewski. The Griffs were also slated to finish second in the conference according to the coaches poll.
Defending AHA regular season and tournament champion AIC is the favorite, earning nine first-place votes in the poll as well as 90 total points. The Golden Griffins received one first-place selection and 72 total points to place second, while Army came in at third with 69 points and rival RIT came in at fourth with 64.
One of the hardest parts of transferring in any sport is moving from one city to another, and nobody has more experience in the program than former NHL player and current assistant coach Daniel Paille.
“Any time you come to a new team, there’s a lot of questions and it can be very overwhelming,” explained Paille. “I think one of the best pieces of advice I could give to Randy is just ‘Show us who you are,’ and the sooner the better. That’s when guys open up more, and that’s when your natural self comes out and things will work out on and off the ice. Randy has been really great so far; he’s showing his personality every day, and with the season starting next week we’ll get the chance to see a little bit more of him.”
Hernandez will have a huge impact offensively for the Griffs, and that’s huge for a team that has three solid goaltenders to rely on in Jacob Barczewski, Matt Ladd and John Hawthorne, a recent addition to the team transferring from Northern Michigan. With strong goalies in net, the Griffs should be able to cruise through the regular season with the strong offense they boast. Hernandez joins a loaded unit alongside Keaton Mastrodonato, Lee Lapid, Mitchell Martan and Simon Gravel.
Everyone involved in the program is excited about what Randy can do for this team, but perhaps nobody is more excited about him than head coach Trevor Large.
“His speed and skill are pretty obvious to just about anyone who watches him,” said Large. “We’re excited about who he is as a person, as well as who he is as a hockey player. Our expectations are very high for him here.”
The Griffs also have five graduate students on the team, with four of them having just transferred here. Forwards Jake Witkowski and Alex Ambrosio as well as defensemen Cory Thomas and Joey Matthews join the Griffs with a lot of experience to add to a team poised to make a run this year to an NCAA tournament appearance. Austin Alger also returns for one final season as a graduate student after spending the last three seasons with the program and playing his freshman year campaign at Miami, Ohio.
The Griffs kick off the season next Friday with a two-game series at Penn State, before playing a two-game series on the road at RPI the weekend after that. The Griffs will play a road game at No. 19 Clarkson and a two-game home series against Ferris State before they finally kick off conference play Nov. 5 at Bentley.