Ice Griffs poised to make another run at Atlantic Hockey crown
By: Jay Ashdown
Going into the Griffs 2020-2021 hockey season not many would have predicted the team would finish the regular season second in the western pod and end up in the Atlantic Hockey title game. That’s exactly where they found themselves though, as the team fell just one period short of their second ever Atlantic Hockey title, and a spot in the NCAA tournament.
The team did lose some significant pieces from last season, as defensemen Logan Gestro and Blake Wareham graduated as well as captain Grant Meyer. While the team will miss the production from those three, they landed seven new transfers this off-season, and brought back Austin Alger as a graduate student for one more season.
Alex Ambrosio, Daniel DiGrande, John Hawthorne, Randy Hernandez, Joey Matthews, Cory Thomas and Jake Witkowski all join the program for the 2021-22 season, adding more experience and skill to a team that returns a lot of their skill from last year’s team.
While sophomore Randy Hernandez will provide a boost offensively for the Griffs after a stellar rookie campaign with Robert Morris, perhaps no addition besides him to this team will be larger than John Hawthorne. Hawthorne appeared in 21 games during his time with the Northern Michigan Wildcats, posting a 3.31 goals against average and a .880 save percentage to go along with a 5-6-3 record. While the numbers may not jump off the page, Hawthorne provides another option in net for head coach Trevor Large to keep starting goaltender Jacob Barczewski fresh throughout the course of the season.
The experience on this team is outstanding, even outside of the five graduate students the team boasts. The team has five seniors on it, including defenseman Derek Hamelin, goaltender Matt Ladd, and forwards Mitchell Martan, Lee Lapid, and J.D. Pogue, the captain of the team.
The blue line is a rock solid unit, headlined by Derek Hamelin as well as the steady puck moving defenseman in David Melaragni. While the blue line is relatively young compared to previous Griffs teams, they have the talent to hold down the fort in front of Barczewski, Ladd, and Hawthorne.
The offense is loaded in many different ways this season. The offensive unit is led at the top by the newly transferred Randy Hernandez as well as Keaton Mastrodonato. Hernandez scored 25 points in 24 games last season while Mastrodonato posted 18 points in 17 games. Mitchell Martan chipped in 15 points in 16 games last season, while Lee Lapid provided 10 points in 17 games.
The offense and defense for the Griffs remain solid heading into the 2021-22 campaign, but no unit will propel the Griffs this season better than the unit they have in net. The goaltending unit is led by Jacob Barcewski, last year’s Canisius Male Athlete of the Year award winner.
Barczewski appeared in 11 games last season, including 10 starts between the pipes for the Griffs, posting a 2.30 goals against average and .926 save percentage. During the regular season, he was the league leader in save percentage (.928) and ranked third in the AHA in goals against average (2.25).
In the postseason, the sophomore netminder recorded a 3-1 record, highlighted by a 35-save performance in a series-clinching win in the quarterfinal round against RIT and a 26-save effort in an overtime victory against nationally-ranked Army in the semifinals.
With Barczewski poised to continue his stellar play in net as the Griffs number one goaltender, the team still has two other solid options to rely on in net in the aforementioned Hawthorne and senior Matt Ladd.
Ladd provides 36 games of experience for the Griffs, compiling a 7-14-2 record, with 3 shutouts. The numbers for Ladd aren’t mind blowing, his career save percentage is .896 with a goals against average of 3.39. Where the hope lies for the 6-3 Ladd is his junior year was by far his best as a Griff. In seven starts for the Griffs last season, Ladd posted a save percentage of .913% and a goals against average of 2.86, both the best marks in his career.
With strong offense, solid defense, and quality goaltending, it’s no wonder the Griffs were picked to finish second in the conference behind last year's regular season and postseason champion AIC. AIC remains the top dog in the conference, having won the last two Atlantic Hockey titles, but the Griffs appear to be poised to make another run to avenge last year's title game loss and win their second ever title.
The Griffs season begins with a road series against a tough opponent in the Penn State Nittany Lions on Oct. 8 and 9.