It has been, to say the least, an interesting journey for the Canisius Crusaders hockey team the past two seasons.
Two years ago, in head coach Sam Belsito’s first year returning to the program, the Crusaders shocked the state by upsetting a senior-heavy St. Joe’s team for the WNY Varsity Ice Hockey Federation Private School title, before going on to win the NYSCHSAA championship.
Last season, the tables were turned as the Marauders beat Canisius on Super Monday before going on to to win the state championship.
Now, as Year Three under Belsito begins, the coach feels he has put his stamp on the program and kids understand what is expected of them each and every day.
“Going into this year, my third year in a row, we had a very strong summer with our summer conditioning, our summer skates, our summer workout,” Belsito said, prior to a practice at the North Buffalo Rink.
“I’ve been with the kids for months already. We’ve been going at it all summer long. They’ve learned what my expectations are. What the program’s expectations are. What we’re trying to accomplish here. I’m putting in a lot of extra time, but they’re also putting in a lot of extra time as well. We’re all on the same page. We’re all working together. Hopefully our hard work will pay off.”
Leading the way for Canisius will be senior captain Kevin Bennett and junior Cole Beiter. Both forwards, Bennett and Beiter as the program’s last two links to that 2015 state championship season.
“It definitely taught us a lot,” Kevin Bennett said. “From two years ago, the state championship, we have two guys me and Cole Beiter back. That was probably the highest of the high that anyone around here can get. Then last year losing to Joe’s three times, that’s the worst. Losing in general sucks but especially to your rival-that’s not very fun. But I think that’s motivated every single returning guy. This off season everybody put in tons of work. Skating. In the weight room. I think that’s going to translate to success.”
Losing 12 seniors, the Crusaders aren’t in a full blown rebuild, but players know there will be a need for everyone to step up and do more.
Senior Mark Matthews comes in as the team’s No.1 defenseman and junior forward William Brown will also be key. Senior Ryan O’Donnell will get the call between the pipes as the team’s No.1 goalie.
While the sting of losing to St. Joe’s on Super Monday was clearly etched on Belsito’s face, one can’t help but wonder if the pained expression on Belsito’s face wasn’t just about dealing with the loss. It also seemed to suggest that had the team been on the same page perhaps they would have had a better fate.
“We’ve discussed last year with my returning guys. Privately, within our locker room, we talked about what we thought our issues were and what our weaknesses were,” Belsito said. “It is something that we have quickly addressed and we all addressed together as a group. We were all aware. We all took the blame (to) a certain part. We are on the road to correcting exactly what it is, without speaking outside of the locker room, we’re on top of it.”
Belsito said that Kevin Bennett has been a true captain from the word go. Stepping up during summer workouts and impressing upon his teammates the importance of being as one from start to finish.
Bennett said that it falls on the shoulders of he and Cole Beiter to remind everyone that they can do it. As well as remind them of the level of commitment that it will take to succeed. “We know what it takes to get there. I think we’ve just got to teach everyone, and a lot of guys already know,” Bennett said.
“They know all the work it takes to get there. Everyone so far has been putting in so much work. It’s just our job to kinda motivate them. Keep pushing them because we are gonna lose some games. Everyone loses some games. Just know that you have to keep pushing through it. Keep working and we’ll get there.”
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