Canisius' Shupe Shows Resiliency in Senior Year
by Joe Meloni/Senior Writer
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. By now, the name Cory Conacher resonates with most college hockey fans.
The Tampa Bay Lightning winger is among the favorites for the NHL's Calder Trophy — awarded to the league's rookie of the year — with nine goals and 15 assists in 33 games. Preston Shupe has known Conacher for about four years. He played with him at Canisius as a freshman and a sophomore. Conacher was Atlantic Hockey's Player of the Year in both his junior season with the Golden Griffins. Vincent Scarsella, another of Canisius' more talented players, centered the wingers.
The line quickly became one of the best in Atlantic Hockey. Scarsella played the pivot brilliantly between his wingers; Conacher providing the flash, and Shupe banging in the rink's most unforgiving areas. Playing alongside Conacher and Scarsella didn't make it too difficult for Shupe to succeed. Still, he relied on his own skill set — admittedly inferior to his linemates — to contribute.
This commitment to complementing his gifted cohorts resulted in a breakout season a freshman and another strong year as a sophomore. Shupe scored 10 goals in each of his first two season with Canisius.
"Playing with Cory and Vin was special," Shupe said. "They were tremendous linemates. Obviously, everyone knows what Cory's doing now. I'm not surprised. I don't think anyone who's ever played with him is. He's a tremendous player — same with Vin. We just meshed well. We got along really well off the ice."
"(Shupe) walked into a situation where he was on the left wing with Vin Scarsella and Cory Conacher for two years," CC coach Dave Smith said. "Ultimately, the strength of Preston is in that supplemental role where he's going to pick up any loose ends on the ice and off the ice."
Conacher and Scarsella left after Shupe's sophomore season. With his dynamic linemates went his production. Shupe scored just twice as a junior. The Golden Griffins went the same way. After a 10-22-4 season and quick exit from the Atlantic Hockey tournament, Shupe spent the summer thinking about his senior year and legacy at Canisius. Despite his struggles, his teammates unanimously elected him and Torrey Lindsay as captains for the 2012-13 season.
"He's a great leader," Canisius' leading scorer Kyle Gibbons said of Shupe. "We joke around a lot that he's really strict. At the same time, he's a lot of fun. When we're at the rink, when we're at the gym working out or before a game, he keeps us focused. He keeps us light when we're away. Like (Thursday), he was joking around a lot when we got (to Providence). He's a great guy. I played with him three years, and it's awesome to see his game come along. He had good freshman and sophomore years, and I know he kind of hit a lull. The resurgence in his game is awesome. He's a player for us.
"Also, I'm happy to see him scoring. Scoring goals is a lot of fun. The team smiles every time he scores. It's special because he's a senior. To see him go out like this is pretty enjoyable to watch."
Even without scoring goals the way he did as an underclassmen, his teammates' respect for Shupe defined his role before his senior season started.
"Last year, I had a rough year — battled through some injuries and didn't play my best," Shupe said. "Confidence is such a big thing. Last summer, I just refocused and reset and tried to forget about last year. It made me a stronger player. I sat down coach, and he told me he knew I could be the same player I had been. I got off to a good start this year. I've been able to keep that up for most of the season."
Smith didn't question his players' decision, either, knowing Shupe was set for a strong senior season.
"As a captain, he's the go between that has to relay the message not only from the coaches to the players, but from the players back to the coaches," Smith said. "On both sides of that, the coaches and the players know he's passionate about the message that needs to be delivered. In terms of his on-ice production, he's a wonderful example of somebody that believes he can do anything.
"If you just break down individual skills, he's not the most talented person, but his heart, his desire and his determination have allowed him to be, not only a captain and a Division I hockey player, but a successful player. … He's made a huge difference in our program in the last four years."
Shupe, in almost everything he does, embodies Canisius hockey. He defers to Gibbons as the club's leading scorer. Junior goaltender Tony Capobianco drew most of the praise with a dominant performance in the Atlantic Hockey tournament. Through it all, there was Shupe, pounding away in the low slot and along the walls, quietly leading his team through the steepest portion of college hockey's marathon season.
"I just have to work hard. I'm not the most skilled guy on the team," Shupe said. "I just try to play well and always be hard to play against. I think the rest of the guys are the same. We all know we have a role. We can't win if we don't play well as a team and within our roles. Everyone's done their jobs these last few weeks. We got here because of it. We don't want it to end."
That mindset, forgetting about a difficult junior season and focusing on a successful final year, led to a resurgence for Shupe. His 16 goals are second on the team, behind Gibbons' 20. He scored three goals and added a pair of assists during the Golden Griffins' conference tournament run, which resulted in their first-ever Atlantic Hockey tournament championship. Shupe assisted on two goals in Canisius' 7-2 win over Mercyhurst. The program's NCAA tournament debut comes Saturday night at 5:30 p.m. against Quinnipiac, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed, to kick off the East Regional at the Dunkin Donuts Center.
Few expect the Golden Griffins to advance past the first round. With Union or Boston College awaiting should Canisius advance, a win on Saturday doesn't do much to improve CC's chances of a Frozen Four berth.
Shupe doesn't mind that much, though. It's a concept he's accustomed to and has thrived under.
No one outside of Canisius' locker room expected much of him this season either.