Cavanaugh Remembered Again For Canisius' Past
by Adam Wodon/Managing Editor
PROVIDENCE, R.I. Brian Cavanaugh coached Canisius through 24 years. Twenty-four years of being a club team, a Division III team, and ultimately a Division I team. He coached them through playing at two community rinks, as a part-timer, making $3,500 per year.
Cavanaugh was made a full-time coach in 2000. By 2004, he was fired, 15 days before Christmas, amid a tumultuous year in the program's history. His players had created a list of grievances about him that was published by the Buffalo News. The athletic director let Cavanaugh go for reasons that were never fully clear, then was fired himself just a few months later.
And then Cavanaugh was forgotten, for eight years, as Dave Smith slowly built the program to new heights.
Until this week.
"The sad part was, the thing I loved the most — being involved in college hockey more than half my life — but not being involved anymore," Cavanaugh said when reached by phone, vacationing in Florida. "That's the tough part. When people read about something, they fix it in their mind, and there's hardly ever a follow up."
As Canisius gets set to participate in the NCAA tournament for the first time, it has begun to embrace the positives of its long history, one that had been buried for a while because of the unfortunate way things ended under Cavanaugh.
It's an embrace worth having, because without Cavanaugh, Canisius hockey may not exist right now.
"Three times when I was there, (the administration) tried to kill hockey," Cavanaugh said. "I lobbied everyone I could.
"When we formed a new conference, people from the ECAC, CCHA, they said, 'What are you doing, you guys aren't good enough,'" Cavanaugh said. "That solidified programs like Holy Cross, Canisius, Sacred Heart. Then when the CHA folded, Niagara had a chance (to survive). If it wasn't for that, I don't know where those schools would be."
Cavanaugh was admittedly bitter for quite some time. He moved on, to become an athletic director at a small Division III school in the Buffalo area called D'Youville. It doesn't have a hockey program.
"D'Youville was a life saver for me," Cavanaugh said. "Even though there's no hockey, it's a small D-III school with a growing sports program."
It took a while for the sting to go away, and it may never fully do so. But this year's run has given everyone in and around the program an opportunity to both celebrate, and truly move forward. That includes current coach Dave Smith, who took over just a few months after Cavanaugh was let go and was in an admittedly tricky situation.
"(Smith) has come to understand that the past itself wasn't all that bad," Cavanaugh said. "When he came in, he wanted to wipe away the entire past and promote his own legacy. Every time he was quoted for a year or two, it was about a brand new start with no mention of any part of the past 24 years. And that was offensive to me, yeah. There were low periods at the end, and how it went down, but there were also good parts.
"But he understands now the importance of embracing the kids who played during that time. Because some are lawyers, and doctors, and leaders, and they might be able to help the program. ... It was a refreshing breeze to hear that. So this is good, good for the kids who played in the program."
Smith has done a great job taking the program to new heights. He's also had the kind of institutional support Cavanaugh never had. Canisius has a long way to go before being national title contenders, but simply being a strong, mid-major program that can contend for the NCAAs, is signs of coming a long way. Far enough now, that everyone can come together again.
"I'm happy for the kids that played for me in the 24 years I coached," Cavanaugh said. "They've picked up the paper the last few days and read about Canisius making the NCAAs and the progress they've made, and they're calling me, and they feel proud that they were a part of something."
Cavanaugh doesn't expect to ever return to college coaching. It's reality he's accepted.
"Not many programs want to hire a 60-year old coach," Cavanaugh said. "What's done is done. God put eyes in the front of your head for a reason, to look forward."