Column: Anthony Cusanelli invaluable piece to Wildcats
Arizona Forward Anthony Cusanelli (15) skates with GCU players towards the puck on Sept. 29 at Tucson Convention Center.
Anthony Cusanelli is a franchise player for the Wildcats.
In the span of nine games, Cusanelli has 11 goals. With four assists to go with it, he's leading the Wildcats in points.
But back to the goals.
Cusanelli is the leading goal scorer on the team by two goals. Josh Larson has nine, and from there it drops off to three apiece for each player following. His ability to find the twine also has him tied for third in goals across all Division I ACHA men's players.
Cusanelli is key to Arizona's success right now, but he's going to be more than just a man with a hot stick — he's going to be a star for years to come, and he's on track to be their hottest scorer from this recruiting class.
Cusanelli's offensive ability will be the best on the team; he's shown such tremendous drive and ability so early on. Granted, it's easier to be so effective when the team is 6-3, but while the team as a whole is generally killing it, no single player is stepping up quite like Cusanelli. No other player is going out there and having players take his number down and be matched up against the top pairs. No other player is scoring goals at the rate he is. With 11 goals in nine games, Cusanelli is due for 44 goals this season.
Not to mention, Cusanelli is one of the many young recruits on the team. He's excelling in his very first games on the ACHA level. When jumping from one level of hockey to another, regardless of what leagues or levels, a transition period is expected, but he is having no setbacks early on, and that is pretty unusual and fantastic for the team and the coaching staff.
He's not immune to rough patches later down the road, but it's easier to pick up momentum after losing some than trying to find some when there wasn't any to begin with.
Spreading the talent
The Central Oklahoma Bronchos won the National Championship last year and had three players with 20 goals. The NCAA Division I Frozen Four champion, the University of Denver Pioneers, had two players tied for the team lead with 22 goals. Success is built on goal-scorers and point-earners.
Arizona doesn't have that, but they will.
Cusanelli is one of the best players Arizona has seen and therefore can make players around him better. If he is getting 30 goals a season, other players are going to be picking up assists on those. And while he can score goals himself pretty well, he's not against passing the puck sometimes, so other players will have goals stack up next to their names.
One great player translates to many great players, and that means a championship for a team hungry for one.
Fountain of youth
As previously mentioned, Cusanelli is one of several new recruits who are joining the Wildcats this season. Since he transferred from the NAHL, a junior league and not another school, Cusanelli likely has four years to be a Wildcat.
That means four years of goals raining from the sky.
And if there's anything true about hockey players, they get better with age. Look at one of the Wildcats' best scorers from previous years: Toppie Hogan. From the 2014-15 season to the 2016-17 season he totaled 16 points, 16 points and 64 points. Toppie's goals also increased from 8 to 9 to 30.
It's not to say that Cusanelli will quadruple his point production or triple his goal totals in a few years (not out of the question though), but his productivity as a player will undoubtedly increase. The more he finds chemistry with his teammates and new line mates — simultaneously learning the systems and solidifying his style of play — the more he'll find himself on the stat sheet.
While Cusanelli might be impressive now, he's got a lot more in store for years to come. And that might be the best part of him. With players graduating and leaving all the time, it's a struggle for college teams to make a name for themselves and become an established force in the league. But players like Cusanelli are the keys to getting over that hump, being the best and establishing that winning culture.
He's young and talented and should be with the team for a while. What more can the team ask for?
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