1. The UNB Varsity Reds and StFX X-Men gave us another absolute classic in what’s a never ending novel chronicling the terrific history between these two programs. Saturday’s matchup had everything you could look for in a rivalry, and the Keating Centre had its fabled playoff atmosphere once again. In talking with some in the Fredericton area, it feels like this was UNB’s biggest win of the season thus far, and with good reason. After falling to StFX on home ice just one week prior, coming into enemy territory to steal one away from StFX in a shootout had to feel good. Chase Marchand now leads the AUS in save percentage with .927% after he made 41 saves against UNB. In the month of January alone, his save percentage is .953% despite the fact he has a losing record. UNB’s goaltending situation is a little less clear. It still appears Gardiner wants to go with Alex Dubeau for the high-leverage games, but has found ways to work in Rylan Parenteau more recently. This goalie battle might just intensify down the stretch if Parenteau elevates his play.
2. The Acadia Axemen are the first team in U SPORTS this year to reach the 100 goal plateau. The honour of the 100th goal goes to Michael Zipp, who recorded his third of the season. The Axemen have three players in double digits for goals already, and Kyle Farrell at 15 might be the biggest surprise of them all. Farrell hasn’t gone more than three games in a row without scoring this season (only done once), and has been a huge compliment to stars Boston Leier and Stephen Harper this season. The trio are on pace to break the 45 goal mark combined, and would be only the second Acadia top three scorers to do so in the last decade, joining Liam Heelis, Brett Thompson, and Michael Clarke who combined to score 48 goals in 2013-14.
3. This was one of the better performances from the Dalhousie Tigers this week who lose to UNB, but beat UPEI and combine to score 10 goals on the week. Goal-scoring has been an enormous struggle for Dal all season, as they sit just one above RMC for the lowest goal total (44) in U SPORTS. Reid Murphy broke out for the first three goals of his AUS career on the weekend and both Colton Heffley and Chandler Yakimowicz had good offensive showings. But it’s still clear this team hasn’t found a replacement for Phil Gadoury who hasn’t played anywhere this season after making a run at pro.
4. The Moncton Aigles Bleus gave Jason Rioux a shot this week as the third goalie they’ve used this season. Having played most of his junior career in tier II, Rioux did get shots with the Moncton Wildcats in three separate seasons. Although he doesn’t compare to what Moncton is getting next year in Etienne Montpetit, his 34 save performance against Acadia might suggest he’s worth a serious look this season as somebody who can slide in as a backup for next year. Vincent Deslauriers continues to be a great top-end threat for Moncton, and now J.F. Plante is beginning to get his form back with four goals in his last three games. Even then, this team won’t get anywhere when giving up 5+ goals a game.
- Small sample size, but still notable: Corbin Boes has a .926% save percentage over his four starts in January, the best stretch of his season thus far.
- UPEI‘s penalty kill is trending in the right direction in January at 85.7%. Unfortunately it’s been at the expense of their power play, which is at just 11.1% in 2018.
- Speaking of poor power plays, Reid Murphy’s two PPG for Dalhousie against UNB was the first multi-power play goal game for Dal since Oct. 13th against Acadia. Since that game, they’ve gone 6/94 (6.3%)…. ouch.
- UNB’s 11 penalty kills of 13 times shorthanded against Dalhousie on Friday is the most penalties killed in a single game by a team this season in U SPORTS.
Jesse Lussier, D | Dalhousie Tigers
It’s pretty hard to get much notoriety these days if you play on Dalhousie and you’re anybody but Corbin Boes. But this week, Jesse Lussier stuck out to me as one of the integral parts of the Tigers. A third year defender who’s a QMJHL graduate of Halifax and Chicoutimi, he’s blossomed into one of the most underrated defenders in the AUS. He’s drawing tough assignments most nights, and on a Dalhousie team which frequently gets outshot, he’s typically just as busy trying to stop pucks from getting to his netminder than the netminder trying to stop them himself.
Key Games This Week:
Acadia vs UNB | Sat. January 20th, 7:00 pm AST
The Acadia Axemen are putting together a great little run lately, and they find a familiar foe at the end of the road this week. UNB have had some terrifically close games of late, and there’s the potential to see another one here. Although UNB needs to be ultra careful when dealing with an Axemen offence that can blow open any game if given the chance.
1. Weird and wild stuff went on this week between the Nipissing Lakers, Ottawa Gee-Gees, Carleton Ravens, and Laurentian Voyageurs. One of the strangest looking boxscores this season came from Carleton’s 9-6 victory over Laurentian on Friday in which Francois Brassard was pulled after making just two saves on six shots. But the Ravens fired back for a whopping six goals in the 3rd period as the Voyageurs let another win slip through their hands. Ottawa is the big winner after taking both contests against the Lakers and Voyageurs, but it took a late comeback against Nipissing and fending off another from Laurentian to get the job done. Highly entertaining hockey, but we’re still waiting for the Gee-Gees to go on a head-turning run like they did last year.
2. After an incredibly up-and-down semester to close out 2017, the UQTR Patriotes aren’t messing around at all in 2018. The Partiotes have won four straight in the new year, with three of the wins coming against McGill and Concordia. You can’t make a better case for being the best team in Québec then beating those two. Mathieu Lemay, Pierre-Maxime Poudrier, and Christophe Boivin continue to be the leading force for the Patriotes with more than 10 points separating them and every other player on the team. The Patriotes haven’t seen double-digit point totals separate their third and fourth highest scoring players since 2006-07 when Mathieu Gravel had 33 points, and Christian Laroche had 23. Alex Belanger and Sebastien Auger are the best tandem UQTR has had in years, and are a huge reason for any success they’ve had.
3. The UOIT Ridgebacks handed the RMC Paladins two big losses in regulation this week on the road in Kingston. The Paladins managed to keep it close, but they’ve had a hard time finishing some of their chances lately, and have lost six straight as a result. But in case you though RMC’s five wins this year were a fluke and they actually aren’t better than recent seasons, consider this: of the Paladins’ 16 losses this season, nine of them have been by two goals or less. In ’16-17 they lost 11 games by two or less, in ’15-16 that number drops to seven games, and in a ’14-15 season where they lost all 26 games that number is eight games. Considering there’s still lots of time left this season and less losses to count this year, that’s evidence that RMC is staying competitive in more and more games each season, a sign of continuous improvement.
4. How good is Anthony Beauregard for the Concordia Stingers? At 47 points, he’s more than likely going to hit the 50 point plateau this season. The last Stinger to reach that mark was Mark Mahon who piled up a whopping 80 points in 33 games for Concordia in 1988-89. How the league has changed since. In the last decade, only 13 different players have hit 50 points including, Phil Maillet, Spencer Pommells, Marc Rancourt, Rob Hennigar, and Hunter Tremblay. That’s some elite company. But as good as Beauregard has been this season, the Stingers haven’t been much more than just okay of late. Although their 6-2-2 record in their last 10 is still pretty good, the Stingers have dropped all four games against UQTR and McGill in that time. Those are the two teams they need to beat to be the best in the OUA East.
- You want drama? The OUA has you covered. In the East, we saw game-tying or game-winning goals in the second half of the third period from Christophe Boivin, Kevin Domingue, Adam Beveridge, Alex Boivin, Massimo Carozza, Brett Hargrave, and Nicolas Dionne. Not to mention two others from Brandon O’Quinn and Jacob Ringuette in the West.
- With 24 assists on the season, Jerome Verrier is on pace to eclipse Liam Heelis‘ 25 assists in 2015-16 for the most by a McGill forward since Alexandre Picard-Hooper posted an unbelievable 47 assists in 2010-11.
- Among some of the differences in the Queen’s Gaels this season from last has been their penalty kill, which sits at 82.7%. That puts the Gaels in danger of snapping a four year streak of them having a top five OUA PK.
- Four ex-OUA players are up for fan voting into the SPHL all-star game including ex-Ridgebacks Nate Mitton, Mark Petaccio, former Mustang Greg Dodds, and ex-Concordia Stinger Jessyko Bernard. Go vote for them here.
Deven St-Hilaire, F | UQTR Patriotes
The UQTR Patriotes have blown the doors off of their start to second semester with three statement wins already in 2018, and Deven St-Hilaire has chipped in for five points in UQTR’s four game win-streak. Not the number one threat when it comes to offence on this team, St-Hilaire was once a lethal weapon with Longueuil Collège-Français, posting 54 points in 35 games with them in ’15-16. Not to suggest he’ll start scoring at the same clip, but he’s slowly but surely emerged as an option for secondary scoring on UQTR. Don’t be surprised if his name comes up again before season’s end.
Key Games This Week:
Queen’s vs RMC | Wed. January 17th, 7:00 pm EST
No, this isn’t the Queen’s Cup just yet, but this is still a pivotal game for both teams late in the season. For Queen’s, some might still consider their games against RMC ‘should wins’ given their recent success. On the RMC side, that’s probably what they want Queen’s to think. It’s no secret RMC is vastly improved, but we’ll see if Queen’s gives them the respect they deserve on Wednesday as a precursor to one of the biggest events on the OUA schedule.
1. The Frosty Mug is nearly upon us, and with the recent success of both the Laurier Golden Hawks and Guelph Gryphons, we’re going to see a matchup of top four OUA programs on Thursday night. Both teams are on multi-game win streaks, and are a combined 7-1 in 2018. Remarkably, since November 1st, the Gryphons are 13-1-0. In that time period, that’s the best record of any program in U SPORTS. That’s a lot to boast about, even if the competition in the OUA might not be the same level that UNB, Alberta, StFX, and the other giants in the country face. For Laurier, coach Greg Puhalski is just one win away from 100 in his university hockey career. This year’s Frosty Mug is just screaming storylines.
2. Without Matt Mistele, the Ryerson Rams need a game breaker. This week they didn’t get one. In an odd game where they had and lost, then regained the handle of U of T they stuttered offensively and looked very tame compared to last season against Brock. The injury to Mistele is still fresh, so it’s still far too early to write this team off as a non-factor in the West, but somebody absolutely must step up for this team to have any kind of success in the playoffs. For a league which has such short seasons, it’s incredible how quickly a team’s identity can change. Just ask the Western Mustangs.
3. Speaking of the Western Mustangs, they’re winners of four straight and are making a real season out of this headed into the home stretch. With Waterloo and Windsor still faltering this week, they’ve made a much needed jump in the standings to now sit tied with Windsor for 8th with 18th points. Said it last week, and I’ll say it again this week, the Mustangs are not going to miss the playoffs this season. The addition of Jonathan Laser to the lineup again on January 13th is a big plus for the ‘Stangs, and so is the four game point-streak for Kyle Pettit where he’s registered six points looking like a player set to burst out this half.
4. Just last week I mentioned how the York Lions really need somebody to step up to help out the trio of Sheppard, Petersen, and Shields. Right on cue, Adam Marsh steps in out of nowhere and scores two in his OUA debut playing a big part in a shootout win over Lakehead. About as late as acquisitions come, Marsh played 19 games with the Charlottetown Islanders this year before jumping to York. A decent, but not lethal, goal-scorer from his days in the ‘Q’, the Lions are a breeding ground for players to reach a higher potential than they did in junior. Far too early to tell for sure, but the early signs are Marsh has the tools to breakout at some point for the Lions. But only time will tell.
5. The U of T Varsity Blues finding their offensive touch lately spells really bad news for the Waterloo Warriors who haven’t won since Nov. 17th. Now tied with U of T in the OUA West basement, the Warriors will see the Varsity Blues head-to-head in February. They’ll also get the Windsor Lancers three more times, all three games of which will be an absolute war. The Varsity Blues are clearly buying into what Ryan Medel wants them to. Contrary to last year, there’s no sign of giving up in this team, even when down against the top teams in the conference. If the Varsity Blues can’t beat you on the score sheet, they’ll give you a good beating along the boards if you’re not careful.
6. For a team that’s been outshot by 633 shots since the start of the 2013-14 season, the Brock Badgers are actually pretty decent defensively when they want to be. Saw it first hand when another timely goal from Brandon O’Quinn put them up by one over Ryerson. From there they went full defence, and the lead never truly seemed in danger the rest of the game. At this point, facing 30+ shots a night has to be nothing more than a second thought for Clint Windsor. He’s started exactly 64 games in his career, and has finished 55 of those starts. Among those 55 starts where he hasn’t been pulled, Windsor has faced 30+ shots in 50 of those starts. The amount of minutes played from Brock over the four seasons combined with the amount of shots faced makes Windsor’s workload one of it’s own kind by U SPORTS hockey standards.
- What’s gotten into Willy Paul lately? A statistically quiet defenceman for most of his OUA career, he’s popped off for four points in his last three games, three goals, an OT winner, and a two goal performance against Ryerson that was a crossbar away from a hat-trick.
- The Windsor Lancers currently have a five-way tie for the lead in team scoring with 12 points. Still time left in the season, but the Lancers haven’t had a season without a 20+ point player on the roster since 2002-03.
- The Brock Badgers went out to acquire a pretty obscure player in Cosimo Fontana who last hit the ice in Sweden and Switzerland after a decent career in tier II. Unreal name, but a difference-maker offensively too. Badgers love his speed, and he’s already collected a couple of goals.
J.P. Villeneuve, F | Guelph Gryphons
There’s always at least one, ‘where did he come from?’ player on the Guelph Gryphons, never fails. This year it’s J.P. Villeneuve. After a good career in tier II, Villeneuve went out to Trinity Western Univ. in the BCIHL for two years before venturing overseas to play with Aalborg IK in Denmark’s second division. After playing nowhere last season, Shawn Camp managed to wrangle him into his program where he now sits with a respectable 10 points in 16 games. Much like Thomas Kohler and Dylan Gilbert, Villeneuve has emerged as a key player from the path less travelled to get to the OUA.
Key Games This Week:
Laurier vs Guelph | Thurs. January 18th, 7:00 pm EST
Grab yourself a frosty mug, fill it up, and head down to the Sleeman Centre on Thursday night for what’s sure to be an absolute barn-burner. These marquee events put on by universities that attract rowdy crowds well above 3,000 fans have a tendency to turn into some of the best games of the season too. Last year’s affair went right down to the wire and took a spectacular last minute save from Keith Hamilton to secure the victory for Guelph. Expect another phenomenal matchup and an even better atmosphere from this event.
1. Feels a little odd saying it, but the Alberta Golden Bears are sort of struggling right now. Losers in three of their last four, the Golden Bears are stumbling out of the gates to 2018. So what’s going on at the U of A? The pieces are all still there that made this team the country’s best in the first semester. But their goalies have seen better days this season, and the rest of the skaters haven’t been executing to an Alberta standard for the most part in the last four games. Although that isn’t the issue for Steven Owre who netted four goals on the weekend. Luke Philp has just two assists in those four games, and Trevor Cox only recorded points in one of those games (albeit he had three assists). This could be a product of some of the regulars (specifically Jamie Crooks) not finishing at the rate they usually do. Whatever the root of the cause, there’s no reason for panic in Alberta just yet. As short as the season is, every team has their ups and downs.
2. The closer we get to the Crowchild Classic, the more intriguing this year’s matchup between Calgary and Mount Royal gets. Calgary is still on the outside looking in, but a huge win over Alberta gets them to three points behind Lethbridge for the final spot. Mount Royal gets Manitoba this week, which will be a tough matchup for them. Calgary gets Saskatchewan in another very difficult matchup, and Lethbridge will try to exact some revenge on UBC. Depending on how things shake out this weekend, we could have a scenario at the Crowchild where the Dinos could knock MRU out of a playoff position with a regulation win, although it’s unlikely. The Cougars have been in their best form of the season to start the semester with four straight wins while Jesse Lees has been red hot, and Connor Rankin has a goal in three of his last four games. If Rankin gets going like last season… look out.
3. The Saskatchewan Huskies have managed to pounce all over the recent slip of the Golden Bears, and now sit level at the top of the standings with 33 points (tied with Alberta). The Huskies have had 23 different skaters register a point this year, a reminder of just how deep they are (worth noting: Lethbridge + Calgary have also had 23 different skaters hit the boxscore this year). However, there’s only been five skaters to have played in every game this season compared to last year’s 10. Some of that is chalked up to injury, but another part due to Dave Adolph’s willingness to scratch some of his better players when he feels like one of his other players can step in to create a better matchup. Not only is Saskatchewan deep in the lineup, but they’re deep into the press box too. Their opponents last week at Manitoba are fairly deep in their own right, but were down to just 17 skaters on Saturday after Nick Zajac didn’t dress. This week is a setback for the Bisons, but shouldn’t deter them from making a run further down the line.
4. The UBC Thunderbirds look a little better on the other side of the break now that they’re at least a little healthier, but it’s still pretty obvious they have a steady reliance on their top-end players, especially offensively. For most of the season it’s been the Austin Vetterl show, and was again on Friday night against Regina. However, Saturday was a different story with six different UBC forwards scoring, none of which were Vetterl. Maybe the fact they had such spread out scoring isn’t a coincidence with the fact they beat Regina so handily that game.
- Now at 19 points on the season, Jesse Lees is just one point away from being the only defenceman in Mount Royal program history to have back-to-back 20+ point seasons.
- At 30 points, Josh Roach still leads Canada West in scoring. If he’s to hold that lead by season’s end, he’ll be the first player to lead Canada West in scoring despite having never played a WHL game since Canada West public records begin in 2008-09. Quite possible this could be the first time in recent history.
- Although we all knew this would happen eventually, the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears are officially locked into the playoffs.
- Dropped the rumour on Twitter this week that Tyler Brown will commit (if not already) to Manitoba for next year. For whatever reason we’re seeing a lot of goalies get taken off the market early this season. Logan Flodell may be the next one off the market, and it may not necessarily be to a Canada West.
Parker Thomas, F | Saskatchewan Huskies
On a Dave Adolph led team jammed with talent and depth up front, it’s easy to forget about Parker Thomas. Never played a WHL game in his life and pretty quiet numbers in his first year at Saskatchewan. But if you forget about him, he’ll likely be the one to hit the scoresheet when it hurts most. Best known for his 4OT game-winner against Carleton in the U Cup, Thomas has been an impact player ever since. This year he’s set a career-high with six goals and 15 points, and is shooting the puck more than he ever has before at this level. Thomas is a player who tends to pick his places when it comes to being a hero. Expect the same down the stretch this year.
Key Game This Week:
Calgary vs Saskatchewan | Fri. January 19th, 7:00 pm CST
Last week’s matchup against Manitoba was a big one for Saskatchewan, and this week they have another. With Alberta losing in three of their last four, the biggest target in Canada West is now on the back of the Huskies. The Dinos are in desperate need of taking a shot that hits, as this weekend series could greatly affect how the playoff picture pans out in February.