1. Suddenly things are looking pretty peachy for the Dalhousie Tigers who have four wins in their last five games. Colton Heffley is a breakout player of the year candidate with 11 goals and 17 points after recording a combined total of eight points in his two seasons prior to this. With five points in his last three games, Jackson Playfair has looked sharp too, add in stellar goaltending from Corbin Boes and you’ve got yourself a pretty decent team. Decent enough to make the playoffs, and maybe even upset Acadia or Saint Mary’s. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Tigers aren’t in just yet, but with a seven point lead on Moncton and four games to play, it’s all but over. When they play Moncton on Wednesday night, they’ll have an opportunity to put the nail in Moncton’s coffin and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2010-11. At six years, the Tigers have the second longest playoff drought of any team in the country. After years of hardships and struggling to find a voice in a conference with top-heavy talent, this would be a huge victory for the program.
2. One team’s success often equals another team’s failure. The program on the other end of the spectrum in this case is the Moncton Aigles Bleus. This is a program that hasn’t missed the playoffs since Dalhousie last made it back in 2010-11. Matter of fact, the Aigles Bleus and Dal Tigers haven’t both been in the postseason since 2001-02. That streak will continue this year, one way or another. Ultimately, it’s not a surprise to see Moncton in this position after a tumultuous offseason that saw them dismiss their head coach and fail to find an immediate replacement for the Saulnier twins and get stable goaltending. However, Vincent Deslauriers has to be in the conversation for AUS rookie of the year, as he leads Moncton in points and it’s not even really that close. The Aigles Bleus need a miracle to make the postseason, but they can extend that prospect a little longer with a win against Dalhousie on Wednesday, a team they’ve gone 1-2-1 against this year.
3. With Geoff Schemitsch in the lineup the Acadia Axemen are 0-2. Didn’t see that one coming. Anybody that’s watched this league for two seconds knows Acadia gets better with Schemitsch in the lineup, but it underlines their recent four game losing skid. The Axemen haven’t lost four straight since Feb. 4th of 2012 when they lost a 6-1 decision to UPEI. Over this stretch, the Axemen have scored just four times and have seen their top three scorers combine for just a single goal. With Schemitsch back in the mix it should be a huge boost, especially with a healthy Boston Leier and Alex Lepkowski also back in the fold. Having gone 5-9 in playoff games over the last three years, the Axemen are hoping to figure things out before these losses really wind up costing them dearly.
4. It’s a rare occurrence when the UNB Varsity Reds lose a hockey game, but that happened again this week after dropping a 3-2 decision to UPEI. The Panthers are just the second team to hand UNB a regulation loss this season, and as a result, gift StFX the top spot in the conference. There’s a self-serving interest for UPEI too who clinch a playoff berth again this week with 17 points on the season. Not the cleanest of seasons for UPEI, but with strong goaltending, they’ve proven multiple times that they can beat anybody in the AUS. Naturally, save percentage is going to be higher in wins than losses, but with a .904 SV% in wins and a .840 SV% in losses, UPEI leads the AUS with a 64 point differential in SV% between wins and losses. With Acadia and SMU on deck this week, we’re going to get a first round playoff preview.
5. The SMU Huskies continue to putt along in the AUS. They’re a mediocre 3-4-1 in January, but stand alone in 3rd place in the AUS. At this point they’re playing to hold home-ice advantage over Acadia, and stat padding purposes. Speaking of stats, Cole Cheveldave and Eric Brassard have both been very good at times for their team this year, but the stats aren’t as good as you may expect. With both goaltenders below the .900 SV% mark, this could be the first SMU team with all goalies under a .900 SV% since ’07-08 when Corey Chipman, Brandon Verge, and Jason Awalt all fell short of the mark. That season they finished fourth in the AUS with 33 points and were eliminated by Saint Thomas in the quarter-finals, 2-1. That also marked the second last time the Tommies ever won a playoff series.
- If Stephen Harper holds his points lead in the AUS, he’ll be the first OHLer to lead the AUS in points since Acadia’s Mike Cazzola did so with 42 in ’13-14 (Tied with Liam Heelis).
- Leading the country in both SV% and GAA, Chase Marchand is just one win behind McGill’s L.P. Guidon for the country lead in triple crown goalie stats.
- With UPEI and Moncton both having a team save percentage below .860%, this could be the first time on record in U SPORTS history two AUS teams have been at the bottom of the table for team save percentage in the country.
- #CISSLER Sighting: SMU alum Stephen MacAulay and former X-Men standout Michael Kirkpatrick share the lead at 40 points in Florida Everblades scoring. They’re joined by fellow U SPORTS alum in UPEI’s Nelson Armstrong and Guelph’s Kyle Neuber. No wonder this is a top two ECHL team.
Chandler Yakimowicz, F | Dalhousie Tigers
After a pretty decent start to the season, Chandler Yakimowicz flew under the radar for a good portion of the year with limited production (much like the rest of his team). But he’s begun to reemerge in the month of January with three goals, two assists, and a +1 rating this past month. Not to mention, he’s shooting the puck more than any other month of his AUS rookie season too. Yakimowicz is primarily known for the sandpaper he adds to a team, but there’s an underrated element of offence Yakimowicz is capable of generating, especially with his sturdy frame. An effective power forward, Yakimowicz has been a key ingredient in Dalhousie’s recent success.
Key Games This Week:
SMU vs UNB | Fri. February 2nd, 7:00 pm AST
In the season series finale, the SMU Huskies and UNB Varsity Reds clash in Halifax on Friday night. In a series that’s given us a few slobber-knockers for games this year, here’s to hoping there’s one more left in the tank. There isn’t a ton to play for in this matchup, but anytime you get two highly competitive teams with equally high talent levels, the elements are there for combustion of a beautiful game.
1. After one of the most confusing, crazy, and for some teams, frustrating weeks of the OUA regular season, things returned to normal this week… sort of. The RMC Paladins are a storyline once again, and it’s creating high entertainment value. The Paladins are taking the ‘us against the world’ mentality and coming out with all guns blazing. It’s obvious they’re playing for their playoff lives, but it didn’t all pan out according to plan this week. The Laurentian Voyageurs took out RMC on Friday with a massive comeback win which was once again led by Dylan Fitze who has come out of nowhere recently. Since the Laurentian reboot, Fitze is one of only five players to score 10+ goals in a year for Laurentian, doing so in ’13-14 with 11. Now at seven this season, he’s scored four of those in the last three games alone. Laurentian would go on to lose their next match against Queen’s 3-1, but are just two points back of the final playoff position.
2. Saturday was a different story for RMC who pulled off a comeback of their own against the Nipissing Lakers. After going down 3-1, the Paladins scored three in the third capped off by a late David Savery marker to pull off the 4-3 win in regulation. This was a landmark game for the league’s youngest player, Cameron Lamport, who scored a hat-trick to jumpstart the effort. Losing in regulation was definitely a blow to Nipissing, who need every point they can get to stay in the playoff picture. However, their next three games are against Laurentian (x2) and RMC. This puts the fate of Nipissing’s season in their own hands. They have the opportunity to secure their own position in the playoffs, but they also have an opportunity to play themselves right out of the picture. Whatever the case may be, Mike McParland needs everything he can get out of his guys in the last two weeks.
3. After splitting the week against the Ottawa Gee-Gees, the UQTR Patriotes are far from being secured into the playoff picture. Lucky for them, with RMC and Laurentian both playing Nipissing it’s either going to knock the Voyageurs or RMC out of the playoff picture, or they’ll end up leapfrogging Nipissing. There’s still a fair bit that needs to go wrong for UQTR, but with just three games on the schedule against McGill, Ottawa, and Carleton, things can go south real quick. If it wasn’t for their 6-2 run in January, things could be a lot worse for a UQTR team who saw their goaltending stats take a big dip from earlier in the season. Alex Belanger and Sebastien Auger combined for a .899 SV% this month, which is marginally lower than the .941% they posted together in October. Fortunately for them, the Pats are still lighting up the scoresheet with 4.63 goals-per-game this month and a fantastic 13 points in eight games this month from Deven St-Hilaire.
4. With all the other chaos ensuing in the conference, it’s easy to forget about the UOIT Ridgebacks. They haven’t been stunning this year, but they currently sit fifth in the OUA East. Should they hold this position, it’ll be just the second time in the last decade the Ridgebacks have finished top five in their division. They pieced together a big win against Concordia this week and have been highlighted by Ben Blasko‘s 10 points in five games stretch. With 31 points on the year, Blasko is sixth in the OUA and is the first Ridgeback to hit 30 points since Josh Vatri had 31 of his own in 2009-10. Perhaps more impressively, over his last eight seasons, Blasko has led his respective team in scoring for seven. That spans over four different leagues with the Gananoque Islanders (EOJHL), Brockville Braves (CCHL), Nazareth College (NCAA III), and of course UOIT.
5. The Carleton Ravens haven’t given us much to talk about recently in what’s been an average month, but they still sit tied for third in the conference. I still maintain my bold prediction of the year that Carleton will return to the U Cup despite the odds, but they won’t do it playing the hockey they have been lately. When the Ravens fire on all cylinders, they’re as good as anybody. But recently Francois Brassard‘s numbers have taken a hit with an .889 SV% this month, and Dalen Hedges has slowed to just three points in his last seven games along with Jared Steege‘s three points in nine games stretch. But there’s no reason for concern just yet. The Ravens still have time to find the form they had in November and still have the tools to make a healthy postseason run regardless of their seeding.
- Despite being the smallest active goaltender in U SPORTS at 5-foot-8 (173cm), MacKenzie Savard is proving to be a real season-saver for the Voyageurs with a .919 SV% since joining the team for January.
- Encouraging news for UQTR who saw Guillaume Beaudoin finally make his Patriotes debut this week. After anchoring the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada on a QMJHL Finals run last year he’ll be a key player right away.
- Having sat out the last four games, the Gee-Gees have had to do without captain Eric Locke who was good for just one assist over the four games he played in January. They’ll hope he returns to his nine game point streak form from earlier in the year before playoffs.
- As per OUA eligibility rules, McGill‘s Nikolas Brouillard is now eligible to lace up the skates for McGill’s final four games of the season. Expect him to make his OUA debut on Wednesday against UQTR.
- With Anthony Beauregard inevitably leading Concordia in scoring this season, he’ll be the first ex-Val-d’Or Foreur to lead Concordia in scoring since Alexandre Monahan in 2010-11.
Maximilian Daigle, D | McGill Redmen
On a McGill blueline endowed with a wealth of talent, it’s no surprise to see Domenic Talbot-Tassi leading the way offensively once again. But in close pursuit is Maximilian Daigle. Not much was made of Daigle after transferring from Vermont in the NCAA, but he’s quickly found a place to stay on the Redmen back-end with 16 points through all 24 games played. For someone to come up through the United States developmental system and wind up in U SPORTS after a year in the NCAA is pretty rare, but Daigle suggests that there’s still great value in finding players south of the border.
Key Games This Week:
RMC vs Queen’s | Thurs. February 1st, 7:00 pm EST
The OUA has been a gold mine for entertaining hockey lately, and with a lot on the line in Kingston on Thursday night, expect the Carr-Harris Cup to live up to it’s prestigious legacy. The oldest rivalry in hockey, there’s more than just two points on the line in this one, but the points themselves are of high value, especially for RMC. With Laurentian and Nipissing still on the schedule, there’s four winnable points, but with Queen’s and Concordia to deal with first, a win against either of those two teams could do the trick in sneaking them into the postseason.
1. The U of T Varsity Blues have endured some tough times in recent memory, but they’ll be darned if they don’t make a run of it this season. After a huge 4-3 win over Ryerson, they split the season series. That’s a big accomplishment for a team that hadn’t beaten Ryerson before this year since Jan. 27th of 2015. Meanwhile, the Waterloo Warriors are making a real run of this season too. Mike Moffat added another massive shootout winner, this time against Windsor as Waterloo split their two game set vs them this week. Mike Morrison returned to the fold with a nice performance in the 2-1 SO victory, turning aside 24 of 25 shots. They need him to be clutch down the stretch. U of T is now finally getting top-end production from Matt Campagna. After his four assist performance against Ryerson, Campagna now has a whopping 10 points in his last four games. Both U of T and Waterloo meet once more on February 3rd in a game which could very well determine the playoff fate of the other.
2. The Windsor Lancers managed to salvage this week after a really ugly stretch of hockey. They split the weekend 1-1 with Waterloo, but because they lose the second game in a shootout, they pick up three points to Waterloo’s two. However, all it does is keep them afloat a little longer, and they won’t stay that way without a win or two to close out the season. The Lancers get the slumping Thunderwolves and Brock this week, but will finish their season with two straight against a Western team which looks great right now. They’ll have to do without their playoff saviour in Blake Richard who was hurt in the first game against Waterloo, and have since turned to Jr. C product Matt Badour for backup duties. But Jonny Reinhart leads all U SPORTS rookie goaltenders in save percentage this year, so the onus is still on the players in front of him to get him run support, something they haven’t done much of lately.
3. After getting four free points from the UQTR Patriotes, the Lakehead Thunderwolves have basically thrown them away and dragged themselves back into playoff limbo thanks to losing six straight games. The T-Wolves will hit the road for their next three, which are their most important games of the season. The numbers tell us that could be trouble for them, as Lakehead has gone just 2-7-2 on the road this year, and haven’t won in an opponent’s building since Oct. 28th/17 against Waterloo. Lakehead is scoring just a hair over two goals a game on the road, and posses an abominable 3-for-36 (8.0%) power play on the road. If Lakehead botches the next three games like they have the last six, they’re going to be in a very precarious position when they take on a hungry Waterloo team on February 9th before finishing against Laurier who have already beaten them twice. The numbers are stacked against Lakehead, despite the freebie points, but if the right guys step up at the right time, the Thunderwolves can still salvage this season, although it won’t be pretty.
4. The Brock Badgers finally found a way to solve the Western Mustangs, but needed overtime to do it. Only once since Nov. 18th/17 have the Mustangs finished a game without gathering at least a point. As a result they find themselves sixth in the conference, not all that long after battling U of T for the basement. The Mustangs had it all in January, scoring 4.14 goals-per-game, had a 26.3 PP%, 95% on the PK, and a .938 team save percentage all thanks to Luke Peressini. But some bad news does still persist with this team. After taking a puck to the face last week, it sounds like Stephen Desrocher could be out long-term. It’s not a season-ending blow to Western, but it’s an unfortunate bounce that leads to a serious hole in a Western lineup which hasn’t bought much luck at all in the last three seasons. Four points in front of them are the Badgers who have found creative ways to both win and lose games of late.
5. After battling through some consistency issues for part of the season, the York Lions finish their month with a nice 5-1 record in their last six games. Their power play continues to be mediocre, but Colton Vannucci now has a career-high 18 points on the year, playing a very key role for them up the middle. Shayne Rover got involved offensively this week with four points, which is rare, and he now has exactly 14 points in each of his last four seasons…. talk about consistency. At 33 points, the Lions are five back of the Guelph Gryphons for first in the West, and will play them twice more to round out the season. With some help from their enemies at Ryerson who also play Guelph twice more, home-ice the whole way into the postseason isn’t out of the question yet for York.
- Ryerson continue to struggle after losing to U of T in OT this week, but they’re still keeping every game close. After needing extra time twice this week, the Rams have set a program record for most OT periods required in a single season (8).
- At 134 career games played, Ryan Hanes now holds the all-time record for games played by a Waterloo Warrior.
- At 20 points on the season, Western’s Rob Polesello is tied with Carleton’s Dalen Hedges for most points this season by an ex-NCAA hockey player.
- Hearing the Guelph Gryphons are going to have to live without Josh McFadden for the next few weeks after he incurred another suspension against Laurier.
- Tough month for Laurier goaltending with a team save percentage of .873%. With an .888 SV% of his own, this was Colin Furlong‘s worst statistical five game stretch of his OUA career.
Reid Jackman, F | York Lions
A practical walk-on to the York Lions in 2014-15 after an okay season in Jr. B with the Brampton Bombers, the expectation wasn’t very high for Reid Jackman. But if there’s been anybody who’s made steady improvement from season to season consistently on the Lions, it’s gotta be Jackman. Now with career-highs in every offensive stat category thanks to his 17 points this year, Jackman is playing a big factor on a top-end York Lions team. Not only has he exceeded the initial expectation, he’s smashed through multiple glass ceilings to get there. On a Lions team where we talk about the rehabilitation of Trevor Petersen and Derek Sheppard so often, it’s easy to forget how much better Jackman has gotten over the years too.
Key Games This Week:
Waterloo vs U of T | Sat. February 3rd, 7:00 pm EST
It’s nice to see how entertaining U of T hockey is for a change. Their games at Varsity Arena of late have been must-watch material, and we’ll have another on Saturday. This game likely determines if either of these two teams have a shot at the playoffs, as the loser is likely done for the year. A game with everything riding on the line and two teams who are known to sell out could create an instant classic.
1. Having finally attended the Crowchild Classic, I can say it now, it’s the biggest event you’ll ever see between two U SPORTS hockey programs. The atmosphere and fanfare is off the charts by U SPORTS standards, but holy smokes, the quality of hockey was anything but a masterpiece. Entertainment-wise, this was one of the best games I’ve ever seen in three years of covering U SPORTS hockey. From a hockey purist standpoint, it was pretty clear that both team’s game plans were out the window by the second period. Mount Royal‘s ugly start was counteracted by some less than stellar goaltending from Calgary, which Mount Royal also struggled with too. But for the third straight year, the cream of the crop rose to the top with Cain Franson taking the game over late, and putting it to bed with the OT winner. Calgary have taken the last three Crowchild Classics in OT with winners from Max Ross and Danny Gayle in addition to Franson. All three players were either in their fourth of fifth years of eligibility when they scored. Franson took the reigns again the following night, potting the game-winner in an equally important second game on Friday. Calgary needed to take care of business this week, and that’s exactly what they did.
2. Monster week for the UBC Thunderbirds who are the first team to hand Saskatchewan back-to-back losses since they dropped contests to StFX and Saint Mary’s at the 2016 University Cup. In case you weren’t counting, that’s 59 straight games without losing back-to-back games. UBC still aren’t fully healthy, but they’ve pushed onwards and quality goaltending from Matt Hewitt and Rylan Toth has really helped. Toth recorded his first career Canada West win on Saturday, and after making another 40 saves on Friday, Hewitt finishes his month with an immaculate 6-1-0 record, 1.81 GAA, and a .945 SV%. Even as a team, UBC had a better statistical month with a season high average of 3.50 goals-per-game. The penalty kill this month winds up at 86.7%, which isn’t amazing, but it’s the highest PK% UBC has had over a month’s span since (min. 6 games) October of 2015 (92.1%). Playoffs are always a whole different animal, but the T-Birds are playing their best hockey in years, and that can be a good combination for a best of three playoff series which benefits teams peaking at the right time.
3. If I was the coach of the Lethbridge Pronghorns this week, I’d have absolutely no idea what to say to my team. You’ve just found out that you’re getting a U Cup in 2019, so the future looks bright. You have a tough opponent in the Alberta Golden Bears, but a chance to prove you’re worthy of playing top talent at the U Cup. But you take that chance and blow it out of the water by losing 8-1 and 9-2 respectively. Hard to tell for sure where that came from, but I suspect a lot of it has to do with confidence. Ever since this team graduated Tim Campbell, they lost a giant piece of the puzzle to the team. No longer does it feel like the Pronghorns are the cinderella story that’s turning the league upside, but rather, they’re earning a reputation as choke artists. The lack of confidence seemed to be reflected in a few losses this year, and certainly won’t be any higher after this debacle. The good news for Lethbridge is there’s still time. The race to the finish is closer than this team wants it to be, and Calgary has a lot going for them right now. But the Pronghorns need to conjure up some belief they can make it to the playoffs, because they can. Sometimes it’s good to use a blowout like this as fuel to the fire, but if you’re Lethbridge, I’d say you’re better served to forget it all together and push right through Manitoba this week.
4. In the category of weird and wild games this season you’ll find the Manitoba Bisons and Regina Cougars from their slugfest on Friday night which brought us an 8-6 Bisons final. Manitoba had a 7-2 lead at one point, which the Cougars managed to make uncomfortably close after three unanswered goals. This game also brought about Justin Paulic‘s first appearance of the season. But it’s not one for the ages as he allowed three goals on just seven shots. Quintin Lisoway and Liam Bilton both found ways to break out with multi-point games, and the top-two scorers on the Bisons are now Lisoway and Kamerin Nault. The last 10 games has been a pretty good stretch for Manitoba who have seven wins in that span and are averaging more than four goals-per-game. Thanks to this recent offensive run, the Bisons are scoring at the highest rate in team history since 2012-13 when they finished with 3.75 GPG thanks to big seasons from Tyler Dittmer, Blair MaCaulay, and Matt Lowry.
- This year’s Crowchild Classic attendance stood at 10,478, making it the third most attended Crowchild Classic. Despite the drop in attendance, this was still the fourth most attended hockey game between two U SPORTS hockey teams in history.
- With 29 points on the season Michael St. Croix currently leads scoring among all ex-full season pro transfers in U SPORTS.
- With his two game-winners this week, Cain Franson jumps over Elgin Pearce‘s mark of eight career game-winners for the Calgary Dinos. Let the debate begin, who’s more clutch?
- After allowing four goals on 17 shots to UBC, Jordon Cooke finished a game with a SV% of under .800 for just the third time in his illustrious Canada West career.
Jerret Smith, D | UBC Thunderbirds
The second week a UBC T-Birds defender grabs this honour, it highlights the fact that the Thunderbirds blueline might be the most underrated in U SPORTS. Injury issues have plagued their back-end for most of the season, but when they’re at full health, they’re as good as anyone. Smith is one of the few defenders to have stayed healthy over pretty much his full two seasons in Canada West. He’s a sturdy body with a ton of WHL experience, and added the game-winner against Saskatchewan on Saturday for his third goal of the season. A player with big physical capabilities and intangibles necessary to shutdown top Canada West assignments, he’s another important piece to a UBC team that has excelled lately.
Key Game This Week:
Lethbridge vs Manitoba | Fri. February 2nd, 7:00 pm MST
Here we are again. It’s the final two weeks of the season, and the ship appears to be sinking for Lethbridge’s chances at finally breaking into the playoffs. However, there’s four more games that Lethbridge has to play through, and if they win all four of them it’s impossible for them to be ousted from the playoffs. The final two games against Regina should definitely be considered winnable, but here they have a pretty huge challenge in a Manitoba team which has played really good hockey at points in the season.