1. Due to some scheduling quirks we’re already in the heat of battle mid-week in the AUS final, and wouldn’t you know it, it’s the StFX X-Men and UNB Varsity Reds for a third straight year. But what a strange few weeks it’s been for StFX who are taking all the confidence we had in their consistency during the regular season and tossing it out the window. They were hot and cold against Acadia, and after holding a 5-0 lead in game five, nearly let it totally fall apart after being outscored 5-1 in the last 40 minutes. In game one against UNB they come out and promptly allow three goals in just under four minutes to start. We’ve seen some elements now with StFX that we saw a year ago when the wheels fell off the bus against Saskatchewan in the U Cup semi-finals. Whether it’s losing focus, letting off the gas, a combination of both, or something else all together, the X-Men need to buck this trend immediately. They’re down in a hole to one of the most prepared teams in the country and can’t afford to lay back for any period of time like they have in the last two games. On the UNB side, they looked like a team that remembered what happened in the last two AUS finals and are eager to ensure it doesn’t happen again. They looked ready as ever on Monday night.
2. With the AUS final happening at the same time, the consolation game doesn’t get much time in the spotlight, but it’s well worth acknowledging that the Acadia Axemen beat Saint Mary‘s 6-3 in game one. The Axemen have been without Stephen Harper for a good portion of the postseason, but he returned for game five against StFX, and just posted four points against SMU on Monday. But the biggest question was whether or not Darren Burns still had faith in Robert Steeves to start game one after a nightmare outing in game five which saw him concede three goals on four shots. The answer was yes, and Steeves got the job done with 32 saves on 35 shots. On the Saint Mary’s side, they’ve lost four straight playoff games. It’s extremely rare for that to occur and you still have a shot at a championship of some sort. The offence has sputtered out over that stretch, and the goaltending numbers between Eric Brassard and Cole Cheveldave aren’t very good either. Now they need to find a way to win twice in a row to salvage their season. They managed to beat Acadia twice during their six game win-streak earlier in the year, so there’s no reason they can’t do it again.
- About a year ago in the AUS playoffs, Cam Brace was out of the lineup after putting up career-low numbers in the regular season and playoffs. Now he’s back with vengeance. He finished the regular season with a respectable 24 points, and blew up for a four point effort against StFX. How times can change.
- Thus far in the AUS playoffs we’ve seen a whopping 167 power play opportunities for every team combined over 15 games played. That’s an average of 11.1 power play opportunities seen per-game. That’s marginally higher than the 8.4 power plays per-game in Canada West and the 6.7 we’ve seen in the OUA postseason. Wonder if that rate stays the same during the U Cup.
Matt Boudens, F | UNB Varsity Reds
Matt Boudens is supposed to be a ‘grinder’ by the opinions of most. But you wouldn’t know it with the way he’s been playing for UNB of late. After scoring a grand total of one goal in the regular season, he’s tied atop the leaderboard in the playoffs for UNB in playoff points with five. A former captain of the Drummondville Voltigeurs, Boudens has found himself back on the blueline before, but now he’s showing his ability to contribute up front. Mark Simpson might still be the best depth piece in the country, but Boudens makes a serious case for being the most versatile player.
AUS Finals Preview:
#2 StFX vs #1 UNB
Game #2: Wed. March 7th, 7:00 pm AST
Game #3: Fri. March 9th, 7:00 pm AST
The AUS finals might already be underway, but you better believe that won’t stop me from previewing this series and taking full advantage of the situation to tell you about how I totally called UNB winning game one by a 6-3 final.
Offence: UNB > StFX
Offensively, this is a closer matchup than it was last year. UNB were scoring nearly a goal-per-game more than StFX this season, but the X-Men have one of the country’s best power plays. UNB has the top-end scoring with Kris Bennett, Stephen Anderson, and Christopher Clapperton. But StFX got big seasons from Michael Clarke, Matt Needham, and Holden Cook. Overall, the advantage goes to UNB here because they have just a little more depth and versatility with players like Mark Simpson, Dylan Willick, Mike Thomas, and Matt Boudens who are all extremely good at their specific roles.
Defence: UNB > StFX
This is another real close matchup on paper, but the advantage goes to UNB due to the stability they’ve showed from the blueline. Randy Gazzola leads the way, backed by the strong defensive intuition of Colin Suellentrop and Marcus McIvor with Matt Murphy, Trey Lewis, and rookies Tristan Pomerleau and Olivier LeBlanc in there too. Over at StFX, Jagger Dirk had a career-year for the X-Men, Santino Centorame has come as advertised, Cole MacDonald continues to be great, and they’re anchored by Craig Duininck and Aaron Hoyles. The X-Men have a flashier group, but a propensity to let the game get away from them at times is why UNB takes this matchup on paper.
Goaltending: UNB < StFX
There shouldn’t be much question after the regular season, Chase Marchand was the best goalie from wire to wire in the AUS this year. Because of that, theoretically the X-Men have the goaltending advantage, but Alex Dubeau hasn’t been far off lately. His numbers from the series against SMU were terrific, and he’s made the saves he’s needed to in order for the Varsity Reds to win.
Prediction: With UNB in the drivers seat up 1-0, it’s easy to say the Varsity Reds win this series. But that’s exactly what I’ll say. The X-Men have the ability to come back, but to do so they’re going to need UNB to slip up. I don’t see that happening, as the Varsity Reds rarely relinquish an opportunity when they have it.
1. After falling a round short of the Queen’s Cup final last year, the McGill Redmen have finally filled out their full promise this season, but they didn’t always make it look easy. For two straight rounds the Redmen were playing from behind in a best-of-three series. If there’s anything we learned from watching that, it’s that McGill doesn’t seem to let the pressure of a do or die situation bother them. But the Queen’s Cup is decided by only a single game, which makes the margin for error nearly non-existent. Due to a rule adopted by the OUA when they absorbed teams from Québec in 1987, the Queen’s Cup cannot be hosted outside Ontario. So once again, the Redmen need to get the job done on the road. Going back to 2006, the Redmen are 4-3 in the Queen’s Cup including a three-peat from ’10-’12. Pretty good results for playing all seven contests on the road. One of those games came back in 2008 against the Brock Badgers, who’ll they’ll meet again this year. That game in ’08 was played in front of 1,378 fans at Seymour-Hannah Centre in St. Catharines and saw the Redmen score four goals in the third period to comeback from a 1-0 deficit and win 4-1. David Urquhart had the game-tying goal, now 10 years later he’s set to be a part of the rematch, albeit as an assistant on McGill.
2. With a 1-0 series lead after taking game one on the road, things were looking fairly bright last week for the Concordia Stingers. But they simply didn’t have another game three victory in the tank for us this season. But much like their counterparts over at York, their season could be far from over. Some people may not see much pride in falling short of the Queen’s Cup, but believe me, for a program like Concordia, qualifying for nationals means the world to them. They’ve never made it this far into the OUA postseason before, and what a great look it would be for recruiting players to this program moving forward. But they’ve still got their work cut out for them. As is often the case, scoring drys up for most teams during the playoffs. Concordia is feeling the effects of that especially as they’ve dropped to 2.63 goals-per-game in the playoffs compared to the 3.93 they were scoring in the regular season. Anthony Beauregard has especially seen his productivity drop, with just a single goal in eight playoff games, meanwhile Alexis Pepin is still searching for his first goal. The same can’t be said for Phil Hudon who with 10 points in the playoffs has nearly met his regular season output of 13. You can bet he’ll be front and center for Concordia on Friday in what could be his last game for the Stingers should he not return for a fifth year.
- Never a great time to fight through injury troubles, but that’s the case for Concordia right now. Scott Oke and Dominic Beauchemin both returned to the lineup for game three, but Philippe Sanche was unable to go after being banged up in game two.
- After recording 18 points for the second straight season, McGill’s Guillaume Gauthier has burst out in the playoffs again. He was over a point-per-game in the postseason last year, and that’s the case again this year with six goals and 11 points in eight games.
- Although we’ve seen Kelly Nobes flip-flop his goalies throughout the postseason in the past, it looks like this year will be all L.P. Guindon‘s. He’s started every game for McGill in the postseason.
- With a win over York on Friday, Concordia’s Massimo Carozza could have the distinction of playing in a Telus Cup, Memorial Cup, and U Cup in his career. How’s that for experience?
Keanu Yamamoto, F | McGill Redmen
A surprise for some to see an ex-Spokane Chief commit to McGill, Keanu Yamamoto has been a real nice add for the Redmen this season. After building a great resume in the WHL playing with his younger brother Kailer, Keanu has brought tremendous energy to the Redmen this year. The numbers aren’t where they were last season, but that’s often the case for players like Yamamoto who start off in the OUA with a defence-first coach like Kelly Nobes. He’s found the net three times this postseason, but continues to be a vital source of energy for the team.
#3 Concordia vs #2 York
Game #1: Fri. March 9th, 7:30 pm EST
A rare cross-conference matchup, this is a difficult one to size up. Concordia obviously have the guns to beat anybody, but if York executes their defensive system and get goaltending from Mack Shields, they have all the tools to neutralize the Stingers. Both teams should have a ton of reason to show up and play, as the U Cup has been an anomaly for both teams in recent memory. The last two contests have ended as one-goal games, but these teams have yet to clash this season.
Prediction: Pleasantly surprised to see that most of my predictions from the start of the season have come to fruition. One of those was that Concordia would make nationals through the third place play-off game if Carleton got knocked out in the first round. I’ll stick with that, as even though York have played Concordia well in Montreal over the years, I really think the Stingers are finally ready to get to the national championship for the first time since 1984.
1. The miraculous run for the 2018 Brock Badgers continues on with an improbable berth in the Queen’s Cup after a thrilling game three victory over the York Lions. The Badgers not only beat the defending Queen’s Cup champs in a do or die situation, but both wins in this series came in York’s home building. The Badgers are perfect on the road this postseason, and their only blemish was an OT loss. Clint Windsor continues to be the golden standard for OUA goaltending in the playoffs. With 283 saves he leads the country by a mile, and his .946 SV% is second to only Anthony Brodeur who only played three games, all in the first round. Back in the regular season, Windsor made 852 saves. That’s the most in a single season by any OUA goaltender since Ryerson’s Troy Passingham made 889 stops in 2014-15 and played every minute of every game that season. Apart from their star goalie, Cosimo Fontana has stolen the show up front. Last spotted playing in Sweden with Söderhamn/Ljusne, Fontana was brought totally out of the blue for second semester, not even an official press release from his new team. Now he’s tied for second in OUA playoff points. He tallied six total points against York this week. His transition period to the OUA has been lightening quick. Even more remarkable when you consider he spent an entire calendar year without playing a competitive hockey game. Now he’s playing for the OUA’s most prized possession on Saturday.
2. In a series of wild changes in momentum, the York Lions fall short to the Brock Badgers after letting an early 2-0 lead slip at home in game three. They piled on 53 shots in that game against the Badgers, but never found another way to score after the 4:08 mark of the first period. The Lions didn’t even register 53 shots in their triple overtime marathon against Lakehead in the first round. This isn’t the end of the road for York by any means, but it certainly doesn’t get any easier. To make nationals, they’ve got to beat Concordia in Montreal on Friday night in a single game elimination. Winner moves on to Fredericton, loser gets nothing. Since ’08-09 the Lions are 4-3-0 head-to-head with the Stingers, but they haven’t lost to Concordia in Montreal since January of 2009. This follows a somewhat similar path York took the last time they won a national title in 1989. That season they lost to Laurier in the Queen’s Cup final, but went on to beat Alberta and exact revenge against Laurier in the final to win the University Cup. Although it’s not an identical narrative, if the Lions advance past the Stingers, don’t think they’ll be a pushover in Fredericton.
- Since the start of 2018, Cosimo Fontana leads everybody in the OUA with 14 goals scored. That’s better than any and all of the league’s top scorers.
- Mack Shields will look to get back on track in time for Concordia on Friday after posting a 3.57 GAA, and an .886 SV% against Brock. Uncharacteristic numbers for one of the OUA’s very best goaltenders.
- Brock’s Dexter Weber is likely done for the season with a hand injury. A key loss to their defence, it’s forced Skylar Pacheco and Patrick Volpe to really elevate their game recently.
- After posting eight goals in the regular season, Trevor Petersen has popped off for five in the playoffs, four of which have been five-on-five and two game-winners.
- York’s 53 shots against Brock on Saturday are the most in a single game by the Lions since they had 58 shots on 02/06/16, ironically against Brock. That game turned out to be a 1-0 win for York after a six round shootout saw Justin Larson net the games’ only goal. Oddly enough, this was a rare night off for Clint Windsor as Real Cormier made all 58 stops. The OUA is a wonderful place.
Ayden MacDonald, F | Brock Badgers
Another one of those ‘misfit’ players who wasn’t actively recruited during the offseason, Ayden MacDonald has established himself as a legitimate power forward in the OUA. A very late addition in the offseason, MacDonald comes to Brock via the Cowichan Valley Capitals of the BCHL where he played two full seasons. After playing some defence prior to that, his numbers took a big jump with Cowichan in 2016-17 to 24 goals in 54 games. He carried over a similar rate of production to Brock where he scored nine in the regular season, and has another three in the playoffs.
Queen’s Cup Preview:
#5 Brock vs #1 McGill
Game #1: Sat. March 10th, 7:15 pm EST
On paper this is a David vs Goliath meeting. You’ve got a team at McGill who have a wealth of major junior recruits in every area. On Brock, it’s almost a group of misfits from all corners of the country that just wanted a place to play. Now they’ll put it all on the line in one of the most unlikely Queen’s Cup finals in recent history.
Offence: McGill > Brock
There’s no doubt about it, the McGill Redmen are the better team on paper up front. Guillaume Gauthier has turned it on for the playoffs again, and Jerome Verrier continues to pile up the numbers. But make no mistake, this is a McGill team that takes defence very seriously, and have the ability to dictate the pace of the game even when they don’t have the puck with players like Frederic Gamelin and Samuel Hodhod. Brock are actually quite similar in that regard. They like to bring the game down to their pace, but now have a weapon in Cosimo Fontana that can strike on demand. With players like Sammy Banga, Chris Maniccia, and Matt MacLeod all finding their game too, they have timely goal scorers. Sometimes that’s all you need for single game elimination format.
Defence: McGill > Brock
There’s no doubt about this matchup either. The Redmen not only have a better defence than Brock, but arguably anybody else in the OUA. Nikolas Brouillard is already an impact player, and sprinkle in some Dominic Talbot-Tassi, Nathan Chiarlitti, and Francis Lambert-Lemay and you’ve got yourself a group that can not just shutdown anybody, but burn you in the offensive zone too. Not having Dexter Weber hurts Brock on the back-end, even with Patrick Volpe and Skylar Pacheco playing well. Now they’ll need guys like Evan Morden, Jeff Corbett, and Braden Pears to make little to no errors at all to win. This group can’t start playing outside their own capabilities. It’s cliché, but true in this case. The Badgers blueliners have to stick to their game in order to win.
Goaltending: McGill < Brock
It’s tough to say there’s many OUA goaltenders better than L.P. Guindon, but after the way Clint Windsor has played in the postseason, he’s earned our respect. Even after two weak goals conceded against York, Windsor showed the ability to bounce back. That tells us that no matter the score, beating Windsor will be just as much of a challenge. On paper this is the most even of all the matchups, and both goalies have the ability to steal the game. However, chances are Windsor’s going to be seeing an awful lot more rubber than Guindon.
Prediction: The Brock Badgers have defied every single prediction I’ve made about them this season. Seriously, I picked against them in every round, yet here they are. So what’s the point? It doesn’t matter what I say. Anything can happen in a single game elimination, and anything will happen. There’s a clear advantage for one team on paper, but the other has thrown the paper right out the window for three straight weeks. Let’s all hope this game is as entertaining as the narrative leading up to it.
1. If there was ever such thing as a perfect season in Canada West, the Alberta Golden Bears might have the closest thing to it. With high standards, expectation, and anticipation to perform, rarely did the Golden Bears ever look vulnerable this year. Not only did they defeat the Huskies this week, but they outplayed them in every facet of the game. Every characteristic you want to see in a championship team Alberta had this year. Timely performances, depth scoring, team defence, great goaltending… all of it. Rarely do we see a joint-effort between the pipes in the finals of any league, but the Golden Bears pulled it off with Brendan Burke who wins game one, and Zach Sawchenko seals it in game two. It’ll be very interesting to see who they go with for the U Cup. Now that’s the big challenge for the Golden Bears. This is a program that’s won 54 banners in Canada West. That’s insane. But they become a little more normal at the national level. Since 2008, the Golden Bears have won three national titles, and are the last team to complete the national three-peat when they did so between 1978 and 1980. They’re no stranger to success at nationals but after two first round exits at the U Cup and the insanely high standard this program has, the expectation is to advance beyond the first round and win it all. From top to bottom, this was a phenomenal Canada West season for Alberta, but they hope the best is yet to come.
2. The Saskatchewan Huskies looked down and out at points during their game two loss to Alberta which saw their chances of a Canada West championship fall through their fingertips. But the week off the Canada West teams get before the U Cup could be the best thing to happen to the Huskies this year. Jordon Cooke or not, the Huskies are a better team than what they showed us last week. The defence looked vulnerable against Alberta, and they finish their postseason run without a point-per-game player for just the second time since 2008-09. Maybe it’s a different story with Josh Roach in the lineup who was held out of this series with injury. And who knows just how healthy Logan McVeigh truly is after missing the series against Calgary. Now they’ve got a week and a half to lick their wounds, get as healthy as they can, and adjust their focus. Dave Adolph is one of the greatest enigma’s in the league, so who really knows what the message is to his team this week. They’ll try and regain their confidence to chase down their first University Cup since 1983 when they won in Moncton, N.B.
- How big must Brendan Burke‘s family trophy case be? Burke now has a WHL championship, an OHL championship, a Memorial Cup championship, and two Canada West championships. Let’s not even get started on his dad’s success.
- After playing just seven regular season games, Jayden Hart returned for the Canada West finals. Although he didn’t register a point, it wasn’t that long ago he was leading the entire conference in scoring halfway through last season. Keep your eye out for him in Fredericton.
- With Jordan Papirny atop the SV% list, he joins Eric Williams and Kurtis Mucha as rookie goalies to lead the Canada West playoffs in save percentage since ’08-’09 (min. 2 games played).
- Over the last 22 seasons, Canada West has seen just two different programs win the title (Alberta/Saskatchewan). In the last eight seasons alone we’ve seen three different AUS champs, three different OUA East champions in 14 years, and six different OUA West champions in just six years. Thanks to the unofficial TMS stats guy Adam McGuire for that one.
Serge Lajoie, Coach | Alberta Golden Bears
The first time this section has ever been dedicated to a coach, Serge Lajoie is more than deserving of some recognition. His work this season might live in the shadow of how well his players have performed, but that’s probably how he’d prefer it. All the pressure appears to be on UNB this year in hosting and going for the three-peat, but there’s a lot of pressure internally over at Alberta too. After bringing in a massive haul of recruits two years ago, there was no excuse for Lajoie to not ice a winning team. This season Lajoie managed to get this Alberta team to live up to their extremely high standard and never let his players lose sight of the end goal. Given, his work isn’t done yet. A first round exit at the U Cup would be a big letdown, but there’s something to be said for the guidance Lajoie provided from behind the bench this year.
Key Games This Week:
That’s all folks!