Thursday Morning Skate: December 14th, 2017

With exam season in full swing, and the Christmas season hot on its heels for most students and student-athletes in the country, most university coaches/recruiters are hard at work. Christmas shopping can be a real chore. Even more so when the top item on your list is a top-line sniper, top-two pairing d-man, or a starting goalie. Those are just a few of the positions some teams are looking to stuff their stockings with this Christmas season. With four recruits already secured for 2018 in Tyler Coulter (Calgary Dinos), Chris Gerrie (MRU Cougars), MacKenzie Savard (Laurentian Voyaguers), and C.J. Garcia (Carleton Ravens), we’re already off to a fast start. But there’s still a lot of quality players on the market, and teams looking to lure their services. Here’s a look at some of the best players available, and what teams are looking into them.

Victor’s Best Available 2nd Semester Recruits:

1. Jeremy Brodeur: G, Allen (ECHL)

Ah yes, Jeremy Brodeur. I’ve been hot on the trail of rumours he’s left behind for over a year now. One of the best overage goaltenders in the CHL in his final year, there were some (including myself) that were surprised to see him struggle to land a pro opportunity. Now that he has, he’s shown extremely well with the Allen Americans posting a .926 SV% in 12 games. The catch is Allen’s starter is coming back from injury very soon, meaning Brodeur could very well be placed on waivers, allowing any ECHL team to claim him. If he’s claimed, very high chance he sticks in pro, if he goes unclaimed, very high chance he goes to university. We’ll find out in the next two weeks what the future holds for Brodeur.

Top Contenders: At this point, the Ryerson Rams appear to be the #1 contender should Brodeur head to university. But McGill has been a name thrown around in those rumours too. UNB has a connection with Jake Allen whose goalie coach is Martin Brodeur, but from people I’ve talked with at UNB, they don’t sound like they’re actively searching for a goalie right now.

2. Stephen Desrocher: D

What ever happened to Stephen Desrocher? Well, he attended Columbus Blue Jackets camp in the fall, got cut, then came down with mono. It’s been a rough few months for Desrocher who hasn’t played anywhere, inevitably making his chances of a high level pro deal even smaller. An instant top-two defender for most university programs, Desrocher is by far the best d-man available, but may not stick around the university ranks for very long depending on how well he plays.

Top ContendersI’ve been told the Ryerson RamsMcGill Redmen, and Western Mustangs have all had serious conversations with Desrocher. Western is in dire need of a d-man of Desrocher’s calibre, while Ryerson is looking for a compliment to Alex Basso without Brandon Devlin and Austin Kosack this year. McGill’s defence is already incredible, so I can’t imagine they’ll be too disappointed if they don’t land Desrocher.

3. T.J. Melancon: D, Norfolk (ECHL)

After leading all QMJHL defencemen in goals last year, T.J. Melancon has found a home in Norfolk, having played 24 games on the back-end and posting a defenceman team-high of 12 points. Things appear to be going well for Melancon, which is a strong deterrent for him jumping to university, but sources out east believe the AUS is still a market he’s considering for this year. Given the way he’s played to start this season, Melancon has a very difficult decision to make.

Top Contenders: From all I’ve heard, there is one team Melancon would leave the pro ranks for: the UNB Varsity Reds. Their blueline is stockpiled as it is, but the V-Reds will never miss an opportunity to improve themselves long-term, and Melancon certainly projects as a top-end offensive defenceman should he play in the AUS. If he commits to UNB, he’s likely in for the long haul with their program.

4. Darby Llewellyn: F, Atlanta (ECHL)

A long-time Kitchener Ranger forward, Llewellyn had been in conversation with universities over the offseason. But ultimately, he opted for pro, and has since played 19 games with Atlanta in the ECHL totalling five points. He’s stayed in contact with universities for most of the first semester, and seems both ready and willing to make the jump. He’ll project as a decent top six forward on most teams with scoring potential.

Top Contenders: The Ryerson Rams and Laurier Golden Hawks appear to be at the top of the list for Llewellyn should he jump to university in 2018. There’s an obvious Kitchener connection in Laurier, a team that could use an offensive boost, and Ryerson aren’t going to say no to an opportunity to round out their forward unit with another solid piece. They found good success with Marcus Hinds and Jamie Lewis as midseason acquisitions in the past.

5. Cristiano DiGiacinto: F, Jacksonville (ECHL)

After capturing a Memorial Cup last season with the Windsor Spitfires, DiGiacinto looked to cash in with a pro contract, but has since only played eight games in the ECHL. A well-rounded player who played in a handful of roles for the Spitfires, DiGiacinto is in a classic case where he’s having a hard time breaking into a pro lineup as a 21 year-old out of junior. Very high chance he lands at university.

Top Contenders: If DiGiacinto lands anywhere, it’s going to be with the Acadia Axemen. At least that’s what he’s told them. Many times recruits aren’t official until they’re on the ice in university hockey, but this one is as close as you can get to being official without being official.

U Cup Bidding Update

After working the phones on a number of different leads, the picture for the 2019 and 2020 U Cup is more defined, but a little murkier… if that makes any sense.

At the start of the season, I reported Ryerson, Saskatchewan, Carleton/Ottawa, Lethbridge, Acadia, and UPEI were all at least somewhat interested in hosting the tournament. Since then I’ve heard nothing to believe Saskatchewan has submitted a proposal, while I can confirm UPEI will not host the U Cup. Acadia and Lethbridge have confirmed bids, while Ryerson and Carleton are still a little unclear.

A source out of Ryerson told me this week they have used the potential of hosting a U Cup in the near future for recruiting leverage, but nobody out of Ryerson athletics has suggested the university is fully committed to a bid for MHKY. What I do know for sure is that Ryerson definitely wants to host a national championship at Mattamy Athletic Centre, and their big ticket right now is basketball, both men’s and women’s. Although that seems to be where the focus is, it’s entirely possible they’ve thrown a MHKY bid on the back-burner as another option should basketball not pan out. But at this point, hosting the 2019 and 2020 U Cup is a low priority, if a priority at all, for Ryerson.

Carleton is another strange scenario in that there was confirmed interest in hosting, but nobody seems to actually know how serious it got. As one source told me this week, “Not sure [Carleton] athletic department has the horses to pull it off”. The prospect of hosting the U Cup at the nation’s capital is very intriguing, but if Carleton can’t commit financially to it, there’s no way it will happen. Another factor to consider is if Ryerson ends up landing men’s basketball in 2019 or 2020, does U SPORTS want to have their two biggest drawing national championships in the same province? At any rate, the idea of hosting at Carleton is good in theory, and the interest displayed by Carleton leads me to believe there might be something there, but it appears they could still be a little apprehensive about hosting a U Cup.

That leaves us with Lethbridge and Acadia as the last two big contenders. With six of the last eight U Cups being in the Maritimes, it begs the question: How many times can U SPORTS go to the same well? Acadia are strong believers that because the Maritimes have been great hosts before, they’ll be great hosts again. Halifax worked well for the 2016 U Cup, and this is Acadia’s second serious attempt in recent history at bidding for the championship. Another factor in this bid is the potential of the Halifax Mooseheads hosting a Memorial Cup in the same building, but that decision won’t be made until the spring. Even then, it could potentially deter U SPORTS from heading out east again.

Finally, there’s Lethbridge. A team that’s endured a fair share of struggles this season, but have a very serious and enticing bid on the table. Although I can’t confirm the numbers, from what I’ve been told, the city could be pledging $250,000 towards the tournament, and are strong advocates for university hockey. The facilities exist out there to host it, and I, as well as many others, believe the market is there to make this a success. The only real deterrent here is the play of the Pronghorns program lately. They’re certainly not on a U Cup level this season, and would need to rectify that ASAP in order to be a real competitor in time for 2019. That’s a lot of pressure on the players and coaches. But if U SPORTS wants basketball in Ontario, and want to keep the U Cup away from the Maritimes again, Lethbridge is their best option.

All things considered, if I had to guess, I’d say the Pronghorns are the frontrunners right now. But it’s worth noting, U SPORTS has gone about this process very diplomatically. They’ve given all the bids a fair look so far, and don’t appear to be leaning towards one side or the other. The process has stayed on its timeline too, which is a change according to one source who told me, “Apparently [U SPORTS] always used to be months behind”. According to the official bid book, U SPORTS will make a decision and notify the winning school on December 20th, 2017. This week, they’re amidst conference calls with universities to work out the finer points of the bids. With everything moving the way it should, expect an answer as to who hosts in 2019 and 2020 by the end of the month.

Other Notes

  • Here’s the latest on Alexandre Goulet. He’s the perfect fit for UNB, but he’s playing so well in the ECHL right now, he may never leave. He’s leading the Jacksonville Icemen in goals, and is getting prime minutes, which is going to be very difficult to give up in favour of university. But perhaps playing with Cam Critchlow may end up having an effect on his decision.
  • Interesting note on Jordon Cooke and Sebastien Auger from the Canada U20 camp. Both goalies were told three weeks ago they would make Team U SPORTS, but wouldn’t dress in favour of Team Canada goaltenders. When told they didn’t have to show up if they didn’t want to, both goalies insisted they answer the call anyways just for the opportunity to represent U SPORTS.
  • Don’t expect to see Dylan Montcalm or Daniel Milne back in McGill’s lineup anytime soon. Montcalm is at McGill, but simply doesn’t want to play for the Redmen right now. Milne hasn’t skated in a year, so hard to picture him getting back to game-shape this season.
  • McGill still plan on getting Nikolas Brouillard in second semester, but he won’t be eligible until January 27th. That’s a huge addition to the lineup, but extremely late in the season. Very interested to see how that pans out.
  • Still rumours floating around that Ryan Graham could join Calgary in second semester, unlikely Aaron Irving does, and a strong possibility Colton Bobyk joins their team too. All three rumours are still unconfirmed at this point.
  • Don’t be surprised to see the UPEI Panthers add a body for second semester. Right now, they’ve got a fair amount of leeway in their roster cap.
  • The Acadia Axemen are getting Taylor Makin back for second semester. After four years at Acadia, he gave pro a shot this season, but never wound up playing a regular season game. He’ll add some grit and toughness back to the Axemen lineup.