Thursday Morning Skate Week 8: November 30th, 2017


Top Stories:

1. After just seven games since the hit heard across the AUS, Chris Clapperton returned to action for UNB this week. It appears this story has a happy ending, as Clapperton posted four goals and two assists, helping UNB along to another two wins. It’s the eighth time Clapperton has registered three points in a single AUS game, never more. As usual, he was surrounded by a highly talented cast of offensive stars who exposed UPEI for eight goals and then beat Moncton in a closer 5-3 affair. Olivier Cooper had the game-winner against Moncton, meaning four of his eight career AUS goals stand as game-winners.

2. The Saint Mary’s Huskies ran into their first problem in awhile with StFX last Wednesday in a 4-2 loss. That will stand as the only blemish on SMU’s record in what’s been an immaculate month for the program. In November, the Huskies averaged 3.48 GPG, and were 31% on the power play. The offence still isn’t at a UNB level of efficiency yet, but they’re a top 10 offensive team in the country at any rate. Especially with Jake Coughler bursting out for nine points in his last five games, the depth of this squad offensively is comparable to the last Huskies team to play at the national championship at the 2015 University Cup in Halifax.

3. The StFX X-Men take care of business again with three more wins on what’s turned into a six game win streak since losing to UNB back on Nov. 10th. Brandon Hope picked up his second career shutout against Dalhousie, a team who he owns a .965 SV% against. Holden Cook added another goal against the Tigers, ensuring he’s recorded at least 20 points in each of the last three seasons. Despite having not scored in 11 straight, Jagger Dirk still sits third in StFX team points, and continues to be one of the best defenders in the AUS. Now tied at the top of the AUS standings with UNB at 30 points, StFX will hope for a Varsity Reds loss while the X-Men face Moncton in their final game of the semester.

4. After a long wait, the rest of the Moncton Aigles Bleus offence came to help out Vincent Deslauriers. They outgunned UPEI in an 8-5 slugfest last Wednesday which saw Deslauriers post a hat-trick and four points, Alexis Roy tally four assists, and Marc-Anthony TherrienRobbie Graham, and Justin Vanier-Guenette each add three points of their own. Apart from that, it’s getting very difficult to not say the exact same thing about Moncton week by week. The defence and goaltending simply has not played to a level worthy of AUS hockey, and the Aigles Bleus only have two wins on the season because of it.

5. The AcadiaAxemen sit nine points behind StFX and UNB for the conference lead, yet there’s still very little that separates them from those programs on the ice. Acadia’s offence continues to be among the class of the country, but were limited to just one goal in a 2-1 loss to StFX last week. In the regular season, that’s the first time Acadia’s been held to just a goal in 24 straight games. But Acadia is still averaging 4.38 goals this month, and are 25.0% on the power play. Now with 16 games to get a strong evaluation, it doesn’t appear this year’s Acadia team is any different than in years past. They can score at a deadly rate, don’t mind mixing things up physically, and most importantly win games. But whether they can keep winning deep into the AUS playoffs is a question we’ll have to wait until February to answer.

Other Notes:

  • Moncton made it official on Wednesday that Etienne Montpetit will in fact join the program in 2018-19.
  • Keeping with the tradition of passionate UNB alumni, Etienne Marcoux added his opinion to the national rankings discussion this week. Besides that, he’s played well in six ECHL games with the Indy Fuel this year posting a 2.64 GAA and a .934 SV%.
  • The UPEI Panthers turned to Connor Wilkinson in net for parts of both games last week and allowed 10 goals on 37 shots for a .787 SV%.
  • With two assists last week, Acadia‘s Boston Leier eclipsed the 100 point plateau with 102 points and counting.

Unsung Heroes:

Dylan Willick, F | UNB Varsity Reds

If you’re looking to find the heart and soul of the UNB Varsity Reds program, Dylan Willick is a great place to start. Never a prolific point-scorer, but always an energetic team player who puts up decent numbers. That’s been the story for him ever since he broke into the WHL with the Kamloops Blazers in 2009. Now a fifth year veteran at UNB, he’s the captain for a reason. That honour comes with a ton of responsibility when hosting the national championship this year. His numbers are a touch better than what they were last year after Willick posted three points for the V-Reds this week, but his real contributions are the examples he sets for the rest of the program. He also gets bonus points for following me on Twitter this week.

Key Games This Week:

UNB vs SMU | Fri. December 1st, 7:00 pm AST

The UNB Varsity Reds have a winning record on the road against Saint Mary’s, but rarely, if ever, have they had an easy win against the Huskies in enemy territory. Even after dropping a decision to StFX, the Huskies are considered hot. A win against UNB to close out the semester not only keeps them at a high temperature, but solidifies a terrific semester, setting themselves up for a real run to challenge the top two in the AUS.

OUA East

Top Stories:

1. The UOIT Ridgebacks are continuing to put together one of the best runs into the Christmas break of any program in the country. Last year’s trip to Thunder Bay ended on a sour note with a 7-2 loss which was the first domino falling towards UOIT’s eventual absence from the national rankings. This year they take both games, beating Lakehead 3-1 twice. Over their six game win-streak Mike Robinson has 10 points, Ben Blasko has eight points, and goaltending has combined for a SV% of .925. There’s a little bit of everything that’s working for UOIT, but as is often the case with lower budget programs, they live and die by their star players.

2. Impressive week for the RMC Paladins? Yes. Another two upsets for the RMC Paladins? No. Two close wins against Western and Windsor in extra time are nice, but not surprising considering how RMC has played. What strikes me the most about this point streak the Paladins are on is how consistently they’ve played for three straight weeks. When you have a roster like RMC, keeping yourself competitive and within striking distance is typically the first step. They’ve done that in eight of their nine games this month. In addition, they’ve had bounces, great goaltending, and some timely scoring from players like Riley Brandt. After having just one goal in his last six games, Brandt’s five this week tie him for second in the country with 12 on the year. RMC having the country’s leading scorer at the Christmas break is a very real possibility.

3. Here’s a random stat that doesn’t really mean anything. The Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton Ravens never won a game on the same night in the month of November. The Gee-Gees began the month with a four game losing streak they snapped against Carleton on Nov. 17th and haven’t lost since. The Ravens started the month on a four game win streak that was snapped when they lost to Ottawa on Nov. 17th and haven’t won since. Consistency was a problem for Carleton last year, but it’s been the opposite this year. When they’re good, they’re consistently good, and when they’re bad, they’re consistently bad. Down the road, Ottawa had a few thrilling shootout wins against Ryerson and York. Ottawa’s win against Ryerson was the first against the Rams since they beat them 4-3 in a shootout on Nov. 18th/11, almost exactly six years to the day.

4. Injuries caught up to the Queen’s Gaels pretty quickly with Nathan BillitierBrandon ProphetFrancesco VilardiDuncan CampbellCory GenoveseJaden Lindo, and Kevin Bailie all missing time with physical ailment. The good news is Bailie returned Wednesday night with Vilardi. Sitting in fourth place in the OUA East isn’t a bad spot by any standard, but part of me thought the Gaels might have showed a little better than they did this month. Injuries are never a help, but this team hasn’t had a ‘knock em dead’ run just yet. However, the Gaels relished the underdog moniker last year, and maybe they do again this season. But I still think the best is yet to come from Queen’s.

5. After stringing together seven straight wins, the McGill Redmen finally met their match with the Laurier Golden Hawks last week. But there still isn’t reason to suspect trouble in paradise. Jerome Verrier stands tied with Hunter Garlent for most assists in the country (20). Verrier now makes it five straight seasons for McGill to have a player with at least 20 assists. Goal-scoring wise, Samuel Tremblay has been a nice find. His career-high of 10 goals in a QMJHL season is being rivalled by the seven he’s already scored this year in 16 games.

Other Notes:

  • Anthony Beauregard was doing Anthony Beauregard things again this week. On Saturday he posted five assists against Waterloo. That’s a single game feat he never accomplished in the QMJHL.
  • Brett Hargrave didn’t join Nipissing‘s lineup until Nov. 3rd/17, but since then he’s been a lethal weapon at times. He scored a hat-trick against Laurentian on the 21st, and had another three point game on Saturday against Guelph.
  • The UQTR Patriotes are notorious for the amount of forwards they’ve carried on the roster in recent years. This year, that number bumps to 15 with Felix Desjardins (Bécancour Formule Fitness, LHSAAAQ) making his debut against U of T.
  • The RMC Paladins have gone to overtime in six of their last seven games. Talk about exciting hockey.
  • Laurentian goaltending update: 13 goals allowed this week.

    Unsung Heroes:

    Cody Drover, F | uOttawa Gee-Gees

    The Gee-Gees are headlined offensively by an ex-AUS MVP in Eric Locke, and also have the country’s leading scorer in Kevin Domingue. But Cody Drover might just be the best playmaker of the three on the Ottawa Gee-Gees. After a solid rookie campaign, Drover has 16 points on the season (more than Domingue) with 13 assists, tying Locke for the team lead. A player that put up big numbers (especially assists) in the MJAHL with the Dieppe Commandos, his game at the University of Ottawa is becoming more and more what it was during his junior hockey days.

Key Games This Week:

UQTR vs UOIT | Fri. December 1st, 7:30 pm EST

In the first meeting of these two programs in the regular season the Ridgebacks have a really great chance to make a big statement with a great showing against the nationally ranked Patriotes. Although I still don’t believe UQTR is the team they were last year, beating them certainly counts for something when it comes to national ranking credibility. After a poor start to the season, what a phenomenal turnaround it would be should UOIT sweep away the Patriotes this week.

OUA West

Top Stories:

1. Week by week the Guelph Gryphons tip-toed closer and closer to the top of the OUA West standings. This week they decided they’d just blow the door open by posting 17 goals in two games against Nipissing and Laurentian. That boosted Guelph’s winning streak to eight games, and with 21 points has them prominently tied with the York Lions for first place in the West. Of Guelph’s 17 goals this weekend, either Marc or Michael Stevens had a part in eight on them. Marc blew up Laurentian goaltending for four goals on Friday, and combined for 11 points with his brother Michael in the last two games. Let’s not forget, the third brother Justin (ex-Carleton Raven) is a part of the coaching staff at Guelph this year. Few programs currently have family ties as deep as the Stevens brothers at Guelph.

2. After piecing together three points against Nipissing and Laurentian, the Brock Badgers are led offensively by Brandon O’Quinn. A product of NCAA III who spent part of last season in the ACH, his success has been an unlikely find for the Badgers. Ben Blasko is an NCAA III player who has become a perennial part of UOIT’s lineup, and it wasn’t that long ago Dylan Gilbert came out of the ACH to be an offensive leader on Guelph, but these type of success stories are few and far between. So don’t expect nationally ranked programs to be plucking guys out of SUNY-Plattsburgh anytime soon. For the rest of the Badgers, scoring goals has been an issue, something I thought could be a problem after watching them at the SteelBlade. Getting more offensive contribution from players like Mitch Nardi and Brayden Stortz can be the difference between a top five finish again for Brock, and scrapping to keep their playoff hopes alive.

3. The York Lions caught an injury snag when they left Scott FeserDexter Bricker, and Mack Shields in Toronto with injuries. Good news is the Lions have a good sense both Shields and Feser will return to the lineup this week, while Bricker is likely out for the semester. But the Lions continue to plod along and earn points, part of the reason being they have one of the best number two goalies in the OUA with Alex Fotinos. But Josh LaFrance is carrying a fair share of the weight too with seven goals. The offensive production from LaFrance has to be a candidate for the biggest surprise performance in the country this year. In other notes, big weekend upcoming for York with Laurier and Ryerson on the schedule. That’s three of the top four teams in the OUA West grinding it out with each other.

4. In the ever long quest for consistency, the Ryerson Rams tried to find it in the nation’s capital last week, but fell short to Ottawa in a shootout before winning a nice 5-3 decision over Carleton. Since returning to the lineup, Alex Basso has been dynamite (literally, this guy’s slapshot is gonna break the boards one of these days). He leads the way for a Ryerson blueline that could wind up being the key to any success they have down the stretch. The Rams have always had the offence, and have so again with Matt Mistele lighting up the league. But defensive contributions from players like Jared WalshDaniel Poliziani, and Matt Nosella will be magnified as the games increase with importance. The Rams get Western on Thursday before taking on York Saturday in a matchup they’ve lost three straight.

5. Sticking to their narrative this year, the Laurier Golden Hawks are still hovering within the OUA West top three after losing to Concordia, but turning around to beat McGill. This is the second nationally ranked program they’ve beaten this year (York the other), and have posted a combined 11 goals in those two games. Andrew Fritsch has three goals on the year, and all of them have been game-winners. Laurier’s penalty kill has been perfect in the last four games, and Colin Furlong is dominating this month with a 4-0 record, 2.07 GAA and a .932 SV%. Hard to find much wrong with this team over the last month.

Other Notes:

  • Power play numbers are up across the OUA this season. Last year teams were a combined 16.9% on the power play, while in 2017-18 that number has risen to 20.1%.
  • No magic this time in Trois-Rivières for U of T who lose both games. At one point on Friday, the Varsity Blues had allowed eight goals on 18 shots to UQTR.
  • Better week for Western who take three points from RMC and Queen’s. With five goals on the weekend Trevor Warnaar set a career-high in OUA goals with nine this year.
  • On Saturday the Waterloo Warriors honoured Michael Zettel, a star for the dominant Warrior teams of the 70s. Now an assistant coach with the program, Zettel joins Ron Hawkshaw (1st team All Canadian 1975) and John Wynne (1996 1st team/CIAU player of the year) as Waterloo alumni to be honoured by the program.
  • Despite losing both games this weekend, Windsor goaltending has been among some of the best in November with a 2.34 GAA and a team .934 SV%.

Unsung Heroes:

Steven Beyers, F | Western Mustangs

On a Western forward unit that has yet to live up to its full potential, it’s hard not to like the way Steven Beyers is playing for this program when he’s in the lineup. Joining the Mustangs after not playing since early 2016, Beyers has managed a heavy academic course load and played exceptionally well. With five points this weekend, Beyers wasn’t exactly quiet on the scoresheet, but his contribution can be easily lost in a Western lineup where he’s only played eight games. But when Beyers has drawn into the lineup, Western’s forward group has looked just a little bit better because of him.

Key Games This Week:

Laurier vs York | Fri. December 1st, 7:00 pm EST

A rematch of a game earlier in the year which saw the Golden Hawks get the best of York yet again, the season series will shift to the Olympic sized ice of Canlan Ice Sports. Theoretically a tougher matchup for Laurier this time around, they’ve consistently been a problem for the Lions, making for some surprisingly entertaining hockey between these two squads.

Canada West

Top Stories:

1. In conversation with Saskatchewan’s Dave Adolph, I get the sense he’d rather stay out of the major headlines while his program cruises along. So just for him, I thought I’d center out his name in this week’s top story. With Friday’s win against Mount Royal, Adolph gathered his 500th career win as a head coach coach (Lethbridge, playoffs & U Cup included). Nobody has ever reached that mark in U SPORTS history, and in today’s day and age, Gardiner MacDougall might be the only one who can rival him for that record. But Adolph won’t take much credit, he never will. His humbleness and grace about his accomplishments are reflected in the teams he’s orchestrated over the years. As he told me over the phone, “[the Sask. Huskies] are just a bunch of boys in the prairies playing hockey”. If you didn’t take a moment to stop and look at the history, it’s easy to pass by a program which have so many terrific stories of great Canadian players and coaches. Jordon CookeJosh Roach, and Kendall McFaull are great examples of the embodiment a Dave Adolph hockey team looks like. They’re leaders, humble, really good at hockey, but at the end of the day they’re just a bunch of boys in the prairies playing hockey. I don’t think any of the guys in that program would have it any other way, after all, that’s what it means to be a Huskie. Congratulations on the accomplishment Dave.

2. In what world does the backup goalie for a team have a perfect 6-0-0 record a season after backstopping his team to a Canada West title? If you guessed it’s somewhere in the realm of the Alberta Golden Bears‘ program, you’re correct. But let’s be honest, is Brendan Burke really a backup goalie? The fact he’s played less than Zach Sawchenko in the last month suggest he is, but it’s pretty obvious at this point it’s more of a platoon situation than anything. With both goalies playing the way they have, I’m extremely interested to see how Serge Lajoie manages these relationships down the stretch into the playoffs. In a year where I think there’s more pressure than ever to win at the national tournament, starting goalie decisions can make a coach look like a genius, or completely ruin a season. By the way, Alberta sweeps another weekend, beating UBC 4-0 then 5-1.

3. The Lethbridge Pronghorns and Regina Cougars wind up splitting their weekend series by nearly flipping the scoresheet upside down. The Pronghorns took the Friday nighter with a statement 6-2 win, but drop the next night’s game 5-2 with Zak Zborosky torching them for four points. Cody Fowlie also put up four points that night on the strength of his passing ability with four assists. On a Regina team that has been basement dwelling for longer than they’d like, it’s easy to forget how valuable some of their hidden gems really are. Fowlie, Brody Luhning, and Tristan Frei could all make a serious impact on any team in the conference with good playing time. Then there’s Zborosky. Coming as advertised, he leads all Canada West rookies in shots (46) and trails MRU’s Bradley Kennedy by just a goal for the rookie scoring lead with eight. Rarely do players come into this league and take a star role right away, but Zborosky has managed to do just that. Zborosky is off to an extremely impressive start, but given time and more support up front will make him even better in the years to come.

4. The Calgary Dinos and Manitoba Bisons trade wins this week as Manitoba win on Friday 3-2, then lose 4-0 on Saturday. Kamerin Nault has a goal in four of his last six as he contends with York’s Josh LaFrance for offensive breakout player of the year. on the flip side, Brett Stovin has been vey quiet with just six points. Looks like he hasn’t found anybody with the same chemistry he had alongside Jordan DePape. For Calgary, they had a short bench on Friday night and are likely counting on one of Tyler CoulterAaron IrvingColton Bobyk, or Ryan Graham to join this team in the new year. They’re so close to taking a step forward to the point where one player might be enough to do the trick. But I said the same with Parker Bowles last year, and although he was great when he joined the program, his impact was very short lived.

Other Notes:

  • Jordan Papirny is the first Calgary Dino rookie to record a shutout since Kris Lazaruk shutout Regina with 19 saves on Feb. 18th/2011.
  • With nine goals on the season Bradley Kennedy is poised to join Jamal Watson as the only MRU Cougars to score 10+ goals in their first year of eligibility.
  • After this week the Alberta Golden Bears have outshot their opponents in 36 of their last 42 games. In that time, they’re 28-7-1 when outshooting their opposition, 13-0 in 2017-18.
  • If you ever find yourself wondering just how important Mitch Maxwell is to the Lethbridge Pronghorns consider this: Since 2015-16 Lethbridge is 13-11-2 when Maxwell registers a point, when he doesn’t they’re a measly 1-11-2.

Unsung Heroes:

Jordan Papirny, G | Calgary Dinos

On a team where Matt Greenfield has proven himself as one of the best goalies in the conference, Calgary’s Jordan Papirny hasn’t been far behind. In conversation with coach Mark Howell this week, he told me Papirny has lived up to the expectation the Dinos had in recruiting him, and has matched the play of Greenfield through the first semester. Having a rookie goalie come in with high expectations and actually live up to them isn’t as common as you may think. Papirny was a big-time recruit in the offseason, and the results are already suggesting Calgary is cashing in on one of the WHL’s best.

Key Game This Week:

UBC vs Manitoba | Fri. December 1st, 7:00 pm PST

We’re in a position of the regular season where the games now have critical importance for the mid-pack teams. That’s the case for both Manitoba and UBC this week. With playoffs looming not too far in the distance, this week’s series can thrust one team into great position heading into the break, while another could slip dangerously low in the standings should we see a 2-0 series sweep.