Tuesday Morning Skate: August 22nd, 2017

Top Stories:

1. With the season fast approaching and no national tournament host announcement made yet for the host of the 2019 and 2020 U Cup, it’s time to let the speculation of the next host(s) begin. Bid booklets were just handed out over the last week, as this year’s deadline for bidding is December 8. All submissions will be presented on December 18, with the winner being notified on December 20. There’s still plenty of time for schools to send in bids and get their proposals in order. But here’s what I’ve found from working the phone lines around the league in regards to some of the most viable and likely hosts of the national tournament down the road.

Toronto, Ontario: Ryerson University

The University Cup hasn’t been hosted in Toronto since the Guelph Gryphons took down the UNB Varsity Reds at historic Maple Leaf Gardens in 1997. After more than two decades, the Gardens have never been more ready to host the tournament again. With a totally refurbished facility, the newly branded ‘Mattamy Athletic Centre’ is more than capable of handling the demands of the U Cup. Although the Ryerson Rams have never qualified for the national tournament, there’s good reason to believe that they’re closer than ever before. But that still remains the biggest point of contention. Ryerson recently hosted the women’s national volleyball championship at the Gardens which saw the Ryerson volleyball team swiftly knocked out without winning a game. Athletic Director Dr. Ivan Joseph is known for his competitive spirit, and won’t seriously consider hosting the U Cup unless he truly believes the MHKY team is good enough to contend. With men’s basketball reigning supreme, it may also take away from the chances of seeing the U Cup in Toronto again.

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan: University of Saskatchewan

The University Cup has made its way through Saskatoon five times, most recently in 2014. The city has proven before to be a worthy market for university hockey, and even in a post-Jordon Cooke era, there’s a great chance the Huskies are set to be national contenders down the road. However, I’ve been told by sources out of Saskatchewan that the university hasn’t pieced together a serious bid yet. The kicker is the new arena awaiting the Saskatchewan Huskies in 2019. Merlis Belsher Place is set to replace the ancient 88 year-old Rutherford Arena. What better way to christen the new facility than with a national title? It’s possible the U Cup heads over to the SaskTel Centre as it did in 2014, but the idea of hosting the tournament in a brand new facility is what would set this bid apart from the others. At the moment, it sounds like a distant possibility, but not out of the equation either.

Red Deer/Lethbridge, Alberta: University of Lethbridge

The idea of having the University of Lethbridge host a U Cup tournament may raise a few eyebrows, but the University seriously plans on being part of the bidding process. Lethbridge believes they have a great market for university hockey in Alberta, and have viable options to host in either the ENMAX Centrium (Red Deer) or the ENMAX Centre (Lethbridge). The University Cup has made stops in the province of Alberta nine times since 1963, but never outside Edmonton or Calgary. With a growing hockey landscape out west, the drawing power of university hockey in the Lethbridge area exists in theory, but is difficult to guarantee, having never hosted a university hockey event of this proportion before. The other factor here is, are the Lethbridge Pronghorns good enough to host a national title? Last season would indicate the answer is no. It’s difficult to come back from missing the playoffs to becoming a national contender in just two seasons in any conference, but especially so in Canada West. Whether or not people really believe the Pronghorns can hang at the national level will likely make or break this bid.

Ottawa, Ontario: Carleton University/University of Ottawa

Stunningly, the U Cup has never been to Parliament Hill before. Rumour has it that the Carleton Ravens and Ottawa Gee-Gees are looking to make that change in the near future. Of all the proposals, this joint-host of Carleton in 2019 and uOttawa in 2020 has the best ‘fun factor’. Apart from bringing the U Cup to the nation’s capital, I’ve been tipped off that a national championship in Ottawa could also mean an outdoor game somewhere along the lines. But it’s all suspicion and speculation at this point. Much like Lethbridge and Ryerson, the question rises as to Carleton and Ottawa’s ability to contend in a national tournament. Without Marty Johnston and a few key pieces, it’s hard to convince anyone that the Carleton Ravens are any better, let alone as good, as the team that went to the national championship in 2016. With just one season under their belts since the rebuild, the Ottawa Gee-Gees have a lot yet to prove, and going from a non-existent program to national contender in just four years might just be impossible. But the notion of having the U Cup in the nation’s capital might be too good to resist.

Halifax, Nova Scotia: Acadia University/Saint Mary’s University

Having recently hosted the national tournament in 2016, some might say it’s too soon for the U Cup to return to the east coast. Although it certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to see the U Cup spread its wings across the country, having the U Cup in Halifax has gone over notoriously well in the past. The Acadia Axemen have been long rumoured to be very serious about the bidding process, and hosting the tournament in Halifax seems like their best option. Both Saint Mary’s and StFX have been rumoured to be interested in bidding too, which would also likely see the tournament take place in downtown Halifax once again. The maritimes are infamously a great draw for university hockey, but the novelty of having the tournament out east could begin to wear off, if it hasn’t already. The infrastructure clearly exists, the teams are more than suitable to be contending for a national title, and the fan support should be there. All three factors hold great weight in determining the national title host, but whether or not U SPORTS wants to continue to host the tournament out east is yet to be seen.

2. Having dedicated hundreds of words to this topic in the last edition of Tuesday Morning Skate, there’s little left to be said regarding the Brock Badgers and their coaching situation. Two weeks ago they officially announced Marty Williamson as the interim head coach of the men’s hockey program. ‘Interim’ seems to be a trendy word these days as Concordia, Ryerson, York, Carleton, and UBC have all gone with an ‘interim’ head coach for one season. Only the Toronto Varsity Blues and Moncton Aigles Blues have committed long-term to new coaches this year. That’s not to say the other schools won’t (Concordia, Ryerson, and UBC all extended their interim head coaches), but there’s still an air of uncertainty. In nearly every case, schools elude to having a nationwide search for the full-time position, when in reality they know full well that they will likely promote their interim head coach to the full-time position. This seems to be a way for universities to have an easy way out should a coach turn out to be a sour fit. For example, had Marc-André Element and the Concordia Stingers completely flopped and fell apart during his first year behind the bench, it would’ve been a lot easier to replace him after a year as an interim rather than being tied into a longer term contract as a full-time head coach. It has become a popular tendency in today’s university hockey scene, but the only school I can see seriously looking at other coaching options is the Carleton Ravens. From the start, Marty Williamson was wanted by Brock, and now that they have him, they’d be ill-advised to not bring him back after one season if he wishes to return past 2017-18.

3. The UNB Varsity Reds let the cat out of the bag on their latest recruits over the last two weeks with the official additions of Kris BennettHayden HodgsonTyler Boland, and Rylan Parenteau. Boland is the headliner of the class after eclipsing the century mark in points during his overage season. Despite his irrefutably impressive numbers, some AUS coaches wonder if he’ll really come as advertised for UNB. He took awhile to find his offensive game at the QMJHL level, and the doubt stems from whether or not he’ll be able to handle the physical maturity of the AUS, a much stronger league (physically) than the QMJHL. But many still believe Boland is the slam dunk recruit UNB is hoping for. Then there’s Hodgson, who is hot off an explosive year where he put up 38 goals on an erratic Saginaw Spirit team. A solid-framed power forward with finishing ability, some have suggested he’ll fill the void of the departing Francis Beauvillier. Although the potential exists, he’ll need to improve his skating and round out his game to have the impact Beauvillier had on UNB. A teammate of Hodgson, Bennett also arrives at UNB on the heels of career numbers with the Spirit, but fulfills more of a depth role than the other UNB forward recruits. Parenteau serves a similar function in the net for UNB, as although he’s going to be given an opportunity to start games at some point in the season, he’ll have to visibly outplay Alex Dubeau to get the prized starts into the postseason and beyond.

4. With a number of top-end Saskatchewan products on the WHL overage market this year, many saw this as an opportunity for the University of Regina to cash in on some major junior talent, something they’ve lacked the last few seasons. Todd Johnson and the gang haven’t disappointed as they officially inked deals with Ben Duperreault, Jacob Cardiff, Troy Murray, Michael Herringer, and Zak Zborosky. All have serious WHL experience, and address needs in all three positions for the Cougars. Some say Herringer is their biggest addition having not had a goalie of his calibre for years. But I say Zborosky is the biggest difference maker in this class. Unquestionably, Herringer is going to help Regina contend in more games, but Zborosky is going to help Regina win more games. If Regina’s lacked anything more than they have goaltending, it’s been a game-breaker. Now they add a 40+ WHL goal-scorer who’s capable of putting up crooked numbers on a team where he’ll be the go-to threat. Even a player like Duperreault who possess top-end speed and skill can flourish as two of Regina’s most important offensive factors. The Cougars are still going to be scrapping to keep up with the rest of the Canada West programs, but adding recruits like these give us reason to believe they’ll be marginally better than they were last season.

Other Notes:

• All of a sudden, the Ryerson Rams are having a troublesome end to their offseason. Over the last three weeks or so, they’ve officially lost Chris MarcheseJosh SterkMitch TheoretAaron Dutra, and Luke Mercer in addition to losing Landon SchillerFabrizio Ricci, and graduating players Daniel Clairmont and Michael Fine. Now the rumour is that injuries have put Austin Kosack‘s status in jeopardy for next season, and the exodus of players from the MHKY program isn’t over yet. Of the aforementioned players, that’s enough to comprise a full two lines + a defensive pairing and then some. Not difficult to understand why they’ve brought in so many bodies for the upcoming year.

• The UPEI Panthers are finally back in the news with the acquisition of Mississauga Steelheads goaltender Matt Mancina for next year. Despite having Matt Mahalak already in the program, UPEI goaltending was somewhat of a puzzle last year. That was something they tried to supplement with bringing on Michael Giugovaz halfway through the year, but now take what they believe is an even better option in Mancina for next year. Mahalak is still the incumbent #1, but now there’s no reason that goaltenders should be an excuse for UPEI.

• The UOIT Ridgebacks add some homegrown talent with the addition of Whitby, Ont. native Everett Clark for the upcoming season. This is a move coach Curtis Hodgins has been working on for quite some time, and now that it’s over, it will cap off UOIT’s offseason excluding anything unforeseen. Clark stands as the Ridgebacks’ only CHL recruit, but likely won’t play a star role on UOIT. On a roster where there isn’t much disparity in the talent department, it provides the opportunity for anyone to step up and blossom offensively. But bringing in a player like Clark, UOIT would rather see him play a physical, aggressive, tough to play against-type game with any offence being an added bonus.

• After taking numerous runs at OHL overagers, the Dalhousie Tigers finally landed some major junior talent from Ontario with the enrolment of Aiden Jamieson and C.J. Yakimowicz from the Sudbury Wolves. Both have extensive experience playing together dating back to their days as Memorial Cup champions with the London Knights, so it’s no surprise to see them land together again. It’s a nice add for Dalhousie too, who fill out their defensive pairings with Jamieson who projects to be a steady AUS D-Man. Yakimowicz adds grit up front, but not much offensively for a team still in dire need of goals. But on a team where they’ll ask anyone to score, who knows what kind of numbers Yakimowicz might put up.

 As I reported on Twitter last week, the Calgary Dinos and Alberta Golden Bears are set to take some big names off the ‘best available’ list of WHL overagers. The Golden Bears already have Zach Sawchenko for next season, and have long been rumoured to have committed Clayton Kirichenko. The two new names to enter the equation are Steven Owre and Brandon Magee. Owre has committed to the U of A, but there is still a possibility he turns pro first (much like Jason Fram/Cole Sanford). Magee was a Chilliwack Bruin turned long-time Victoria Royal who played in the ECHL in 2015-16 before red-shirting for the Golden Bears last season. He’s a small forward with skill and a consistent track record of scoring, but the Golden Bears are still waiting on his status of eligibility before they officially confirm his addition.

 For the Calgary Dinos, Aaron Irving and Colton Bobyk are the latest rumoured recruits in addition to Ryan Gagnon. For those familiar with the WHL, they’ll know just how good those three defenders are in their own right. Potentially being on the same team at Calgary next year might instantaneously make Calgary’s blueline one of the very best in the country. With Jordan Papirny also rumoured to be committed to Calgary, stay tuned for some big news from the Dinos.

 Last week I mentioned how the Guelph Gryphons would need to get creative to find a goaltender, and a week later, it appears I’ve figured out who they’ve found. Andrew Masters will be a name familiar with most who pay attention to tier II hockey. Masters was most notably the starting goalie for the Georgetown Raiders in 2015-16 where he led the OJHL in save percentage and was named the league’s best goalie. After committing to Miami Univ. (Ohio) but not playing a single game last year, it sounds like he’s committed to Guelph, where he’ll be granted starting minutes.

 As per usual, there’s an update on the Medric Mercier situation. It seems to be changing on a weekly basis, and it has left Patrick Grandmaitre and company in a position where they are preparing for the season as if Mercier will not be part of the team. Four weeks ago it seemed Mercier wouldn’t be going to uOttawa, two weeks ago it appeared he would be, and now this week the word is if he heads to the Gee-Gees it won’t be until the second semester.

Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:

In the final top five countdown of the offseason for major junior products, we look at the best five defenceman graduating out of the QMJHL. In a year where all three division of the CHL offered up some great talent from the blueline, the QMJHL adds their own flavour of grit, gumption, and gusto.

Top 5 Overage Defencemen Available from the QMJHL:

1. Carl Neill, D | Charlottetown Islanders

If Santino Centorame doesn’t turn out as the best rookie defenceman in the country this year, then Carl Neill is the next best bet. A former Vancouver Canucks draft pick from 2015, Neill spent a season and a half as the captain of the Sherbrooke Phoenix before being shipped off to Charlottetown to conclude his QMJHL playing days. Over his 320 games in the Q, not only did Neill prove to be one of the most durable defenders, but also one of the most offensively gifted. Neill is coming off an overage season where he posted 56 assists, ranking him second to only Samuel Girard amongst QMJHL defenders. Neill was the lifeline and quarterback of the Sherbrooke Phoenix offence over the last two seasons, and provided a similar service to the Islanders late last year. Now committed to the Concordia Stingers, Neill heads to a program which hasn’t had a defender of his offensive calibre in years. The Stingers are already jammed with an armoury of lethal threats up front, but now having another one from the back-end could be what takes them to the next level.

2. Olivier LeBlanc, D | Cape Breton Screaming Eagles

The player with the longest hockey resume on this list belongs to Olivier LeBlanc, who’s done just about all there is to do as a QMJHL defenceman. He’s played at the U-17 level, represented the QMJHL twice as an all-star in the Super Series, and was drafted in the 7th round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets. Although LeBlanc was never signed by Columbus, he went on to have a complete QMJHL career spanning 291 games between the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles. Another instance of a defender putting up career numbers in his overage year, LeBlanc is an asset both offensively and defensively, making him one of the best overage two-way defenders in the entire CHL. Set to join the UNB Varsity Reds for 2017-18, he accompanies a blueline with a few positions up for grabs. An ex-QMJHL captain with both teams he played for, UNB is extremely excited for the potential he brings to the table at the U SPORTS level. With Randy Gazzola poised to headline UNB’s defence this year, LeBlanc may not take the spotlight right away, but many both inside UNB and around the AUS believe he will eventually patrol the blueline on UNB’s first defensive pairing.

3. T.J. Melancon, D | Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

Former StFX X-Men coach Danny Flynn once described the QMJHL as ‘the league of second chances’. T.J. Melancon is living proof that adage is true. A 12th round pick of the Saginaw Spirit, Melancon never signed on with the organization. He went on to fine-tune his craft with the OJHL’s Cobourg Cougars in 2013-14 before trying-out and signing with the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada in 2014-15. From there, Melancon went on to flourish offensively, eventually leading all QMJHL defenders in goals (19) in his final QMJHL season. It’s been a rapid progression over the last three seasons for Melancon, and now he’s coming off a season of playing the best hockey of his career. There was a point in time where it appeared UNB had vested interest, but now this late in the offseason, it appears Melancon is destined for the professional ranks. Talking with a contact from his OJHL days who has skated in the offseason with Melancon, he supposedly has an AHL deal on the table. It’s not difficult to see Melancon playing at the AHL level, and although he could come around to university hockey over the break, his career path would project he’s destined to continue to improve at the pro level.

4. Guillaume Beaudoin, D | Blainville-Boisbriand Armada

At the outset of the season, you had to have a pretty good idea of the QMJHL landscape, and more specifically the makeup of the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada to truly understand how good Guillaume Beaudoin was over his first three seasons in the QMJHL. But in his overage year, Beaudoin’s skillset was on full display at the national level as he captained the Armada to an appearance in the President’s Cup QMJHL final against the Saint John Sea Dogs. Beaudoin’s overage year saw career-high numbers, but most importantly results. Thrown in just about every situation conceivable last year, Beaudoin was effective for the Armada in all of them, and is a big part of the reason the Armada had one of the best defensive groups in the CHL. Committed to the UQTR Patriotes, he joins a youth movement on a UQTR blueline that will see extreme competition for minutes early in the season. But if Beaudoin manages to play a similar game to that of his time in Blainville, he’ll quickly become an integral part of UQTR’s top four for most of the season. A coveted player and leader, he may be gone from Blainville, but his influence will not soon be forgotten.

5. Tristan Pomerleau, D | Victoriaville Tigres

The second UNB commit on this list, Tristan Pomerleau presents himself as one of the best defence-first players and leaders from the QMJHL last season. A mainstay on the Victoriaville Tigres blueline for a full five seasons, Pomerleau has served as their captain for the last three. It’s not secret, UNB loves to have players with captaincy experience on their roster who are team-first players, and that’s what stands out most about Pomerleau. When it actually comes to his on-ice skills, he’s easy to miss, which is a compliment. Never one to make a situation more difficult than it needs to be, Pomerleau is an efficient defender who excels at making simple plays. An attribute that can often be overlooked when analyzing young talent. Pomerleau’s ability to blend in with the play makes him the great illusionist of this list, and something UNB hope will continue with the Varsity Reds program. His role as a freshman won’t likely be hefty, but before you know it, Pomerleau will be garnering some of the most important defensive assignments in the AUS.

The Week Ahead:

Ask and ye shall receive. Finally, I haven’t needed to torture my sources late on Monday night in an attempt to find any small scraps of news for this article. The last two weeks have provided a healthy stream of news, and with three big Canada West teams yet to make recruit announcements, we’re still in for a busy conclusion to the off season.