Tuesday Morning Skate: July 11th, 2017

Top Stories:

1. The UNB Varsity Reds put out their first recruit announcement of the offseason last week with the additions of Olivier LeBlanc and Tristan Pomerleau. Both captains of their respective junior hockey clubs, Pomerleau has been a Victoriaville Tigres defenceman since day one, while LeBlanc started out with Saint John, but concludes his QMJHL career with Cape Breton. LeBlanc has the more impressive resume of the two, complete with two appearances for the QMJHL in the Subway Super Series. But Pomerleau is a pretty big add in his own right. LeBlanc has the higher star-potential of the two in this league, but Pomerleau can be a horse defensively for UNB just as he was in Victoriaville. With both LeBlanc and Pomerleau in the picture for next year, UNB have seven defenders (not including utility-man Matt Boudens). That’s enough to get them comfortably through the season, so don’t expect them to add another, unless it’s a home-run recruit like Aaron Irving.

As far as the rest of the offseason goes, many people in the AUS remain adamant that Alexandre Goulet is still a package deal with Pomerleau, so consider that deal 95% done. Kris Bennett was telling teams a month ago he committed to UNB, and that has yet to change. Those are the two most likely forwards to be committed for next year, while close behind trails Tyler Boland. Boland will attend Winnipeg Jets camp in the fall, so if he commits to UNB, it’s likely very late in the offseason. But many sources out east feel that he will indeed be a Varsity Red next year. UNB is making a push for Hayden Hodgson out of Saginaw, and rumoured to have offers out for Keanu Yamamoto from Spokane and Bobby MacIntyre from Sault Ste. Marie. Although at least one other source believes MacIntyre already has an AHL deal on the table. Kameron Kielly is another name to watch for in association with UNB as the offseason continues.

2. The dust has settled now from the big announcement out of York two weeks ago which saw head coach Chris Dennis depart after two seasons for a job with the Chicago Wolves in the AHL. Former assistant coach Russ Herrington will assum interim head coach duties, effective immediately. For the finer details on how the process unfolded and what it means for York University, you can read about it here

For now, it doesn’t seem like we’re going to hear much more this offseason from York. They have a head coach and recruit class in place, and the only item of business remaining for them is to figure out who else will accompany Herrington on the bench next season. I was told Jesse Messier will stay on as an assistant coach, but I was also told that he was approached by Ryan Medel at U of T to join the Varsity Blues, although it doesn’t look likely that he will. Liam Heelis is definitely in the market for an assistant coaching job, and he’s been poking around the Toronto area looking for one, so perhaps something comes of that. As far as Ryerson goes, don’t expect anything on their bench to change for next year, even though assistant coach Nathaniel Brooks has good ties with both Medel and Herrington.

3. Now that the OUA schedule is out, despite an official release from the OUA, the new division format is now in play. OUA teams will play 24 in-conference games and only four out. This has been general knowledge around the league for some time, but it seems the closer we get to the season, the more accepted this new format is becoming. I chatted with a few players last week about the changes, and got a mixed bag of responses, but none of which were dead set on a ‘love it’ or ‘hate it’ side. One player noted to me how he thinks the lack of road trips will be missed by some of the teams, who use it as an opportunity to bond. But as another player mentioned, less time on the road allows for more time to focus on academics and school.

From a hockey standpoint, the more in-conference games means there’s going to be a lot of meaningful hockey late in the season between teams that are competing for a playoff spot or a division lead. Contrary to previous years, the playoff fate of most schools will lay in their hands more than ever. Teams outside the playoff picture will also likely get more chances to pull themselves back in. It’s a good way for the league to shake up the landscape without radically changing the composition of the OUA. The only real opposition to the format is towards the UQTR, Concordia, McGill, Carleton, and Ottawa ‘group of death’. All five schools were legitimate contenders last year, but now being sandwiched in the same division, it’s likely that at least a few of these teams have a record that doesn’t represent how good they actually are. Luckily for them, the conference structure is still in play for the playoff seeding (1-8, 2-7, etc.) so all five teams can still make the playoffs. It’s still possible that if the OUA doesn’t like what they see out of this division next year, we could see a shuffle down the road again to even the playing field.

Other Notes:

 With the OUA schedule dropping last week, we found out about a number of key dates, most of which you can read about in greater detail here. But perhaps none are more intriguing than January 20th, 2017 when Concordia and UQTR play a game in Drummondville, QC. Sources out of Québec confirmed with me over the weekend that this will be an outdoor game between the two universities. Where exactly the game will be held is still TBD. The town of St-Tite, QC. hosted two QMJHL outdoor games back in 2015, but it’s about an hour and a half north of Drummondville, so it seems unlikely to be the host. Wherever this game is played, it’s going to be one of the marquee university hockey games of the year.

– It appears the Regina Cougars have found their man in the crease for 2017-18 in Michael Herringer. Herringer is the best goaltending recruit the university has had since they got Lucas Gore and Andrew Hayes out of junior in 2011-12. It’s been a rough few seasons for Regina, but step one of building back up to playoff contention is winning tight games, and strong goaltending is paramount for that to happen. Herringer is fresh off a deep playoff run with Kelowna where he put up very solid numbers. But what really stands out is his career postseason save percentage, which is well over .910. Herringer may not be the most talented OA goalie out of the WHL this year, but when the games matter most, he has a very sharp track record.

– The Moncton Aigles Bleus made an off the board announcement this week bringing back Thierry Comtois for 2017-18. Comtois played two seasons with Moncton between 2014 and 2016, before sitting out last season. Comtois previously spent three seasons with the Val-D’Or Foreurs in the QMJHL, and ended his junior career with Dieppe (MJAHL) where he was a point-per-game player. He wasn’t much of an offensive threat in the QMJHL and his two previous years in the AUS, so it’s hard to imagine that changes this year. But depth was something the Aigles Bleus clearly didn’t have last year, and Comtois helps supplement that to a point.

 The Ryerson Rams went off the radar two weeks ago with the acquisition of Mathew Santos from the Toledo Walleye. Never one to shy away from recruiting off the board, the Rams will have to wait for Santos to become eligible to play in 2018-19, but the wait may well be worth it. Santos was never a feared offensive weapon in the OHL, and won’t be at Ryerson either, but during his four seasons with the Brampton/North Bay Battalion organization, he developed a reputation as one of the league’s best two-way forwards. Back-checking forwards hasn’t exactly been a strength for Ryerson over the years, but they get a particularly good one in Santos down the road.

 It doesn’t sound like the Carleton Ravens are ready to stop pursing Dalen Hedges just yet. An Ottawa native who put up big numbers with the Nepean Raiders, Hedges has played the last three seasons at Northeastern University in the NCAA. Partway through last year he was rumoured to be in talks with the Ravens, but never wound up on the ice. Supposedly, Marty Johnston is still trying to convince him to play. If he can get him to do so, it’ll be a decent boost for a Ravens team that just lost Brent Norris to the pro ranks.

– Heading into the offseason, it was very apparent the Lakehead Thunderwolves were in the goaltending market. But with options quickly being taken off the table, Lakehead had to get creative. Nic Renyard is their answer, as he’ll join Devin Green as Lakehead’s marquee netminders. There was a time when, not only was Renyard the best goalie in tier II hockey, but the best player in tier II, as evidenced by his 2015 CJHL Player of the Year award. Renyard committed to UMass (Amherst) for 2015-16, but after a sub-par year, things quickly fell apart. Renyard saw his minutes vanish last season, and has opted to transfer to a school where he’ll get more playing time. Renyard has undeniable talent, but considering how things panned out in the NCAA, there’s some serious questions too. Renyard has the ability to be a slam dunk recruit, but also has the potential to flame out if the fit isn’t right.

 On July 4, Forbes Macpherson signed a four year contract extension with the UPEI Panthers, which will make him their head coach through 2021. It’s a rare piece of news out of UPEI which has been a very quiet program this offseason. Without Brock Beukeboom and Casey Babineau on the blueline next year, there’s at least two pretty big holes to fill on the backend. J.C. Campagna is, as of today, their only confirmed loss on forward, so there isn’t much work to be done up front for the Panthers. UPEI was expected to be in the goalie market to fortify the crease, so when they eventually drop some announcements this offseason, they’ll likely be centred around keeping pucks out of the net.

Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:

This year the OHL offers us five overage goalies. So determining who cracked this list was rather easy. But deciphering where they sit in comparison to each other is a totally different story. Overall, there isn’t anything spectacular about this list. But all five goalies are capable of turning into rock-solid university hockey starters, and there isn’t much separating goalies 2-5.

Top 5 Overage Goalies Available from the OHL:

1. Jeremy Brodeur, G | Oshawa Generals

Of all the overage goaltenders graduating out of the CHL this year, Jeremy Brodeur gets my vote as the best available. Brodeur was drafted in 2013 by the Oshawa Generals, and later cracked the roster as a backup to Ken Appleby in 2014-15 on the way to a Memorial Cup. Brodeur spent the last two seasons as Oshawa’s starter, and has proven to be a quality late-blooming OHL goaltender. The 2016-17 season was Brodeur’s best, on an Oshawa team which wasn’t always great in front of him. Unfortunately for Brodeur, his worst hockey of the season came at the worst time, in the playoffs. He was replaced by Kyle Keyser in the final games against Mississauga in the second round as Oshawa was eliminated. It was an unceremonious conclusion to Brodeur’s junior hockey career, but it doesn’t change how many games he stole, or gave Oshawa a chance to win this year. Despite never being seriously considered in NHL draft rankings, Brodeur is getting sufficient pro interest now. But you can bet the offers he’s receiving from universities (UNB) are going to be taken very seriously.

2. Matt Mancina, G | Mississauga Steelheads

If you’re looking for a reliable goaltender with good size and big-game experience, Matt Mancina is a great option. Mancina got his feet wet in the OHL as the backup to Justin Nichols on the Guelph Storm during their Memorial Cup run, and although he only played 28 games, impressed the Peterborough Petes enough to acquire him to be their starter in early 2014. Mancina spent nearly two full seasons with Peterborough before finishing off his OHL career with Mississauga. With the Steelheads, Mancina flip-flopped with backup Jacob Ingham throughout the season, and even into the postseason, but finished strong with a good showing in the OHL Finals against the Erie Otters. There doesn’t appear to be much star power with Mancina, but he’s been a respectable starter everywhere he’s been. No reason to believe he won’t be just that at the university hockey level either.

3. Dawson Carty, G | Hamilton Bulldogs

After four seasons in the OHL, Dawson Carty will join the Acadia Axemen for the 2017-18 season. Originally drafted by Mississauga in the 2012 OHL Priority selection, Carty broke into the OHL in 2013-14 as the understudy to Spencer Martin. The Steelheads sent him to Kitchener that offseason where he split time with Jake Paterson and Luke Opilka over the following two and a half seasons. Carty wound up as the starter for Kitchener through the first half of the 2016-17 season with Opilka on the shelf, and showed well enough to be dealt to Hamilton at the deadline where he would continue to start games down the stretch into the playoffs. Carty turned a few heads this year with his play, and certainly didn’t start the season ranking this high on the list. An OHL backup for most of his career, he joins an Acadia program with two proven goalies, but the current number one, Robert Steeves, is living proof that average junior hockey careers don’t always project the same at the university level.

4. Brent Moran, G | North Bay Battalion

The only overage goalie out of the CHL this year that has been drafted by an NHL team, Brent Moran is set to join the Nipissing Lakers for 2017-18. Taken in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Entry Draft by the Dallas Stars, Moran’s size and solid draft season made him an attractive commodity for the long term if he continued to flourish. Over the next season and a half, Moran was fazed out of the Niagara IceDogs organization as he was eventually dealt to Flint midway through 2015-16 for Alex Nedeljkovic. Moran just spent his 2016-17 season with a North Bay team which crumbled down the stretch to miss the postseason, but still leaves behind a decent junior hockey career. Moran will split time with Domenic Graham at Nipissing for the majority of the year, unless one or the other begins to really struggle. All of a sudden, the Lakers have a pretty good crease situation.

5. Liam Herbst, G | Guelph Storm

When you see Liam Herbst standing in the net, you aren’t going to find much to shoot at. At 6-foot-4, Herbst is one of the tallest OA goalies out of the CHL this year, and was at one time considered very valuable property. Originally taken in the first round of the 2012 OHL Priority Selection by the London Knights, Herbst was the first goalie picked from that year. Since then, Herbst spent the majority of his OHL days with the Ottawa 67’s, but played his overage season with the Guelph Storm. Herbst never really got a full season as a starting netminder until 2016-17 with Guelph, in what wasn’t exactly an ideal situation for goalies. It’s hard to tell if we ever really saw the full potential of Herbst in the OHL, especially with his injury history. But university hockey is a league that lends itself to new beginnings. Reportedly committed to the Western Mustangs for next year, Herbst will have a chance to start fresh again.

The Week Ahead:

So far it’s been a suspiciously quiet July. Although there’s been a few notable recruit announcements thus far, July is typically the busiest month for announcements across the country. The longer we wait for a spree of news, the more imminent a big week is coming up on us. Even after York’s Chris Dennis announcement, I don’t anticipate we’re done with OUA coaching changes just yet either.