Tuesday Morning Skate: July 25th, 2017

Top Stories:

1. The rumours have existed for over a year, but last week Wednesday they became a reality. After seven years as the head coach of the Carleton Ravens, and a full decade as a part of the men’s hockey program, Marty Johnston is moving on to the Manitoba Moose of the AHL for 2017-18. The move comes after an extended period where many in the Ottawa region believed it was only a matter of time before Johnston would depart for another opportunity in hockey, namely the highly speculated head coach job opening with Gatineau for 2016-17. But after a text from former Carleton Ravens video coach Rich Bue (currently with the Manitoba Moose) this summer, Johnston looked into the possibility of making the move out to Manitoba. Johnston will wrap up the next couple of weeks with Carleton running their summer hockey camps, and helping former assistant coach Shaun Van Allen with the transition into the interim head coach role for 2017-18 before moving his family out to Winnipeg.

Van Allen is no stranger to the Carleton hockey program having been a part of the organization since 2010-11, but has never held a rank of this significance at the university level. Van Allen is an ex-NHLer of 794 games, a good portion of which were spent with the Ottawa Senators. When it comes to coaching, Johnston told me on Monday morning that Van Allen is largely to praise for the success of Carleton’s impeccable penalty kill in recent history. He also noted to me that he expects defence and goaltending to be the main focus of Van Allen’s Ravens, not all that dissimilar to the style of play he became known for in the NHL. Although it won’t be the same, Johnston believes the program is in good hands, and is satisfied with what Carleton has pieced together this offseason, especially on the back-end.

Johnston leaves behind an impressive ten year legacy at Carleton which began from the bottom up with turning a brand new Carleton program into a national championship contender. Some of Johnston’s best memories from Carleton include the two seasons where the Ravens qualified for the national championship in 2014 and 2016. Johnston told me he remembers how impressed he was with the Alberta Golden Bears in 2014, and how much work there still had to be done for Carleton to win at the national stage. But he still remains adamant that Carleton’s effort at the 2016 University Cup against Saskatchewan in the quadruple overtime duel for the ages was good enough to win.

2. July 15th saw the conclusion of men’s ice hockey at the 2017 Maccabiah Games with team Canada taking down the United States by a 7-2 final, capping off a perfect tournament with a gold medal winning performance. Behind the bench for Canada in Israel was a familiar face for university hockey fans. Long-time RMC and former UBC bench boss Adam Shell. Having received the call for the job a few months back, Shell has been a busy man piecing together a gold medal calibre team for the games. As you might expect, there was a healthy representation of university hockey on the ice as well. Both Aaron and Beni Berisha played prominent roles for Canada. On the back-end was UBC Thunderbirds defenceman and former Shell student Kyle Becker. Finally, perhaps with the most impressive performance of them all, Ottawa Gee-Gees forward Jacob Hanlon centred a young third line, and according to Shell played a nearly perfect tournament. It’s a promising sign for the Gee-Gees, who might be in store for something more from Hanlon than just his 13 point rookie season last year.

Anytime university hockey players get an opportunity to represent on the national stage, it’s a proud moment for both players and school. Not only did four university players appear on team Canada, but York’s Aaron Spivak suited up for host nation Israel as well.

3. The UBC Thunderbirds 2017 recruit class is coming together piece by piece, and it’s beginning to look very, very strong. In a year where roster spots on Saskatchewan and Alberta are limited to non-existent, teams knew the wealth of WHL overagers would be spread more equally this offseason. UBC got off to a good start with adding Matt Revel, Thomas Foster, Tyler Sandhu, and Graham Millar. But the recent additions of Austin Glover and Rylan Toth upgrade their class substantially. Glover enters the program after a five season stint in the WHL among three different teams, most recently the Red Deer Rebels. Glover showed the most offensive flare of his career in his overage season, and had it not been for an injury shortened 2015-16 campaign, would have put up better numbers that year too. He’s not a premium overage forward recruit out of the WHL, but he’s nestled on the fringe of the top ten best available. Perhaps most importantly, he’ll be given the opportunity to break through with UBC right away.

Toth is a rare case of a goaltender who spent all three of his WHL seasons as a starting netminder. Although he split games through the regular season and playoffs with Waterloo recruit Trevor Martin in 2015-16 on Red Deer, Toth was the go-to goalie at the Memorial Cup. After beginning last season as the starter for Seattle, his year was thrown off with an injury suffered in early 2017 which opened the door for the young 17 year-old phenom Carl Stankowski to take the spotlight en route to a Thunderbirds WHL title. But Toth saw Memorial Cup action again when the T-Birds faltered with Stankowski in Windsor. Although not the best WHL goalie available, Toth isn’t off the top of the leaderboard by much. His numbers, especially in the playoffs, are immaculate. With a need for a netminder this season, there’s all the reason in the world to give Toth the shot as UBC’s number one.

A strong recruit class was key for UBC this offseason, with both Anthony Bardaro and Luke Lockhart signing deals overseas for next year. With a big gap being left in the lineup without them, don’t expect the Thunderbirds to stop announcing recruits just yet.

Other Notes:

– The Dalhousie Tigers were dealt a crushing blow this month when they found out that offensive star Phil Gadoury would not return for the 2017-18 season in favour of pro hockey opportunities. As reported on Twitter, Gadoury has been receiving interest specifically from the Montreal Canadiens, and is likely to start the next campaign with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL. Gadoury departs Dalhousie after two seasons where he was named AUS rookie of the year in 2015-16, and still led the 2016-17 Dalhousie Tigers in scoring despite being injured for nearly half the year. It was clear to see last year that with both Corbin Boes and Gadoury in the lineup, the Tigers had just enough firepower to have upset potential against anybody in the AUS. But now without their top offensive talent, a program already stricken for goals will need to find even more depth from their roster in 2017-18.

 The month of July has not been kind to Patrick Grandmaitre and the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Two months ago, Samuel Thibault was a confirmed recruit for the University of Ottawa, and it seemed highly likely that Medric Mercier would follow suit in committing to the Gee-Gees. But now Thibault has opted to go the ECHL route for 2017-18, and while nothing official has been released in regards to Mercier, it would appear he has also had a change of plans this summer. Ottawa recently announced the acquisitions of Jean-Robin Mantha and Cody Van Lierop from the tier II level. There’s a good chance those two are the contingency plans for Thibault and Mercier, but neither have the same major junior experience or prestige.

 Even though the Carleton Ravens lost their long-time head coach last week, they received some great news regarding Ryan Van Stralen. After appearing unlikely to return to Carleton for 2017-18 after three years with the program, Van Stralen has opted to indeed come back for a fourth year. This is particularly huge for a team which is losing OUA East first team all-star Mike McNamee to graduation, and haven’t recruited much scoring out of junior this year. Van Stralen scored seven times last year, but the prospect of putting up another 22 goal season like he did in 2015-16 alongside Brett Welychka is enough to make you believe the Carleton Ravens offence might be okay after all.

– Apart from Phil Gadoury, there wasn’t much notable AUS hockey news over the last two weeks. SMU is reportedly finished actively recruiting this offseason, while Acadia made a small-time acquisition in Jack McClelland, but are still looking to complete their roster with one more forward. Moncton added Ryan Chiasson out of the Dieppe Commandos organization, while UPEI still have deals on the table, but are still waiting to disclose any of them publicly. I still anticipate Dalhousie will add Ryan Verbeek from Drummondville at some point, while I expect Adam Laishram to forgo his overage season to attend StFXUNB was dead quiet this week, but that’s not a surprise. They’re still waiting to hear on a number of big names who likely won’t make final decisions until late in the summer.

 The Calgary Dinos offseason continues to be an absolute roller coaster for a program that thought they had themselves in good position for the future after adding 12 bodies just a season ago. Now it’s Parker Bowles who has decided to split from the University of Calgary after just half a year of eligibility to play for the Tilburg Trappers in Germany 3. Although his time at Calgary was brief, Bowles posted 12 points in 12 games and looked primed to become an offensive star on a Calgary team in need of one for the future. Clearly Bowles had second thoughts about university hockey, and now it’s highly unlikely he will ever come back. There aren’t really any scorers out there with Bowles’ WHL pedigree, but supposedly Matt Alfaro is on Calgary’s radar, if not already committed for 2017-18.

– Although not a major recruit, the Ryerson Rams still sent a few ripples through the university hockey landscape with the addition of Cavin Leth for 2017-18. This move is meaningful because it marks the first recruit directly out of the WHL for Ryerson on recent record. The Rams have shown their recruiting clout over the last two years with big classes packed with CHL talent, but now they’re showing off their range too. Recruiting is the biggest reason for Ryerson’s surge in the regular season standings the past few years, and establishing contacts from across the country bodes well for the Rams continuing to bring in proven talent further down the road.

 Say what you will about the Windsor Lancers‘ gigantic roster turnover this year, Kevin Hamlin has always found a degree of success with picking players out of tier II, and he’s sticking to his guns again this year. The Lancers officially have 13 bodies coming in next year, only three of which have major junior experience. But in a league where many claim major junior recruits are key to long-term success, Windsor appears to be the one exception. Hamlin makes it no secret that he looks for character players that fit the Windsor Lancers model, regardless of hockey background. Out of that, Windsor has produced a couple diamonds in the rough, and with 13 more players headed there this year, there’s a good chance there’s another one somewhere in the bunch.

Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:

At the beginning of the year, the WHL overage forward class looked extremely appealing. But the downside to that from a university perspective is that they’ll also have the attention of pro hockey organizations. Clearly some NHL teams like what they saw out of some of the WHL OAs this year, with Tyler WongKeegan IversonScott EansorChad Butcher, and Reid Gardiner signing to play in the AHL next season and Dawson Leedahl signing his ELC with the Rangers. Although they take a chunk of talent out of the overall class, there still remain some great point-producing options up front for university programs.

Top 5 Overage Forwards Available from the WHL:

1. Collin Shirley, F | Kamloops Blazers

Collin Shirley doesn’t have offensive stats equal to the others on this list, and unlike many of these players, actually took a step back production-wise in his overage season. But that doesn’t change how much of an asset Shirley was to Kamloops last season. Shirley posted 37 goals in 2015-16, then dropped to 28 last year, which is in part due to the offensive emergence of Deven Sideroff and the arrival of Rudolph Balcers into the lineup. Shirley doesn’t have the offensive skill-set that the top scoring WHL players do, but he’s the total university package. He served as Kamloops’ captain last year, and has the character needed to captain a university program down the line too. He has good size, can take over a game physically, and plays like a winner. Chances are that Shirley won’t light up the scoreboard with dazzling dramatics, but he has the potential to be a do-it-all type player who can still score at a high rate, much like Connor Rankin. I was informed a few months back that Shirley was telling teams he had committed to the University of Saskatchewan, and sources out of the school hinted that was indeed the case. But in typical Saskatchewan fashion, they’re in no rush to confirm this acquisition. But when they do, Shirley will surely be an integral part of their team right away.

2. Lane Bauer, F | Kamloops Blazers

It’s a sweep of the top two for Kamloops players. Although Lane Bauer was brought in halfway through the season in a trade from the Edmonton Oil Kings where he spent the majority of his career. Bauer scored a career-high 36 goals this year, and tacked on 71 points in as many games. In the seven games I watched Bauer play this year, he appeared to be more-so the beneficiary offensively of chemistry with linemates and being in the right position rather than having the game-breaking ability of a Tyler Wong type. But to be a perennial goal-scorer in university hockey doesn’t always require you to be a game-breaker as a prerequisite. In the right spot with the right teammates, Bauer is easily a 10+ goal per season forward in Canada West. His nose for the net and intellect for the offensive side of the game made him a consistent scorer in the WHL, but it could take him as much as a full season to truly adjust to university hockey and realize his full potential. But when/if he does, he can be a top six forward on any team in the country. The Alberta Golden Bears are set to have a very small recruit class, which they can afford to be picky with, but supposedly Bauer is among the players on their shortlist to grab for 2017-18.

3. Jack Walker, D/F | Victoria Royals

The case of Jack Walker this season has been a curious one. Breaking into the WHL as a defenceman in 2012-13, Walker would go on to lead all WHL D-Men in goals in the 2014-15 season, switch to forward for 2015-16, score 84 points and was promptly drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs that summer. In his overage year, Walker’s production took a dip to 72 points in 70 games for Victoria, and suffered an injury which ended his season prematurely. A surprise to some, not only did the Leafs not extend Walker a qualifying offer, but they didn’t even invite him to development camp in July. Instead Walker skated at the Minnesota Wild’s camp in his home state, but nothing seems to have come out of that either. When I spoke with Canada West coaches about Walker in early June, I was told his agent was attempting to work something out with the Toronto Maple Leafs, which obviously didn’t pan out. It’s possibly he still latches on with the Marlies or another AHL affiliate. But if Walker really wants to take another sharp turn in his career path, university hockey may not be out of the question just yet. There’s nothing concrete to suggest he’s seriously considering that option right now, but what’s to say a team like Alberta won’t scoop him up early in the season, or even at the halfway mark as they did with Cole Sanford and Jason Fram last year.

4. Zachary Zborosky, F | Lethbridge Hurricanes

When it comes to natural offensive threats, Zachary Zborosky tops this list. Traded from the Kootenay Ice to the Lethbridge Hurricanes halfway through the season, Zborosky went from being a superstar sniper on a basement dweller Kootenay team to a great offensive accessory on a Lethbridge squad that was among the most entertaining junior teams to watch this season. Zborosky tallied 41 goals this year, nine more than his 31 markers from the season previous with Kootenay. Zborosky gather a more defined role with Lethbridge in the second half of his overage season, and likely could have scored 50 goals had he stayed with Kootenay for the remainder of the season. But that doesn’t take much away from how effective Zborosky can be at his fullest. On most university teams, Zborosky would likely play a similar game to what he did with Lethbridge, but there’s a very intriguing rumour with good reason to believe that he is lined up to join the Regina Cougars for next year. He instantly becomes their most offensively talented player, and will play a nearly identical role to what he was in Kootenay.

5. Steven Owre, F | Medicine Hat Tigers

With Chad Butcher and Clayton Kirichenko on the roster in addition to Steven Owre, the Medicine Hat Tigers had one of the best overall overage groups in the country. Owre takes the honour of being the best playmaker on this list, and stands neck and neck with Tyler Sandhu (who narrowly missed out on this top five) as two of the very best puck-distributing overage centers across the CHL. Owre had two consecutive 30+ assist seasons in the WHL before shining on a Medicine Hat team extremely deep up the middle with Mason Shaw, James Hamblin, and Matt Bradley on top of Owre and his 62 assists. Owre also scored a career-high 26 goals last year, but stats can begin to inflate when playing on a team that scored 350 goals in the regular season. It would make sense to see Alberta showing interest in Owre, although it’s highly unlikely he begins to start there right away. The other rumour out there is that UNB is kicking tires on him. Not the first time UNB has looked out west, and they may find another gem in Owre with Canada West jobs at a premium this year.

The Week Ahead:

We’re still waiting to hear of at least the one or two game-changing recruit announcements that July usually gives us. But this year, we may have to wait for August. Eric Locke and Santino Centorame were already taken off the board in June, so the best talent that still remains out there likely won’t make a decision until August. The way things are shaping up, the final month of summer vacation will make up for what has been a rather dull July for news.