1. After all the ruckus and commotion surrounding the U of T head coaching position, we finally have a winner. Ryan Medel will step into the head coaching role for the first time in his career at 30 years-old to take the reigns of one of Canada’s most storied hockey programs. Medel is the youngest MHKY head coach in U SPORTS, and completes a youth movement of Toronto-based program coaches. Youth was evidently a decisive factor for U of T in the end. The Varsity Blues were looking to shake things up, and they’ve done so by taking on a young coach to lead the direction of the program for years to come down the road. Among the other candidates, Jerome Dupont was certainly in consideration, but U of T didn’t see the fit working. Two other young candidates in Brett MacLean and Nathan Martine were also among the final considerations. Much like Medel, MacLean and Martine had the youth-factor, and a long-term plan mapped out for the future of the program. But in the end, it’ll be Medel’s job.
But it’s no easy job. Coming off a lousy season which saw U of T play the role of basement-dwellers for most of the year, the Varsity Blues have a lot of ground to make up on the rest of the league. Having already pieced together part of a recruit class, and having a coach join on in mid-June, it’s going to be nearly impossible for U of T to pick off any big-name leftover recruits. But having a changing of the guard behind the bench could be the spark some of U of T’s players need. Even with an underwhelming recruit class, don’t be surprised to see U of T be a much tougher opponent than last year. A fresh outlook from behind the bench can sometimes bring out the best in players. If U of T finds a way to play a portion of the year above their potential, playoffs aren’t out of the question at all for 2018. But rest assured, the goal remains long term for Medel’s outlook on U of T.
2. While the U of T Varsity Blues go young, the Moncton Aigles Bleus do the opposite, taking veteran head coach Judes Vallée to be their leader moving forward. Vallée has extensive coaching experience at multiple levels of hockey in Quebec, but perhaps none more notable than serving as the first head coach in the history of the Sherbrooke Phoenix franchise. Vallée has coached some terrific university players in the past such as Olivier Hinse, Dominic Talbot-Tassi, Mike McNamee, and Jacob Gervais-Chouinard among others. But as you may notice, none of those players are Moncton Aigles Bleus. That’s going to have to change if Vallée is to find success with the University of Moncton. There’s still a lot we don’t know about the status of players like Pierre Durepos and J.F. Plante for next season. But now with a coach in place, expect those details to iron themselves out.
Moncton is hoping for a fresh start with Vallée, which is what they’ll get. But what will truly get this team over the hump in the AUS is how well they recruit. Serge Bourgeois wasn’t a slouch of a coach himself, but evidently Moncton was looking to shake things up this year. It’s also extremely difficult to land top-end recruits when your recruiter and head coach are both hired on in the middle of the offseason, but the francophone factor has a tendency to change the game a little. Moncton will be up against it again this year with UQTR taking the vast majority of francophone players, and UNB almost certainly set to add a few of their own. Much like U of T, the Aigles Bleus are looking long-term with the hiring of Vallée. But the University of Moncton needs to land some reputable names out of the QMJHL in the next couple years to be a contender in the AUS once again.
3. As it stands through the middle of June, the Windsor Lancers have the largest recruit class in the country at 11 players thus far. Typically, that’s not a strange number for a team with a high graduation turnover. But what makes Windsor’s scenario so striking is the fact they only had four fourth years, and one fifth year player last season. So at most, they’re graduating five players. This indicates there’s been a high turnover of young players on Windsor’s roster, which isn’t the most promising sign. Goaltender Kris Joyce will get a look from the LA Kings and not return to Windsor next season, while I’ve also heard Chadd Bauman will not return. As for the rest of the roster, we’ll likely find out in the coming weeks.
As far as Windsor’s actual recruit class goes, its stockpiled with tier II players again. Most coaches in the league will tell you major junior players are the key to a successful offseason, but Windsor seems to be the one exception to that rule. They’ve managed to make deep runs consistently, with even the occasional birth at nationals, having young teams comprised of tier II experience. With Kody Gagnon being the only current player coming out of major junior, that’ll be the case again this season. Also worth noting is the amount of size Windsor is adding. D-men Jonathan Tecce, Jack Van Boekel, Joshua Slegers, and Gagnon are all north of 6-foot, while forward Ian Parker stands at a mammoth 6-foot-9, making him the tallest player in the country. As per usual, the Lancers are going to be among the most aggravating teams to play against.
4. Of the four recruits announced by the Manitoba Bisons this week, Zach Franko is the most compelling. Originally committed to play for MRU next season by way of transfer from Acadia, the Cougars were informed on the May long weekend that Franko would not play for the university in 2017-18. I’ve been told there was no foul play by Manitoba whatsoever, and the outcome was a player-made decision. A former CIS All-Rookie, Franko will join his third university in as many years.
Continuing with the Manitoba recruits, Lucas Skrumeda and Calvin Spencer both project to be depth pieces in their first seasons, while Franko and Michael St. Croix bring extraordinary junior hockey resumes. St. Croix eclipsed the 100-point plateau in ’11-12 with the Edmonton Oil Kings, and Franko was a consistent point producer for multiple seasons in the WHL before blowing the doors off at Acadia. But as one coach pointed out to me this week, “Are they motivated to play at this level?”. That’s a valid question when it comes to talented players who haven’t played at a high-level for awhile. Much like last year, Manitoba’s roster is shaping up to have a ton of promise, but there have to be questions answered first before we get too excited.
– If you’re looking for an early candidate for ‘rookie of the year’, Santino Centorame should come to mind. Centorame officially committed to StFX this week after registering 66 assists as the captain of the Owen Sound Attack. He now joins a StFX roster graduating just a single player, and with a plethora of weapons up front, what’s to say he can’t put up numbers at the same average with StFX? It’s not difficult to picture Centorame quickly finding powerplay ice-time, and being an integral part of StFX’s transition game. Centorame is a slam dunk of a recruit, and StFX appears to be a slam dunk of a fit for a player like him.
– Marty Johnston will be the first to tell you how happy he is for Ryan Medel’s new job at U of T, but his absence now leaves a void behind the Carleton bench. Medel has been with the Ravens organization for seven years as a coach, and had active involvement in organizing and running Carleton’s summer hockey programs. From an administration standpoint, the Ravens will need to find a replacement as soon as possible, on top of still searching for players to replace the ample talent they’ve lost heading into next season. The regular season is still months away, but it’s hard to picture Johnston getting much time off over that span with all the work he has left with Carleton.
– Much like last season, the York Lions are looking back out west to find recruits. Not a bad strategy considering how well Mack Shields and Scott Feser turned out this year. Morgan Messenger and Alex Mowbray will come from the west, while Keegan Blasby and Nik Coric graduate out of the OJHL. All four of those players have produced eye-catching numbers at the junior A level, but it almost certainly won’t translate to this league for all four of them. Expect to find out early in the season if the York Lions have another diamond in the rough, just like they got with Derek Sheppard, Trevor Petersen, and Mack Shields.
– The Acadia Axemen reel in a couple of WHLers with Calgary’s Micheal Zipp and Kelowna’s Rodney Southam on the way for ’17-18. Acadia doesn’t have the most ostentatious recruit class, but they’re making calculated additions to their squad. Darren Burns tells me Acadia is still searching for one more forward and one more d-man to complete their roster. They’ll take a swing at a homerun if the opportunity comes up, but the Axemen showed last season, they already have enough talent and firepower to compete with anyone. And they aren’t losing much of it for this upcoming season.
– Highly likely we hear recruit news out of the Dalhousie Tigers camp before the month is over. Names in the conversation include Moncton Wildcats captain Duncan MacIntyre, and Drummondville Voltigeurs Andrew Shewfelt and Ryan Verbeek. Dalhousie told me they had indeed been in conversation with a number of potential OHL recruits, but highly unlikely they land any of them at this point.
– In the same conversation, I was told by Chris Donnelly that Corbin Boes‘ broken ankle is rehabbing on schedule and is expected to be 100% ready for opening night.
– A few months ago, it seemed Mathieu Henderson to UNB was closing in on a done deal, if not already. That situation took a turn this week. Although some sources still believe he’s destined for UNB, others say Henderson has told teams he’s heading to the Guelph Gryphons for next year.
– The Colorado Eagles claimed an ECHL championship last week after sweeping away the South Carolina Sting Rays. Former MRU Cougars Cam Maclise and Matt Brown end their seasons in a big way, while for Alberta Golden Bear Johnny Lazo, and ex-Calgary Dinos Teigan Zahn and Ryan Harrison made valuable contribution down the stretch.
Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:
Of the three leagues within the CHL, the WHL overage goaltending class is by far the best. With Zach Sawchenko being a ’97 birth-year, he doesn’t qualify for this list, which goes to show how much deeper the talent pool is even with him out of the equation. With only so many programs and goaltending positions available in Canada West, don’t expect all these names to stay close to home.
Top 5 Overage Goalies Available from the WHL:
1. Ty Edmonds, G | Prince George Cougars
With Zach Sawchenko committing to Alberta and Jordan Papirny scoring an ATO with the Toronto Marlies, it can be easy to forget just how good Ty Edmonds was this season. In fact, halfway through the year, I would’ve told you he was the best overage goaltender in the entire CHL. After a tougher stretch in the second half of the season, Edmonds and the Prince George Cougars were ousted in the first round of the playoffs, but not after rave reviews of Edmonds’ performance. He’s a good sized goalie who’s experienced substantial success at the junior hockey level. But now he’s set to join Lethbridge in a Canada West conference where the goaltending is better than any other region in U SPORTS.
2. Jordan Papirny, G | Swift Current Broncos
When it comes to the best uncommitted goaltenders in the country, it’s a two horse race between Jeremy Brodeur and Jordan Papirny. Papirny had a very strong finish to his season, in spite of Swift Current’s disappointing second round loss at the hands of the Regina Pats. Papirny played well enough to get a look from the Toronto Marlies, although he never saw in-game ice-time. Papirny also has championship experience having played the majority of his WHL days with the Brandon Wheat Kings, a valuable asset in terms of recruit stock. Papirny projects as a bono-fide #1 starter at the U SPORTS level, but with so much competition in Canada West, he would start out as a platoon goalie at best. Papirny has been in talks with UBC and Calgary before, but don’t be shocked to see him move out to the OUA or AUS. Don’t forget…. UNB is in the goalie market this year.
3. Rylan Toth, G | Seattle Thunderbirds
It’s been a topsy-turvy overage season for Seattle’s Rylan Toth. He came into the year as the clear #1 for the Thunderbirds after serving the same role for the Red Deer Rebels during their Memorial Cup run in 2015-16. Toth went down with injury at the very end of the regular season for Seattle, leaving the door open for 17 year-old Carl Stankowski, who dazzled throughout the postseason and preempted Toth as the starter heading into the 2017 Memorial Cup. But after Stankowski faltered in Windsor, Toth was abruptly thrown back into action where he staggered to an .806 SV% at the tournament. It wasn’t a great conclusion to Toth’s junior hockey career, but he’s still regarded as a valuable goaltender for university programs. He’s been a winning goalie for successful teams, and apart from the 2017 Memorial Cup, has great numbers to back it up. Much like Papirny, don’t expect Toth to necessarily stay out west to play hockey next season.
4. Michael Herringer, G | Kelowna Rockets
Michael Herringer has had the fortune of playing lengthy seasons the last three years with the Kelowna Rockets as the understudy to Jackson Whistle at the 2015 Memorial Cup, and the last two as Kelowna’s starter. The 2016 WHL playoffs provided some of Herringer’s best work, including a 42 save shutout against Kamloops, and a 71 save performance against Seattle. Herringer was at it again with Kelowna in 2017, but fell short to Seattle in the conference finals for the second straight year. Herringer’s inconsistencies over the years are what keep him from ranking higher on this list, because he’s demonstrated game-stealing ability in the WHL before. Rumour is the Regina Cougars have him secured for 2017-18. Herringer has performed well when seeing a lot of rubber in the past, and will need to continue to do so if he does indeed wind up a Regina Cougar next year.
5. Rylan Parenteau, G | Tri-City Americans
Of all the goalies on this list, Rylan Parenteau may be the one best suited for Canadian University hockey. Named the WHL’s hardest working player in 2016, and a noted academic, specifically interested in the engineering realm, Rylan Parenteau has all the makings of a great student-athlete. Parenteau has shown promise in his numbers before too, posting a .913 SV% with Prince Albert in 2015-16, and being ranked as high as #17 in the NHL Central Scout Rankings among North American goaltenders. Playing with Tri-City this year didn’t yield the same success Parenteau has seen before, and wavered to an .856 SV% in the playoffs this year. But Parenteau still managed to astonish crowds with a few highlight reel saves this season, and a handful of great individual performances. University hockey is a different animal, and can sometimes take average WHL goaltenders, and turn them into brick walls. After an average overage season, with a good head on his shoulders, and the right attitude, Rylan Parenteau could turn out to have a Mack Shields-like season.
The Week Ahead:
Even with two coaching positions shored up for next season, and no current vacancies, there’s still a few rumours out there. It’s awfully late in the offseason to make a deliberate change behind the bench, but don’t be surprised if we see at least one more swap.