Tuesday Morning Skate: May 9th, 2017

Top Stories:

1. The biggest news over the last two weeks came when the Moncton Aigles Bleusabruptly dismissed head coach Serge Bourgeois, and recently named Jean-Francois Damphousse as the general manager for the team moving forward. As far as Bourgeois’ departure, many AUS personnel were sad to see him go, and some surprised. For others, they weren’t so taken aback by the release. The Aigles Bleus have struggled to take flight in an air-tight AUS conference and haven’t managed to keep up with the recruit classes the other schools are bringing in lately. Another factor in the change of the Moncton guard is the report that a group of Moncton alumni led by an ex-governor of New Brunswick are funnelling a large sum of money into the program in an attempt to revitalize. With that being the case, you can trust that group had a say in Bourgeois’ departure, and will inevitably play a part in who lands as his replacement.

2. Jean-Francois Damphousse is the latest addition of a ‘general manager’ or ‘director of hockey operations’ role to a U SPORTS MHKY program. It may be a peculiar model to some, with no ability to trade or really change your roster throughout the season, but teams like Ryerson, Alberta, and of course UNB have made it work to great effect. Recruiting is a difficult game to play, and having a dedicated staff member focusing on players who best fit the team’s need throughout the entirety of the season can pay dividends if the right person is in the job. Damphousse is an ex-head coach and general manager of the Dieppe Commandos, and spent a long-time as a pro goaltender in North America, most notably six games for the New Jersey Devils in ’01-02. That goaltending acumen could benefit Moncton, who have shown a propensity to keep the puck out of their own net lately.

3. Darren Lowe‘s departure from behind the U of T bench for next season has been known for the last few weeks, but it now appears that he will indeed be taking a role with administration rather than totally stepping away. As you may expect, U of T’s alumni includes a number of professional level hockey minds who have a peaked interest in the job, but university coaching opportunities often attract interest from major junior and junior hockey coaches too, which is certainly the case with the Varsity Blues. I’ve even been told that there are coaches currently in Europe who also have interest in the U of T job, so as far as guessing who the next candidate is, the race is very wide open at the moment. Rest assured, U of T will have a number of very good candidates to chose from moving forward.

4. Just hours after I published the last edition of Tuesday Morning Skate, Zach Sawchenko publicly committed to the University of Alberta for 2017-18. The decision for one of the WHL’s best goaltenders to forgo his over-age season in the WHL came as a head-scratcher to some, but as Sawchenko pointed out, the professional market for goalies is as unstable as ever. Can’t fault a kid for going the educational route. This also creates a log-jam in the Alberta crease with Brendan Burke looking to follow up a phenomenal rookie campaign. Goaltending wasn’t an issue for Alberta last year, but clearly they couldn’t hold back the opportunity to take on one of the WHL’s best netminders. No matter who starts, Alberta netminding will give them a chance to win against any team on any given night.

Other Notes:

 With Dawson Leedahl signing his ELC with the New York Rangers on Monday, consider him off the U SPORTS market. A Saskatoon native with Everett Silvertips ties means the Saskatchewan Huskies would’ve had curiosity in him. But Leedahl’s 89 point season was too good for New York to resist.

 Brock drops a bit of a surprise land with Connor Brown (no, not that Connor Brown) incoming from the ECHL after playing just three games last season. An ex-captain of the Saginaw Spirit, Brown doesn’t have a ton of offensive ability, but can absolutely be a top-line player on Brock next season.

 Sticking with Brock, some rumours are kicking around that Saginaw’s Jesse Barwell may potentially forgo his OA season in the OHL to join the Badgers. Although at this point, a lot could change.

– Hearing reports out of Quebec that UQTR apparently has commitments from defencemen Loik Léveillé and Raphael Maheux. Léveillé makes a case for best tier II recruit available after terrorizing the QJAAAHL with Terrebonne this season, and Maheux is another stable and sturdy defender.

– It appears the SMU Huskies have solved their defence demand with the acquisitions of Alex Peters and Dylan DiPerna. Neither defender offers huge upside offensively, but if SMU intends to take another step in the AUS, they need shutdown capability, and that’s what these two men offer. Expect DiPerna and Peters to be thrown right into the top four, drawing against some of the toughest assignments in the AUS.

 The Queen’s Gaels bolstered their own defensive group for next season with the addition of Nathan Billitier and Brandon Prophet. Another two defencemen with limited offensive upside, but great defensive ability, the Queen’s blueline is emerging as one of the most hybridized in the OUA. Next up for Queen’s, finding some more scoring, which could be difficult with a shallow OHL over-age class when it comes to offence.

 Former Alberta Golden Bear standout Jordan Hickmott concludes a successful season in Slovakia as league champion with HC Banska Bystrica. Hickmott was among the team’s leading scorers all year playing with ex-NHLers Tomas Surovy, Ty Wishart, and Michael Handzus.

 The Lakehead Thunderwolves made a peculiar move this week recruiting defenceman Jonathon Masters a year after they cut him. At the time, it seemed like a strange move in itself to cut Masters, who is a very capable defenceman. What likely happened here is Masters had second thoughts about forgoing his overage season of junior hockey and opted to go to the SIJHL for one more year rather than play for the Thunderwolves. Regardless, here’s at Lakehead now.

– Ryerson‘s Michael Fine and Concordia‘s Olivier Hinse both found homes in Denmark for next season. They join a quality league which featured ex-CIS standouts Tyler Fiddler (MRU), Chris Carrozzi (UNB), Evan Mosher (Acadia), and Brock Nixon (Calgary) last season.

Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5:

Introducing a new segment recurring through the summer series of TMS, it’s the Tuesday Morning Skate Top 5. This week, we’re counting down the top five OHL forwards available to Canadian Universities.

Top 5 OHL Fowards Available:

1. Bobby MacIntyre, SSM Greyhounds

In an OHL forward class which leaves a lot to be desired from a skill and offence perspective, Bobby MacIntyre stands head and shoulders above the rest as the best forward available this year. Recording 52 assists this season playing alongside Zach Senyshen on the Greyhounds, MacIntyre has the best offensive skill-set of overage OHLers this year, and has the capability to score 20+ goals in a single university hockey season. MacIntyre is drawing interest from some of the top programs in the country, but AHL teams have also taken notice of his production. Pro hockey isn’t out of the question for MacIntyre, but he’s certain to get enticing offers from U SPORTS programs.

2. Cordell James, Owen Sound Attack

A long-time member of the Barrie Colts and a part of an Owen Sound team stocked with great over-agers, Cordell James really showed how good he could be at the OHL level this year. James’ 34 goals was a career-high by a fair margin, and after the trade to Owen Sound, was scoring at nearly a goal-per-game rate. A physical presence at 6-foot-2, 220 lbs, James was an absolute beast up the middle for Owen Sound and Barrie playing in every situation, and 53% in the face-off circle too. Don’t expect the offensive numbers to translate to the university game right away, but there’s no question, James offers one of the highest ceilings for two-way centers out of junior hockey.

3. Hayden Hodgson, Saginaw Spirit

On the heels of the OHL’s biggest over-age breakout season, Hayden Hodgson is ready to make a splash wherever he plays hockey next year. After scoring just nine goals in 2015-16, Hodgson exploded for 38 markers with Saginaw this season and finished his year with 66 points in 67 games on a team that missed the playoffs. He’s a forward with size and skating ability, which can be a lethal combination at this level. His ability to score combined with his size and bashful style of play make for a similar combination of what Olivier Hinse and Cody Payne have brought to their schools in the past.

4. Anthony Stefano, Barrie Colts

A decorated player from his days with the Sault Ste. Marie North Stars midget AAA program, Stefano slowly but surely found his offensive game in the OHL. Stefano doesn’t have the same flash and flair that Bobby MacIntyre does, but Stefano quietly led the Barrie Colts with 56 points this season with back-to-back 20+ goal seasons. A complete player if he buys into the university hockey game, Stefano can play a top six role with nearly any program in the country.

5. Matt Schmalz, Owen Sound Attack

When it comes to over-age powerforwards coming out of the CHL this year, Matt Schmalz is one of the best available. Also one of the biggest players available at 6-foot-6, 217 lbs, Schmalz has flip-flopped between the wing and playing center throughout his OHL career. Although Schmalz only posted 16 goals and 31 points this season, he’s a game-changing force who understands how to use his size to his advantage. It’s possible that Schmalz finds his offensive game in U SPORTS like other junior players have in the past, but we know for sure that he’ll be one of the most valuable ‘big men’ in the league if he chooses the university route.

The Week Ahead:

With a number of programs in holding patterns as they wait for recruits to make their final decisions, most of the attention is on the CHL championship series, and the upcoming RBC Cup. With lots of great over-age talent in both the Memorial and RBC Cup, it’ll give us one last look at some of the best junior hockey players before we truly gear up for the 2017-18 university hockey season.