Tuesday Morning Skate: U SPORTS Week 17


Top Stories:

1. After another impressive showing in the regular season, the Acadia Axemen will not advance into the AUS finals. There’s no question they’re a good enough team to be there, but playoff deficiencies end up killing the Axemen again. Luckily for them, it’s not over yet. Dreams of an AUS title are dashed, but the Axemen still have a chance to advance to nationals if UNB closes out their series against SMU. One of the most difficult things to do is pick yourself back up to get into another series like Acadia has to, especially after being swept by StFX. This series wound up turning out much differently than many expected, and the Axemen will need to have a short memory. No time to feel bad for themselves with a chance at nationals still on the line.

2. The Dalhousie Tigers were back in the news this week after the Estevan Bruins announced the commitment of 6-foot-3, 212 lbs defenceman, Evan Scott to the Tigers. The height and weight is relevant because Dalhousie continues their trend of adding legitimate size to their lineup. The Tigers had six players in their program this year who were 6-foot-3 or taller, and were the fourth tallest program in the country, but it hasn’t exactly translated into regular season success yet. Scott offers QMJHL experience to the team in addition to his size, and the hope is he turns into an effective shutdown defender.

AUS Awards:

Most Valuable Player: Philippe Maillet (UNB Varsity Reds)

Rookie of the Year: Hunter Garlent (SMU Huskies)

Coach of the Year: Gardiner MacDougall (UNB Varsity Reds)

Most Sportsmanlike: Geoff Schemitsch (Acadia Axemen)

Community Service Award: Eric Locke (StFX)

First Team All-Stars:

G: Chase Marchand, StFX (1st year – Halifax, N.S.)
D: Jordan Murray, UNB (4th year – Riverview, N.B.)
D: Geoff Schemitsch, Acadia (4th year – Thornhill, Ont.)
F: Philippe Maillet, UNB (4th year – Terrebonne, Que.)
F: Hunter Garlent, Saint Mary’s (1st year – Thorold, Ont.)
F: Jean-François Plante, Moncton (3rd year – Sherbrooke, Que.)

Second Team All-Stars:

G: Étienne Marcoux, UNB (2nd year – Terrebonne, Que.)
D: Matthew Pufahl, Acadia (3rd year – Saskatoon, Sask.)
D: Jagger Dirk, StFX (3rd year – Penticton, B.C.)
F: Cam Braes, UNB (5th year – Shawnigan Lake, B.C.)
F: Eric Locke, StFX (3rd year – Toronto, Ont.)
F: Alex Saulnier, Moncton (4th year – Cap-Pelé, N.B.)

All-Rookie Team:

G: Chase Marchand, StFX (Halifax, N.S.)
D: Matt Murphy, UNB (Fredericton, N.B.)
D: Cole MacDonald, StFX (Wetaskiwin, Alta.)
F: Hunter Garlent, Saint Mary’s (Thorold, Ont.)
F: Stephen Harper, Acadia (Burlington, Ont.)
F: Bronson Beaton, Saint Mary’s (Springhill, Ont.)

Other Notes:

  • There’s been an awful lot of Bryson Cianfrone on my Twitter timeline lately, and rightfully so. Cianfrone has 6 points in five postseason games as he seems to have found his game at the AUS level. Previously a playermaker with serious wheels in the OHL, he’s not playing much differently for StFX.
  • As Francis Beauvillier scored two goals against SMU in game one on Wednesday, brother Anthony was notching a marker for the NY Islanders in Montreal against the Canadiens. Memorable day for the Beauvillier family.
  • March 1st is the deadline for schools to legally approach potential recruits in the CHL. After this day passes, recruiters must wait until the end of a respective players’ season. Obviously the focus for some programs is on playoffs right now, but there’s always an ear and eye open on the CHL.

Unsung Heroes:

Randy Gazzola, D | UNB Varsity Reds

When you’re lurking in the shadow of star defender Jordan Murray, it can be easy to have even great statistical seasons lost in the fray. Randy Gazzola put up a career high 6 goals in the AUS this season and is a great example of a big defender who has shown excellent mobility and playmaking with UNB. If you were to take Jordan Murray out of the equation, it’s Gazzola who becomes UNB’s number one offensive defenceman. He may not be on UNB’s murderer’s row of offensive talent this season, but Gazzola still has a large impact on the game.

Jagger Dirk, D | StFX X-Men

Haven’t talked much about Jagger Dirk this season whose regular season numbers don’t exactly shine in the limelight of a star-studded StFX team. Dirk got the recognition he deserved this week with an AUS second team all-star honour, but he’s arguably been even more effective in the playoffs. Dirk has five points in as many games for StFX in the postseason, including a powerplay maker against Acadia in game two. Dirk was a long-time WHLer with the Kootenay Ice, and he’s building a very similar legacy with StFX as he prepares to close out his third AUS season.

Playoff Matchups:

UNB (#1) vs SMU (#4) (UNB Leads Series, 2-1)

Game #4: Tues. Feb. 28th, 7:00pm AST @SMU
Game #5: Thurs. Mar. 2nd, 7:00pm AST @UNB

After UNB took both games on home ice to open the series, things were looking pretty good for a sweep. Even though UNB is still in the driver’s seat, Saint Mary’s continues to show signs of life in this series, all despite a ridiculously depleted roster. For whatever reason, the Varsity Reds have trouble closing the deal against SMU in Halifax. Monday’s loss marked the third time UNB has dropped a contest in Saint Mary’s territory this year. If Saint Mary’s can pull off another victory at home on Tuesday night, who knows what could happen in a loser goes home game five. The cards are still stacked against SMU, and it’s going to need a comeback of historic proportions to win this series, but like I said last week, the Huskies deserve to be given a chance.

OUA East

Top Stories:

1. You could probably pit the Queen’s Gaels against the Chicago Blackhawks in the OUA playoffs, and they’d still find a way to win. As much of an exaggeration as that may be, the point is, Queen’s might be outmatched, they might be outshot, they might be out-gunned, but it quite frankly doesn’t matter. Queen’s wins. A large portion of credit goes to their star players who we saw how much this team depends on after they departed for FISU. But Queen’s also has some tremendous coaching with Brett Gibson and company, but above all, get contributions from deep within the lineup when it matters most. The stats may not show it, but the Gaels are engineered to win. That’s how they managed to take out Concordia, winning both games on the road, never an easy thing to do in the OUA playoffs.

2. It’s been an odd season for the UQTR Patriotes. At times, we’ve raved about how incredible their roster is and how they look even better than last year, and at others, they’re getting shutout by U of T. UQTR’s season ends on an awkward note, losing out in the second round, which is a disappointment for this program, but losing at the hands of McGill isn’t anything to be ashamed of. The Patriotes never put it all together for an extended period of time this season, and that’s why they had to fight their way through the playoffs without home-ice advantage against two incredibly talented teams. The Patriotes have a fairly substantial roster turnover, and are losing big-time players like Pierre-Olivier Morin and Marc-Olivier Mimar, but the Patriotes clearly aren’t holding back on the recruit front. They’ve already added big names, and expect a collection more to come.

3. Getting shutout by the Queen’s Gaels in game three on home ice in the OUA East semi’s has to be a gut wrenching feeling for the Concordia Stingers, especially knowing they weren’t able to get captain Olivier Hinse past the second round during his OUA career. But as devastated as they may be, there’s still so much to look forward to with Concordia. The have one of the youngest rosters in the country, jam packed with talent. Historically, the Stingers have always had the offence, but now with added reinforcement to the goaltending and defence, this program is turning the corner. The Stingers cashed in big over the offseason last year, and although they don’t need to replace much for next year, expect them to add at least a couple of big names.

4. The Concordia Stingers have a deal in place to bring goaltender Julio Billia into the program for 2017-18. This is an eyebrow raiser for a couple reasons. The first, Billia isn’t far removed from being a legitimate NHL Draft prospect. His junior hockey resume is extremely impressive with an Ivan Hlinka gold to his credit among other accolades. Billia was one of the best goaltenders available on the market this offseason. The second reason, Concordia’s crease is the most crowded in the country. Bringing Billia in to a program which already has Philippe Cadorette, Miguel Sullivan, and Marc-Antoine Turcotte is the OUA equivalent to the LA Kings trading for Ben Bishop. Either Marc-Andre Element will pull off a Cirque du Soleil worthy juggling act next season, or at least one of those names won’t be in the picture.

Other Notes:
  • Laurentian’s Vincent Llorca inked a deal with the Brampton Beast of the ECHL earlier this week. Llorca was easily one of the best Voyageurs to suit up in the last four seasons, and has a bright future with the French national program.
  • The worst part of the playoffs is saying farewell to the seniors that have been mainstays with their programs for so long. Perhaps no goodbye was harder than that of Olivier Hinse. The respect and admiration he garners from not just his teammates, but the entire league is unmatched. A fantastic student, and a fantastic player, Hinse was the true epitome of a student-athlete in the OUA.
  • Mathieu Pompei returned to action for the McGill Redmen this week and winds up scoring the series-clinching goal against UQTR. After missing a few weeks with a head injury, Pompei remains a huge part of McGill’s lineup.
  • For those who might wonder what makes Kevin Bailie the best goalie in the OUA, look no further than his playoff performance this year. Through all six starts, Bailie has a 0.99 GAA and a .971 SV%.

Unsung Heroes:

Francis Lambert-Lemay, D | McGill Redmen

Unlike some of McGill’s other defencemen, Lambert-Lemay doesn’t put up very good offensive numbers, but his defensive tools are what round out the McGill blueline so well. This week was an offensive exception for Lambert-Lemay who scored his first playoff goal since 2010 when he was a member of Collège Antoine-Girouard Gaulois playing QMAAA hockey. There’s something to be said as well for Lambert-Lemay’s ability to play a part in shutting down one of the most offensively intimidating lineups in the country.

Darcy Greenaway, F | Queen’s Gaels

Darcy Greenaway was one of the most coveted recruits in the province when he graduated out of the OHL in 2013-14. After an OUA all-rookie team season, it’s been a downhill slide in numbers for Greenaway over the last couple of seasons. Greenaway managed to recover his offensive form in time to play a factor in both Queen’s victories over Concordia. Greenaway added a key insurance marker in game one, and his second goal of the postseason wound up as the series-winner in game three.

Playoff Matchup:

McGill (#1) vs Queen’s (#3)
Game #1: Wed. Mar. 1st, 7:00pm EST @McGill
Game #2: Fri. Mar. 3rd, 7:30pm EST @Queen’s
Game #3: Sun. Mar. 5th, 7:00pm EST @McGill

OUA playoff matchups don’t come as tightly contested as this. But hey, it’s the division finals. McGill has shown time and time again how great their roster can be in practice as they are on paper, but Queen’s has found ways to win games all season long. December’s meeting between these two saw McGill put forth a poor effort in a 4-0 loss, but January’s rematch saw a much tighter contest with Queen’s squeaking out a 2-1 win in Montreal. It’s hard to picture McGill losing more than two games to Queen’s on home ice, but the Gaels are undefeated when playing in Montreal this season. The offensive advantage goes to McGill, but Queen’s has the upper edge between the pipes. My pick to win it all in the OUA was McGill, and I’m willing to die on that sword, but Queen’s has been proving the doubters wrong so far this postseason. This program is as motivated to win as it’s ever been before.

OUA West

Top Stories:

1. Of all the teams still remaining in the playoff picture across the country, the Windsor Lancers are the real cinderella story. After a dreadful month of January which saw the Lancers piece together their worst statistical month, they’ve pulled it all together in time for the playoffs. Windsor goalie Blake Richard made a bold statement on Thursday after a game one victory over Ryerson where he confidently predicted victory in game two, but managed to back it up with another impressive performance on Saturday night. The Lancers still don’t have the star power other programs have, but the same reasons this program won OUA gold in 2014, and OUA bronze in 2015 are why they’ll be playing for a spot at nationals again.

2. The Ryerson Rams become the first #1 seed knocked out of the playoffs in the country, and their dismal program record in the second round of the OUA playoffs drags on. Ryerson has gone a dubious 1-12 in OUA West semi-final games, and have never won a game two after dropping game one in program history. Talent-wise, no one in the division brought more to the table than Ryerson, but chronic second round struggles continue to plague the Rams. At the end of the day, this was the best regular season Ryerson University has ever seen from their men’s hockey team by a mile, but the fact they don’t make it any further into the playoffs than they have before will leave a sour taste over the summer.

3. Disappointing end to the season for the Guelph Gryphons who go out with a whimper of sorts after dropping game two at home to York by a 6-2 final score. A dreadful second period which saw the Gryphons allow five goals was the dagger to their season, and we’ve seen Guelph a couple of times let the wheels fall off the bus this year. But you still have to like what the Gryphons put together. They had some very bright moments this year, including a brief national ranking, and proved many doubters wrong who figured they’d struggle with roster turnover, including myself. Guelph will lose some key players to pro over the offseason as they often do, but expect Shawn Camp to have his Gryphons in a good spot to win again next year come September.

Other Notes:

  • Michael Fine ended his five year career at Ryerson on Saturday at Maple Leaf Gardens exactly 20 years to the very day that the Doug Gilmour era ended for the Toronto Maple Leafs in the same building. There’s never a shortage of historical anecdotes at the Gardens.
  • Sounds like Waterloo’s Stephen Silas could be turning pro by the end of the week. Still sorting out details, but he’s likely to finish his season playing pro in North America.
  • Watch Western’s Greg Dodds go pro to end the season too.
  • On a recruiting note, I’d be surprised to see Sarnia’s Jaden Lindo go anywhere else but Guelph. Nearly wound up there for his overage season.
  • The Ryerson Rams aren’t wasting any time getting in on the recruit race. Greg DiTomaso is believed to be headed to the Rams from St. Catharines in Jr. B, but the transaction is still pending official announcement. The Rams are looking for more character than talent in this year’s recruit class compared to last.
  • Dawson Carty is the latest recruit rumour out of Lakehead. Carty has caught the attention of a number of recruiters this season, and it underlines Lakehead’s search for a major junior goalie this offseason.

Unsung Heroes:

Mike Christou, F | Windsor Lancers

Mike Christou went the entire regular season without scoring a goal, then managed to score two in the same period. Given, the second was an empty-netter, but it’s funny how hockey works sometimes. Scoring aside, Christou doesn’t get much attention, but his veteran presence and ability in the face-off circle make him a valued member of this Lancers team. Without Christou, the Lancers don’t take a lead in the third against Ryerson, and without that lead, who knows how that series may have played out.

Colton Vannucci, F | York Lions

Colton Vannucci finds himself on a nice little run as the York Lions rumble on to the third round of the OUA playoffs. Vannucci now has five points in his last three games, all of them assists. Another AJHL product for York, Vannucci has put up consistent numbers for the Lions, and doesn’t get as much public credit as he deserves for what York offers offensively. Vannucci won’t tilt the boxscore, but like many of York’s unsung heroes have been, he provides stability to their forward unit that makes York’s run to the third round possible.

Playoff Matchup:

York (#2) vs Windsor (#6)
Game #1: Wed. Mar. 1st, 7:30pm EST @Windsor
Game #2: Fri. Mar. 3rd, 7:00pm EST @York
Game #3: Sat. Mar. 4th, 7:00pm EST @York

Of all the series going on this week in U SPORTS, this one packs the least offensive punch. Both teams have had just enough scoring to get this far, but both the Lions and Lancers are best served as a team that can shut the door on anybody. Seeing a 1-0 game at some point in this series wouldn’t be a shock at all, and because of that, this series may come down to who has lady luck on their side. Game one in South Windsor Arena was a killer for Ryerson last week, but York proved they can win those dreaded Wednesday long-distance road games after they beat Lakehead in the first round. Talent-wise, the Lions have the advantage, but Windsor goaltending has been so great lately, they may cancel each other out.

Canada West

Top Stories:

1. For the second straight season, the Calgary Dinos fall just short of the Canada West finals, losing a pair of close contests to Alberta. Friday’s game was an absolute classic with Calgary forcing overtime after going down 3-1 in the second period. Losing by the margin they did, this one is gonna sting for the Dinos, but they managed to exceed expectation after a year which they suffered a fairly hefty roster turnover. Calgary may have found a couple gems in Coleman Vollrath and Matt Greenfield between the pipes, and if they can capitalize on another strong recruit class out of the WHL, the Dinos will be right back in business again next year. It’s not the result the Dinos were striving for, but Calgary was one of the most exciting teams to watch in the country this season.

2. As close as Calgary came to the second round, the Mount Royal Cougars also came bitterly close, forcing two nail-biters against Saskatchewan. Mount Royal managed to outshoot Saskatchewan by a fairly large margin in the series, but falling behind early in game one combined with goaltending wound up determining the outcome of this series. When you face a team like Saskatchewan in a best of three, the margin for error is virtually zero. It’s a tough way to go for MRU’s seniors, who have been trying hard to breakthrough with this program for awhile, but fall just inches short again. The Cougars still have a very promising young group of players, some of which really blossomed by season’s end. It could be those players that finally edge Mount Royal ahead to the next level.

Other Notes:

  • Dave Adolph managed to find a place for Connor Gay in the Saskatchewan Huskies lineup this week. He emerges from the series with one assist to show. Offensively, Gay has had great numbers, but finding playing time this season has been incredibly difficult.
  • Of the veterans on Alberta, Rhett Rachinski was the one to step up to the plate against Calgary. He had a relatively quiet offensive regular season, but scored a couple big markers for Alberta last week.
  • There’s a lot of talk about potential recruits in the Canada West conference right now, but not much imminently close. There’s a buffet of talent out of the WHL again, but don’t expect many announcements until the end of March at the very earliest.

Unsung Heroes:

Luke Siemens, G | Alberta Golden Bears

The Alberta Golden Bears are through to the Canada West finals, but they had a few uneasy moments in game one after Brendan Burke was pulled on the heels of allowing three goals in the third period to allow Calgary to take the lead. In steps Luke Siemens. In a playoff game, down by one, Siemens came in and slammed the door shut on the Dinos stopping all 14 shots he saw, and picked up the win in overtime. Talk about clutch goaltending. It’s never easy to come in off the bench, but Siemens was perfect in a game where he couldn’t be anything less.

Levi Cable, F | Saskatchewan Huskies

It was Levi Cable who provided the surge for Saskatchewan this week as they roll into the Canada West finals. Cable’s five goals in the regular season was a ways away from the 16 spot he posted in his rookie season, but against Mount Royal, Cable recovered some of his rookie magic again, with two points in game one, and another goal in game two. When Cable is at his best, he’s one of the most electric players in the league, and completes the circuit on whichever line he plays on. The Huskies won’t be afraid to plug Cable into any scenario against Alberta this week.

Finals Preview:

Saskatchewan (#1) vs Alberta (#2)
Game #1: Fri. Mar. 3rd, 7:00pm CST @Saskatchewan
Game #2: Sat. Mar. 4th, 7:00pm CST @Saskatchewan
Game #3: Sun. Mar. 5th, 7:00pm CST @Saskatchewan

We’ve waited a full year for this, and it’s finally here. The eagerly anticipated rematch of the 2016 Canada West finals between the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears. Rivalries don’t get better than this in university hockey.

Offence: Alberta > Saskatchewan

Saskatchewan has had a number of contributors this season offensively, but nobody has a group of youngsters like Alberta does. Both Jamie Crooks and Jayden Hart were held off the scoresheet against Calgary, so it was the rookies that lead the offensive charge for the Golden Bears. The addition of Cole Sanford has seriously altered the offensive complexion of Alberta, and their offence has evolved as the season wore on. Saskatchewan may have had the better numbers in the season, but you can throw those out the window for this series. When it comes to a dynamic group of forwards who can score, pass, skate, and do everything they need to put points on the board, Alberta has the advantage.

Defence: Saskatchewan > Alberta

I’ll give Saskatchewan the defensive edge, but only by a hair. Jason Fram, Ryan Rehill, Dylan Bredo and the rest of the bunch at Alberta are fantastic, but the Huskies have a blueline better than any other team at neutralizing their opponents. They weren’t at their best against Mount Royal, but expect the prospect of another Canada West title to be enough motivation to elevate their game. To me, Kendall McFaull is the best shutdown defender in the league, and players like Jesse Forsberg, Jordan Fransoo, and Connor Cox completely round out Saskatchewan’s defensive group.

Goaltending: Saskatchewan > Alberta

You won’t find a player, coach, fan, or any observer of Canada West hockey who doesn’t believe Jordon Cooke is the best goaltender in the conference right now. There’s no question, he’s the man, and he’s done more than enough to earn the respect of everyone leading into this series. For Alberta, a turbulent game one showed some weakness in net, but Luke Siemens bailed the Golden Bears out. Serge Lajoie made a bold move in putting Brendan Burke back in the crease for game two, but it worked out nicely. Alberta doesn’t have to win a goaltender’s duel to win this series, they just need their netminder to give them a chance to win.