Tuesday Morning Skate: Week 12, January 23rd 2018
1. The UNB Varsity Reds claimed top spot in the national rankings last week, and backed it up this week with two big wins over Saint Mary’s and Acadia. After holding Acadia scoreless, the V-Reds are now 92.6% on the penalty kill in their last five games, and they’ve also taken a whopping 41 penalties in that time. The league’s busiest penalty kill was backstopped brilliantly by Alex Dubeau this week, who is amidst one of his best performances in recent memory. In his last three games, Dubeau has a save percentage of .955%. That’s the best three game regular season stretch of his AUS career. Up front Chris Clapperton leads the way with 24 points. With six games remaining, this could potentially be the first time in over 20 years UNB hasn’t had a player hit the 30 point mark. Either way, they’re still winning.
2. The AcadiaAxemen had a very flat week, losing both games and scoring just one goal. UNB’s shutout on Saturday marks the first time the Axemen have been blanked in a regular season game since Jan. 23rd of 2015 when Etienne Marcoux and the V-Reds beat them 4-0. Acadia’s power play was an ugly 0-for-9 against UNB, a stark contrast from the time they went 5-for-6 on the man-advantage just last week against SMU. Is there reason for concern with Acadia? No, not really. But this does say one thing: the Axemen are still capable of making their offence disappear. Although goal-scoring wasn’t the reason Acadia fell short in the AUS playoffs the last two years, consistency issues have killed them in the month of February before. Acadia hope they’ll have any struggles behind them, if not already, before the playoffs hit this time around.
3. The best save percentage in U SPORTS hockey now proudly belongs to Chase Marchand. Albeit, he’s tied with Brock’s Clint Windsor, but at .932%, Marchand has been a brick wall this season. Over his two and a half season AUS career, Marchand has never finished a month with a SV% under .900 (excluding U Cup stats). There are few goaltenders in the country that are as consistent as Marchand. Very secretly, backup Brandon Hope has also been strong this year with a .931 SV%. Together, they now comprise the best statistical tandem in the country. Overall, the X-Men looked very solid against both Dalhousie and Moncton, but then again there’s no reason the X-Men shouldn’t look solid against those two struggling teams.
4. In what’s been one of the uglier chases for the final playoff position in the AUS, the Moncton Aigles Bleus are starting to fall behind. In what feels like a ‘first team to win makes the playoffs’ scenario, the latest seven game losing streak for Moncton pits them three points behind Dalhousie and five behind UPEI. The Panthers see Dal and Moncton twice more, while the Tigers and Aigles Bleus will face off just once. The Panthers are a mediocre 4-4-0 against Moncton and Dal combined, but considering they’ve only won six games this year, those two programs have been their primary source for points.
5. Pretty quiet week for the SMU Huskies, but they’re still hanging around in the third spot in the AUS. It looks highly likely UNB and StFX will get the 1st RD bye, so there really isn’t a ton to play for at SMU to round out the season. But for Hunter Garlent, he’s three points away from becoming the first Huskie since Marc Rancourt to record back-to-back 40+ point seasons (Rancourt had 3 straight between 2007-2010). Apart from Garlent’s accomplishments, rookie Jake Coughler is very close to a pretty big one of his own. With one more point, Coughler can join Garlent, Ben Duffy, Cam Fergus, and Cody Thornton as SMU rookies to record at least 30 points in their rookie season in the last 10 years. That’s some very good company. Worth noting, a 30 point rookie season is one of the few things Rancourt didn’t achieve in the AUS. He had 29 points in his rookie season back in ’05-06.
- In what was a wild weekend for news, the Acadia Axemen made a subtle acquisition in Loch Morrison for 2018-19. Playing in Melfort this year, he’s a veteran of 195 WHL games and brings decent size and physicality to an Acadia team which already has a lot of that.
- Corbin Boes update: He’s now boosted his SV% to .938 in the month of January with a 2.44 GAA. This is the best month of his season by far to this point, and the Tigers have three wins in 2018 as a result.
- With 15 goals on the season, Anthony Repaci is tied for the AUS conference lead. Should he stay tied or take the top spot, he’ll be the first ever player on record to lead to AUS in scoring despite never playing a game in major junior. (Disclaimer: AUS records can get pretty sketchy pre-2000)
- With 32 points on the year, Kameron Kielly is four points shy of Chad Locke for most points by a UPEI rookie since 2010. Worth noting, it still pales in comparison to the ridiculous 48 points Justin Donati registered in his first full season of AUS hockey in ’08-09.
Matt Needham, F | StFX X-Men
Part of one of the best all-around recruit classes in the summer of 2016, Matt Needham has really come alive for StFX this season. His four goals for StFX last year was fairly mediocre, but the 13 he’s posted this season are second to only Michael Clarke for the team lead. But the goal-scoring isn’t why Needham is this week’s unsung hero. Against Dalhousie, Needham went 15-17 on faceoffs, then went 10-17 the next game against Moncton. It’s a great indication of just how much an all-around player Needham is, and even though he was an asset last year, he’s flourished his ability in a number of different areas this season.
Key Games This Week:
Acadia vs StFX | Wed. January 24th, 7:00 pm AST
On a suspiciously busy Wednesday night in the AUS, the Acadia Axemen link up with the StFX X-Men for their final meeting of the 2017-18 regular season. For those just tuning in, the first few meetings of the season provided us all sorts of insanity and some of the most entertaining hockey of the AUS season. With both teams more or less on even footing, this should be a fair indication of which team is more prepared for the playoffs.
1. Anybody that’s dedicated enough to read this article knows full well what went on in the OUA this week with the UQTR Patriotes. For those looking for a more detailed timeline of what happened, check this link. Since my sequence of tweets, I’ve talked with a few UQTR alumni, two of which were on the team last season. I’m told by both players who were on the team last year, there was no way Marc-Etienne Hubert didn’t know Nicolas Larivière was playing in Princeville. If this was in fact an accident (which UQTR insists it is), it’s one of the most egregious errors made by a hockey operations staff in recent U SPORTS hockey history. I spoke with eight OUA coaches this week, all of who said they can’t believe Hubert wasn’t aware of the rule. However, I did talk to one AUS coach and an assistant in Canada West who said they were unaware of the Jan. 10th deadline, but both said there would be someone else in the organization to catch the error (or at least they hope). Whether or not this was accidental or intentional, we’ll likely never know for sure. I’ve talked with people on both sides who firmly believe it was an accident, while there’s others who strongly believe it was intentional. But one of the more interesting perspectives I got was from a very prominent UQTR alum who asked to remain anonymous. He told me, “Marc-Etienne should acknowledge his fault and take fully the blame for that”. He went on to tell me he didn’t believe Hubert has been taking enough responsibility for the error. The other alum I spoke with suggested Hubert should be suspended for the mistake. In addition to that opinion, nearly all of my sources in the OUA East I spoke with this week believe UQTR should be barred from the playoffs this year. It’s an awful lot of commotion stemming from a fourth line winger who played 20 games illegally.
2. One of the biggest losers from the fallout in UQTR are the RMC Paladins. After their miraculous run to close out 2017, they now find themselves five points back of Nipissing. Most still believe the Paladins’ best chance at the playoffs is knocking out Nipissing, but considering the fact UQTR is scheduled to play Ottawa (x3), McGill, and Carleton to close out the season, butting the Patriotes out of the postseason might not be impossible after all, especially with RMC two points back and having the tie-break in hand over UQTR. Having said that, RMC needs to win for that to happen. They’ve lost seven straight, but they’ll see Nipissing and Laurentian a combined four times and have a game in hand on UQTR. If RMC can get at least five points out of those games against Nipissing and Laurentian, they’ll be able to make this interesting.
3. One of the big winners from the UQTR controversy are the Laurentian Voyageurs. After receiving four points from the UQTR forfeits (games which they lost 7-3 and 2-0), they’re right back in the mix. Big props to Dylan Fitze for his huge hat-trick performance against UOIT to single-handedly swipe the 3-2 win away for Laurentian on Sunday. Now tied with RMC two points back of the Patriotes, Laurentian have a pretty light schedule to close out of the season. Now with some stable(ish) goaltending in MacKenzie Savard, clambering back into the playoffs is far from unfathomable. Should Laurentian actually capitalize on the opportunity, it would be one of the most amazing comebacks into the postseason given how awful this team was in the first semester.
4. Aside from UQTR, there really isn’t much to talk about in the OUA East this week. However, the Queen’s Gaels are making a pretty aggressive move in the standings with wins in three straight games. Now tied for second with Concordia at 33 points, Queen’s are coming alive in the second semester like I figured they would. Kevin Bailie picked up his 50th career OUA win against Nipissing and is now the OUA’s winningest active goalie. Waterloo’s Mike Morrison sits closely behind with 49 career wins. Still impressive, but to a lesser extent, Slater Doggett posted a career-high four assists in a single OUA game against Nipissing, having a hand in every goal in a 4-3 win. Doggett never had a four assist game during his OHL career.
- After a three point third period against UQTR, Anthony Beauregard became the first OUA player since Spencer Pommells to hit 50 points. Now with 52 he’s looking to catch Alex-Picard Hooper‘s 58 point benchmark from 2010-11.
- At 22 games played, L.P. Guindon ties Jacob Gervais-Chouinard and Mathieu Poitras for most appearances by a McGill goalie in a single season since 2004.
- The Ottawa Gee-Gees penalty kill sits at 95.0% over the first six games of 2018. That’s the best stretch for their penalty kill since they re-entered the league last year.
- Although the Paladins lost 5-0 to their counterparts from the United States in their West Point clash, it was another great iteration of the event from the K-Rock Centre. It also resulted in one of my favourite social media posts of the year in U SPORTS hockey which you can see here. A+ grade for one of the league’s best social media teams.
Mathieu Desautels, D | Concordia Stingers
Carl Neill gets all the credit for efficient puck-moving and offensive ability from a d-man on Concordia (as he should), but not far behind is Mathieu Desautels. A fairly unheralded recruit out of the QMJHL, Desautels isn’t the flashiest piece of Concordia’s back-end, but he’s settling in more and more as time goes by. This week he recorded a career-high three points against UQTR, an indication of his offensive ability which makes appearances from time to time.
Footnote: I was on the road in Ottawa calling OHL hockey Sunday afternoon and saw somebody wearing a Mathieu Desautels Ottawa 67’s jersey. That played a big part in his unsung hero selection this week.
Key Games This Week:
uOttawa vs UQTR | Wed. January 24th, 7:00 pm EST
For obvious reasons, there’s a lot riding on this game for UQTR. Now they’re in the danger zone for the playoffs, and although most believe they’ll still make it, their schedule is as tough as it gets to close out the season. The Gee-Gees are in good form lately, and will provide a good test for a UQTR team which has been all over the map this season. We’ll find out Wednesday how this team responds after a wildly controversial week.
1. The Frosty Mug turned out really, really well for the Guelph Gryphons in front of an event record 4,715 fans at the Sleeman Centre. The Gryphons came out flying with their best first period of the season, and were backstopped by Andrew Masters who recorded his second shutout of the season. The win solidified Guelph’s impressive record as the best in U SPORTS since Nov. 1st at 14-1, but their 3-1 loss to Brock the following night puts a damper on that run. Shawn Camp will be the first to tell you that one of the toughest games of the season is the one right after the Frosty Mug. The Gryphons went from playing in front of 4,715 rowdy Gryphon fans to roughly one hundred in Brock the next night. All things considered, the Gryphons are still in a good spot atop the OUA West.
2. On the short end of the Frosty Mug were the Laurier Golden Hawks, who were run right out of the building early. Neither Chris Festarini or Colin Furlong had their ‘A-game’, but it didn’t really matter considering the Golden Hawks offence didn’t offer much to get excited about either. Stuck at 99 career wins, number 100 is proving to be one of the most difficult for Greg Puhalski after they lost 5-4 the following night to Waterloo in the shootout. Another high-intensity game in itself, Laurier can’t let the moment get to them if they want to make a run in the playoffs. That’s what led to their untimely demise at the hands of Windsor last year.
3. Speaking of Windsor, they’re doing a great job of making an absolute mess of the second semester. They’ve lost every game in 2018 thus far, and are now clinging to the final playoff spot by a single point. So far nothing has worked in January. The offence is down to 2.17 goals-per-game, the team save percentage is an unimpressive .879%, the power play is operating at 14.8%, and the penalty kill is an ugly 72%. There’s nobody to blame for the Lancers’ struggles but themselves. They proved earlier in the season that they have the tools to win, which must be driving Kevin Hamlin nuts. Whatever his message is to the team this week, it’s hard to imagine he’ll be holding much back in the locker room.
4. Right at the heels of the Lancers are the Waterloo Warriors and… surprise, the U of T Varsity Blues are making a real season out of 2017-18. Both knotted at 17 points, Waterloo needed a win extremely badly, and got two thanks to big game-winning contributions from Mike Moffat. One of the league’s most offensively gifted defenders, the Warriors are an astounding 14-1 in regular season games where Moffat scores. For U of T, Matt Campagna finally burst out for his first back-to-back multi-point game weekend of the season. Campagna is one of the best kept secrets in the OUA given the roster he’s surrounded by, but he’s having the least productive of his three seasons. He’s been more productive in the second semester, and U of T will need him to keep being so if they want to squeak into the postseason. After huge wins over Ryerson and Windsor last week, they’ll get two difficult opponents in Guelph and Ryerson again this week.
5. The Western Mustangs keep rolling right along in 2018. It took some OT heroics from Anthony Stefano in the second game against Lakehead, but it was enough to get the job done as they’ve strung together six straight wins. Thunder Bay has typically been a tough place for Western to close out games, having gone 4-8-4 in games on the road against Lakehead since 2007. Western’s power play also continues to be great on their win-streak, going 6-for-17 in that time (35.2%).
- Good news for Guelph as Patrick Kudla returned to the lineup against Brock after missing seven games.
- After losing only twice on home-ice in the calendar year of 2017, the Ryerson Rams have lost three of four games at home to start 2018. Their 1-3-1 record in their last five games is their worst stretch since they went 1-4 over five games in early 2015.
- The York Lions looked marginally better this week with wins over Ryerson and Brock, and a excellent showing from Mack Shields over those two games.
- With Scott Gall and Dylan Butler tied at 14 points, this could be the first season in program history where Lakehead doesn’t have a player with at least 20 points. Both players have combined for just three points this semester. Seven games left to fix that.
- Having played in all but one game, Clint Windsor is making a run at the all-time lead in minutes played by a Brock goalie. But he’s got a ways to go to catch Kurt Jory who played 1584:23 minutes in 2010-11 over 27 games in a 28 game season.
Josh Hanson, D | U of T Varsity Blues
One of the most reputable recruits the U of T Varsity Blues have added in recent memory, we haven’t heard much about Josh Hanson in the last few seasons. When you’re a quiet defender to begin with, it doesn’t help your case for notoriety when your team isn’t winning much. But that wasn’t the case this week, as U of T pulled off the weekend sweep, and as usual, Hanson was relied on for the top-end assignments for the Varsity Blues. A third year defender who was best known for his time with a dominant Portland Winterhawks organization, he’s a cornerstone piece to a U of T blueline that nobody talks much about.
Key Games This Week:
Waterloo vs Windsor | Fri. January 26th, 7:00 pm EST
This is going to be a two game death match between two of the most physical teams in the league, and could very well determine who makes and who misses the postseason this year. Waterloo are coming off an encouraging week, while the Windsor Lancers are suffering through their worst stretch of the season. There’s everything on the line for both programs in both games against each other on the weekend.
1. This week was a really, really good week for the UBC Thunderbirds. Not only do they sweep the Lethbridge Pronghorns in the season series, but they come away with a big morale victory at the UBC Winter Classic in front of a whopping 5,500 fans. As far as individual performances go, Matt Hewitt gave us not one, but two save of the year candidates. The first against Lethbridge in the late stages of the Winter Classic to hold the lead, the second in overtime the following night which lead to Nick Buonassisi potting the winner. A pretty small goalie, when Hewitt is on his game, is he ever fun to watch. Collectively, 2018 has yielded wealthy results for the T-Birds who are 5-1 since hanging up the new calendar. This run is especially important for their playoff chances after going into the exam break on an ugly eight game losing streak.
2. The Saskatchewan Huskies were back to their winning ways once again with a sweep over the Calgary Dinos on the week. Once again the great Jordon Cooke was at the forefront. With his 10th career Canada West shutout, he’s tied Jeff Harvey for the most in Saskatchewan Huskies history. Worth noting, this doesn’t include his two shutouts in the U Cup and the other two he has in the playoffs. MacKenzie Johnston became the 20th different Huskie to score this season, padding the ‘Saskatchewan is deep’ narrative. For Calgary, oh boy, it’s go-time now. Just about every coach in the league has told me they still treat them like a top three team in the west, but the Dinos are making the playoff picture really interesting after going 2-3-1 to start their semester. Their games against MRU are extremely important this week, and with Regina and Manitoba to close out the season, there’s still ample opportunity to pick up points. But the margin for error is basically zero for this team. If it sounds familiar to UBC’s scenario last year…. that’s because it is.
3. The Mount Royal Cougars and Manitoba Bisons had two really, really good hockey games this week. The term ‘playoff quality’ was an accurate way to describe how both contests played out. Both games were one goal decisions, and featured all the intensity and drama you could ask for. Jesse Lees continues his historic run for MRU, with two goals in the 3rd on Friday Lees scored the game-tying and game-winning goals in a 4-3 win. Lees now has 10 points in the month of January, and is one goal back of Ryerson’s Alex Basso (11) for the country lead in goals by a defenceman. On the Manitoba side, Saturday’s 1-0 win was a nice way to breakup their three game losing streak. They were aided by netminder Byron Spriggs who made 36 saves in the shutout. After a mediocre month of October, Spriggs has been excellent ever since with a save percentage over .920% for each month since, and a .923 SV% in January specifically.
4. The Lethbridge Pronghorns are still in a playoff spot, but there’s a familiar narrative starting to creep up on them. You have to figure the Dinos are going to make a push before the season’s over, so if Lethbridge is going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2011-12, they’re going to have to earn it. Demoralizing news came when they found out their leading goal-scorer Connor Sanvido is likely done for the season. Staying healthy has been a problem for Lethbridge this year, but that’s been the case with a couple other Canada West programs too. Lethbridge gets Alberta, Manitoba, and Regina to end the season which appears to be coming right back down to the wire again.
5. After what was a pretty decent start to the season by their standards, the Regina Cougars haven’t made much noise of late on their eight game losing streak. They were crushed by Alberta this week who bounce right back after losing three of four. The Golden Bears have three players now with 10+ goals on the season, and have a Canada West-leading 13 different players with 10+ points on the year. With his three assist effort on Friday, Trevor Cox now has more 3+ assist games than anybody else in Canada West this year with three and is fourth in the country with 25 assists. Alberta is still supercharged with offence and are now top 10 in every offensive category in U SPORTS. Regina’s offence has been the polar opposite of late, averaging just 1.83 goals-per-game in 2018. Part of this is due to the loss of Zak Zborosky who hasn’t played since Jan. 12th vs UBC.
- Jesse Lees is now three goals shy of tying Calgary’s Giffen Nyren for most goals by a defenceman in a Canada West regular season (13) in the last decade.
- After recording points in two of his first six games, Michael St. Croix has had a point in 15 of his last 16 games played. That’s the most consistent stretch of anybody in Canada West since Oct. 27th.
- Although out with injury right now, Zak Zborosky could become the first Regina Cougar with a point-per-game rate over 1.00 (min. 18 GP) since Jason Weitzel who had 43 points in 36 games for Regina in ’06-07.
Wes Vannieuwenhuizen, D | UBC Thunderbirds
Wes Vannieuwenhuizen will rarely ever show up in the boxscore, in fact he’s only ever scored once in his 115 game career in Canada West. As a result, he’s rarely talked about in TMS. But this week is his time to shine. The captain of the T-Birds, Vannieuwenhuizen has seen just about anything Canada West can throw at you. This week he played in his final UBC Winter Classic, and although he never contributed much offensively, he was once again the pulse that keeps the T-Birds ticking. Through thick and thin, Vannieuwenhuizen has been there with UBC, and both his physical and defensive contributions are dearly missed when he’s out of the lineup. Hats off to one of the best leaders in Canada West.
Key Game This Week:
Calgary vs Mount Royal | Thurs. January 25th, 7:00 pm MST
How could this week’s key game not be the Crowchild Classic? The best part about the event this year is that there’s a ton on the line as far as playoffs go for both teams. Calgary is still on the outside looking in, dangerously late in the season. To get in, they’ll have to kick somebody out, and MRU isn’t out of the woods just yet. A win for the Cougars goes a long, long way in securing another playoff berth for them, while every game for Calgary down the stretch is now a must-win game.