Tuesday Morning Skate: Week 14, February 6th 2018
1. The Dalhousie Tigers managed to take an uneventful race to the postseason in the AUS and flip the whole league upside down for a few weeks. After a stretch of what seemed like ‘first team to not lose’ between them and Moncton to make the playoffs, Dalhousie has blown the doors away and rattled off five straight wins. This is the first five game win-streak Dalhousie has pieced together since they started their second semester in 2003 on a seven game win streak. They needed to take care of business on Wednesday night to dispose Moncton, and that’s exactly what they did. Then you turn around and take out StFX while scoring seven goals? Ok Dalhousie, you have my attention. With 12 goals on the season, Colton Heffley joins Phil Gadoury, Benjamin Breault, Brad McConnell, and Shea Kewin as the only Tigers to score more than 11 goals in a single season since 2010. If Corbin Boes continues to hold the ship steady, his third straight season with a save percentage over .900 will account of three of the six .900 SV% season Dal Tiger goalies have posted since 2002. This team is trending in the right direction and didn’t show any signs of slowing down this week.
2. After a nice 6-3 win over Acadia on Friday night to extend their win streak to three games, I had some nice things ready to say about the UPEI Panthers. But 24 hours later they go and lay an egg, losing 9-1 to SMU. It seems like for every step this program has taken forward this year, they follow up with a small step backwards. It’s frustratingly slow progress, but the Panthers are statistically a better team in the second half, but more importantly, are winning more games in the second semester. After a red hot start, Kameron Kielly has cooled off to record nine points in his last 12 games, which certainly isn’t bad by any standard. With 15 goals on the season, Marcus Power has set a career high and scored twice against Acadia. In games where Power has a multi-goal performance, the Panthers are a perfect 9-0-0. He always seems to find a way to score clutch goals, so don’t be surprised if he has another one for us in the next few weeks.
3. The Acadia Axemen finally found a way to break out of their five game losing skid, and picked a pretty good team to do it against in UNB. Thanks to a late game-tying goal from Boston Leier and an OT winner from Remy Giftopoulos, the Axemen took the 4-3 decision. Geoff Schemitsch also picked up his first points of the season over the weekend with a goal and two assists. Up front, the Axemen are still looking to get Stephen Harper going again who has just three points in his last seven games. Fortunately for them, they have a wealth of scoring options apart from Harper, but this team is at another level when Harper takes games over like he did early in the season. They’ve got a tough match in Saint Mary’s this week before closing out their season against Moncton.
4. The Moncton Aigles Bleus were officially eliminated from playoff contention after a Wednesday night loss to the Dalhousie Tigers. After losing 5-2 to StFX on Friday, they’re in serious danger of going the entire second semester without a win. They’ve got two very good teams in SMU and Acadia this week, neither of which they’ve beaten this year. To SMU alone, they’ve allowed no less than seven goals in a single game to them in their first four meetings. That number drops to four against Acadia, but they lost the other three meetings 9-1, 6-1, and 7-4. Just keeping this week’s games close would be a step in the right direction for Moncton. The inability to stop pucks from winding up in the net has been excruciating for a program that has some pretty good players. Brighter days are ahead for the Blue Eagles.
5. With playoff eligibility locked up for what feels like an eternity for the UNB Varsity Reds and StFX X-Men, they’ve been out of the top headlines recently. But knotted at 48 points together at the top of the table with one more meeting in hand, this rivalry has one more chapter for us this season before we go head first into the playoffs. Judging by the recent trend, it looks like Gardiner MacDougall will take Alex Dubeau as his starter into the playoffs. He’s started six of UNB’s last seven games. He’s been a busy goalie lately having made 107 saves for UNB in January (high by UNB standards), a month where the V-Reds were shorthanded a remarkable 57 times in eight games. That’s just over seven power plays for the opposition per night. UNB’s penalty kill has been pretty good in the second half, but StFX’s PK% is on a different planet. Since December, the X-Men have successfully killed off 56 of 58 power plays. That’s 95.6%, best in the country in that time-span.
6. The SMU Huskies once again fly under the radar with a close loss to UNB, then a blowout win over UPEI. Two points ahead of Acadia in the standings, a win over them this coming week ensure they stay in the three spot. With Dalhousie and UPEI tied at 19 points its tough to say who they might face, but I’d be hard pressed to believe SMU cares all that much. Both UPEI and Dalhousie are very different teams, but just as capable as the other of pulling off an upset. They’ll be a handful either way.
- Chase Marchand‘s numbers took a serious hit after allowing seven goals on 29 shots to Dalhousie, a team he had a .947 SV% against coming into Saturday’s meeting. His .928 SV% is now tied for second in the country.
- Ryan MacKinnon‘s 27 points pit him two shy of Reggie Traccitto‘s 29 point mark in ’13-14 as the most by a UPEI d-man since the turn of the century.
- Moncton isn’t wasting any time on the recruit front for next season. As it stands, they may have as many as four QMJHLers with LOIs set for next season not including Étienne Montpetit and Maxim St-Cyr.
- With 104 PIMS on the season, Liam Maskaant will ensure at least one Acadia Axmen is in the countries’ top ten for penalty minutes for the fifth straight season.
Dylan DiPerna, D | SMU Huskies
Dylan DiPerna was one of the most coveted recruits on the market over the summer, and he’s proving his worth thus far with Saint Mary’s. Expected to match up against tough assignments right away, DiPerna has done that as expected, and leads the team with a +14 after going a combined +8 in both games this weekend. He also happens to lead Huskie defenders offensively with 21 points on the season and tacked on an AUS career single game high three helpers against UPEI. On a SMU team littered with some very effective top-end talent, DiPerna has lived up to the hefty expectation and delivered as a rookie.
Key Games This Week:
StFX vs UNB | Fri. February 9th, 7:00 pm AST
Obviously there’s a lot going on historically between these two teams, and given how successful they’ve been this year, it makes it an intriguing match right away. But there’s a little more on the line than just bragging rights. With both teams tied at 48 points on the season, the winner of this game takes a huge step forward in securing home ice the entire way through the playoffs. For two teams that have clashed in each of the last AUS finals they both know how important home ice can be.
1. Last year it was the UBC Thunderbirds with a run to the playoffs for the ages, now this year it’s the Laurentian Voyageurs. But hold on, the story hasn’t totally played out quite yet. The RMC Paladins are just two points behind, and will play against Laurentian in their final game of the season. But the Voyageurs can put the playoff race to bed on Friday with a win over UOIT. Dylan Fitze has been electric for a team which desperately needed a spark with five goals in his last five games. All of Fitze’s three game-winners this semester have come within the final 10 minutes of the third period, or in overtime. Over at RMC, they fall painstakingly short of a win in the Carr-Harris Cup in what was undoubtedly a game of the year candidate. An injury to Daniel Vautour comes at an unfortunate time, and captain Michael Keenan will not return this year either. Whatever the case, RMC need to gain at least a point against Nipissing on Friday to stay alive. They managed to do that in the first two meetings this year, and they get a Lakers team which has only won in regulation once since Nov. 24th. It’s a good week to be an OUA hockey fan.
2. In one of the wildest twists of fate in recent memory, the eligibility scandal at UQTR which cost them 18 points will be the biggest contributor to them missing the playoffs this season. This will be the first time the UQTR Patriotes haven’t made the playoffs since 1979 when they were part of the QUAA. That year they finished with a record of 4-15-1, falling short behind McGill, Laval, UQAC Inuk, and the division-leading Concordia Stingers. Make no mistake, this season’s result is a disaster for UQTR. Not only that, but their reputation has taken a serious hit and will likely affect them this offseason for recruiting. Marc-Étienne Hubert tried to rally the troops after UQTR’s egregious error with Nicholas Lariviére, but it really felt like the wind was gone out of UQTR’s sails, never to come back. They went 1-4 since the sanctions were handed down by the OUA, and will round out their season against Carleton. It’s unfortunate that all the hard work put in by the players this year will be for nothing as the Patriotes try their best to move on from this debacle, but it won’t be easy.
3. Wasn’t the prettiest way to do it, but the Nipissing Lakers are back in the playoffs. Even if RMC wins twice, the Lakers will have more wins than the Paladins this year, which grants them the tie-break. The Lakers have had some ups and downs throughout the year, but they’ll be happy with the production from their freshman class. Matt Donnelly has been a nice surprise leading all Nipissing rookies with 15 points. Brett Hargrave trails close behind with 13 and a team-leading 10 goals. Brody Morris, Tyler Brown, Lucas Brown, and Travis McEvoy have all become everyday players and add decent depth to the squad. Still clearly a few pieces away from being a frequent lock for the postseason, the Lakers need to squeeze all the potential they can get out of their guys to have a chance at an upset in the playoffs.
4. CUSN power rankings be damned, the Queen’s Gaels are a really good hockey team. They’ve had an easier schedule in the second semester, but they’ve taken care of business they way they should just about every night. Having said that, the Gaels are just 1-3-2 against McGill, Carleton, and Concordia this year. If they intend to get back to nationals this year they’ll likely have to get past at least one of those teams in the postseason. Although they beat both Concordia and McGill en route to a Queen’s Cup berth last year, their regular season meetings leave something to be desired. Although their recruit class was plentiful, the key pieces of this Queen’s team are all veterans. They’ve seen just about everything this league can throw at them, and they’ve got serious game-breakers in Spencer Abraham, Kevin Bailie, Slater Doggett, and Eric Ming. Regardless of the matchup, Queen’s shouldn’t be considered an ‘underdog’ against anyone this year.
- Didn’t take long for Nikolas Brouillard to make an impact for the McGill Redmen. His first goal came in his second career OUA game, and it was an OT winner to give McGill the 4-3 win over UOIT.
- Bad news for the UOIT Ridgebacks who didn’t have Mike Robinson in either of their games this week.
- With all divisional matchups over with for the Ottawa Gee-Gees, they finish with a 7-5-2 record against divisional opponents. Pretty good for what was deemed the ‘division of death’ at the start of the season.
- The Carleton Ravens continue to push through a stretch of average hockey, but they got Ryan Van Stralen back on Saturday after having missed three games.
- Anthony Beauregard Milestone Watch: With an even 40 assists on the season, Beauregard is just the fifth player to hit 40 assists in a single season in the last decade joining Rob Hennigar, Marc Rancourt, Alex Picard-Hooper, and Daniel Erlich
Quinn O’Brien, F | Ottawa Gee-Gees
For a player who was once described to me by an OUA assistant coach as a ‘blackhole for offence’ due to his ability to shutdown opposing forwards, Quinn O’Brien had himself a fine week with three goals on the record. Given, one was an empty-netter against UQTR, but for someone who only scored two last year, he’ll take them anyway he can get them. O’Brien was the back-breaker for UQTR this week, who ironically announced him as a recruit in the summer of ’16 before he wound up on the Gee-Gees instead. Not a prolific offensive player by any stretch, O’Brien developed a reputation as a shutdown centre in the QMJHL. He’s brought that role along to the Ottawa Gee-Gees, and is one of the league’s best defensive forwards. This was a rare week where O’Brien made noise on the scoresheet, but you can bet he’ll be taking pride in silencing the opposition the rest of the way.
Key Games This Week:
Laurentian vs UOIT | Fri. February 9th, 7:30 pm EST
In one of the craziest come from behind runs of the season, the Laurentian Voyageurs have a chance to put the final playoff position out of reach of the RMC Paladins. An RMC loss can do the trick too, but Laurentian can take control of their own fate and secure their position in the postseason after it looked like that was far from a possibility leading into the second semester. In the last meeting with UOIT it took late game heroics from Dylan Fitze to get the job done.
1. The boys on the U of T Varsity Blues have to be absolutely buzzing right now. The season started with a promising upset of the nationally ranked Queen’s Gaels, but sort of fell apart through the rest of the semester leading to the basement heading into the Christmas break. Since the new year the Varsity Blues have been electric, now winners in seven of their last 10 games. And once again, here’s Andrew Hunt at the center of it. It took Darren Lowe half a season to figure out Hunt would be the guy into the playoffs, and U of T wound up a goal post away from playing for a spot in the University Cup. Fast forward two years, it’s taken Ryan Medel about 3/4ths of the season to find Hunt, but here he is. An unfortunate injury to Frederic Foulem‘s knee opened the door for Hunt, who figuratively slammed it and hasn’t allowed a goal since. He’s made 58 straight saves over 148+ minutes played in two and a half games, and his margin for error against Laurier was nonexistent. Hunt has been perfect when U of T has needed him most, and he’s let his teammates do the damage in front. Now with just two more games, the playoffs are in sight for the Varsity Blues.
2. Thanks in part to the UQTR Patriotes, the Lakehead Thunderwolves are officially in the playoffs for the second straight year after topping Windsor 4-1. They probably should’ve taken at least a point from Ryerson too, but a third period comeback was spoiled by a horrendous turnover in front of the net which let to a gift goal for Steven Harland to put the game away. The Thunderwolves have still lost eight of their last nine games, which is bad, but they’ve managed to beat Windsor all three times they’ve played this year. On Saturday it was Billy Jenkins and Sam Schutt teaming up to lead the way offensively. Those are two of Lakeheads more reputable recruits that need to be producing for them to have a shot in the playoffs.
3. Two games to go in the regular season, and here the Windsor Lancers are on the outside looking in. After an okay first semester, the wheels have fallen off in 2018, but thanks to a big 5-2 win over Brock there’s still signs of life. They won’t be able to get the tie-break against U of T, but they can put all the pressure on the Varsity Blues by taking care of business against Western. Justice Dundas has been in and out of the lineup every other week while the Lancers are still searching for a breakout clutch performance from someone on their roster. They’ve got Waterloo hot on their heels who lose a tough game to U of T 2-0, but still very much have a chance to sneak in. They get cross-town rivals in Laurier on Wednesday before finishing up against Lakehead. Those are both must-win games for the Warriors to have a chance.
4. The Laurentian Voyageurs may take the prize for most impressive comeback of the season to make the playoffs should they hold on in the east, but the Western Mustangs have shot up the standings like no other after doing a complete 180 this semester. With four more points up for grabs, the Mustangs could actually finish as high as third in the OUA West. They sit fourth right now, which is impressive in it’s own right. Crazy to think it was just two months ago we were questioning whether this team was actually going to make the playoffs or not. The remarkable run will have to come to an end at some point, but with Luke Peressini continuing to anchor down the net with an OUA best .938 SV% they’ll always be in good shape. Among goalies with at least 10 games played, Peressini had the worst save percentage in the country at .865% last year. What a remarkable turn of events the last months have been for this program.
5. The Guelph Gryphons officially locked up first place in the OUA West this week, which is a big deal for them. The Gryphons haven’t finished first in a division/conference since ’99-00 when they topped the OUA’s Mid East division with a 10-12-4 record (oddly mediocre record for a division-winning team). But the Gryphons know that the seedings can go out the window pretty quick in the OUA, after all, they won an OUA title from the sixth seed two years ago. Since 2005, only three times has the Queen’s Cup representative from the West been the best regular season team in the conference. Western was the last to do it when they finished first and advanced to the Queen’s Cup in 2012. The numbers aren’t in favour of a deep Guelph playoff run, but this program hasn’t ever been one to let ‘numbers’ get in their way before.
- The struggles continue for Laurier who lose six straight games and now sit tied for fifth in the OUA West. The Golden Hawks have finished better than fifth in the West twice since the 2011 season when they ended that season in 2nd with a 15-7-6 record, and 3rd just a year ago.
- Andrew Hunt‘s current 148 minute shutout streak pits him with the eighth longest since ’07-08 in the OUA. He needs just two minutes longer to knock off ex-Thunderwolves goalie Kyle Moir before he runs into two 150+ min shutout streaks from former Varsity Blue Brett Willows
- With 71 goals for and 71 goals against on the season, the Brock Badgers have a chance to finish their season with a positive goal differential for the first time since 2008, the year they went to the University Cup.
- After a three goal performance this week Ryerson D-man Alex Basso lead the countries’ defenceman in goals with 14. With four game-winners on the season, Basso ties a single season Rams record and sits one power play goal shy of Jamie Wise for the Rams single season record.
- With just one more point, Trevor Petersen can join Jesse Messier, Nathaniel Brooks, Tyler Harrison, and Jesse Grespan as the only Lions to have three straight 20+ point seasons since 2005.
Cordell James, F | Western Mustangs
Making the cut for my ‘top five OHL forwards available’ list during the offseason, Cordell James was a late offseason splash recruit for the Western Mustangs. Much like the rest of the team, it took him a little while to get going, but now that he’s starting to figure out the league, look out. James missed the first three weeks of the second semester, but he’s returned to score four goals in five games. James is relied upon on the penalty kill unit, but now that he’s starting to find his offensive edge too, he becomes an even deadlier weapon. The goals may not be coming at the same rate they did in his final OHL season, but if James continues to develop and stay the course, it’s only a matter of time before he starts lighting up the OUA.
Key Games This Week:
Windsor vs Western | Thurs. February 8th, 7:00 pm EST
This game is essentially the last chance for Windsor, who sit tied with Waterloo, but two points behind U of T for the final playoff position. The Lancers draw a very tough opponent in Western to close out the season in a home and home, and a regulation loss on Thursday night could very well be the crushing blow to their season. They’ve had all sorts of trouble this semester, but will give Western everything they’ve got. In a wild turn of events, Western goes from battling their way out of the basement to a shot at finishing third in the OUA West with some help.
1. With two games remaining in the season, the Lethbridge Pronghorns are going to need a miracle to make the playoffs. Losers in eight straight, another second semester losing skid could be what spells the end for them. But the reality is they still have a chance, but need the Dinos to slip up. The Pronghorns get Regina this week, who are looking to break an ugly 12 game losing streak of their own. Lethbridge have two winnable games right in front of them and need to summon up the courage or confidence from somewhere to get the job done. In 2018 the Pronghorns have been okay out of the gate in most of their first periods. But the second period has been a house of horrors for Lethbridge who have been outscored 18-5, then outscored 14-5 in the third period to boot. Not much more to say here.
2. In the 500th meeting of Canada West’s most storied, deep, and fierce rivalry, it was all Alberta Golden Bears this week as they extended the Saskatchewan Huskies losing streak to four. This is one of the worst stretches Saskatchewan has had to suffer through in recent memory, and the timing isn’t very good. Although it’s a lot better than falling flat like this in the playoffs. After slowing to a pace of seven points in nine games this semester, Josh Roach missed the second game against Alberta and relinquishes the Canada West points lead to Luke Philp who has seven points over his current four game point streak. Steven Owre has exploded through the leaderboard too with 10 goals this semester which is the clear cut lead amongst Canada West rookies, but ties him with Jamie Crooks for most goals in Canada West by anybody period.
3. The Manitoba Bisons continue to play solid hockey in the second semester, and what a pickup Michael St. Croix has turned out to be. Sometimes the ex-pro players can be real wildcards, but St. Croix has been a slam dunk recruit, second in the conference with 34 points. Ever since Oct. 27th, St. Croix has had a point in all but one game (a 4-0 shutout L vs CGY). Nobody in Canada West has factored into their team’s offensive output as consistently as St. Croix. The rest of the team has played well around him too. The Bisons are 10th in the country with 3.73 goals-per-game. That’s all after a slow start in October where they were scoring just 2.63 per game. They get the Calgary Dinos who can clinch the final playoff position with a win this week. Cain Franson and Chris Collins have been dynamite of late with eight points each in the last four games. Apart from them, the Dinos don’t have much offensive depth. But when they get the veterans going, they’re as tough as anybody to stop.
4. Comfortably seated in a playoff position for 2018, the UBC Thunderbirds saw their seven game win-streak come to a close against Mount Royal on Saturday. As a result, Mount Royal clinch a playoff spot too. It’s been well established that Austin Vetterl is the biggest offensive piece of the T-Birds, but there’s something to be said for Nick Buonassisi who teed off for nine points on UBC’s seven game win streak. Goaltending in January was immaculate for UBC with a .947 SV% thanks to great performances from Matt Hewitt and Rylan Toth. After an average week from Jordon Cooke, Hewitt moves up to second best among Canada West goalies for save percentage at .922% just behind Brendan Burke. On the Mount Royal side, Jesse Lees found the scoresheet again for his 11th goal of the season. With 24 points on the season in as many games, two more points would make him just the third different Canada West D-man in the last decade to have a point per game season joining ex-Dinos Giffen Nyren and Kodie Curran
- Steven Owre‘s 16 goals are the most by a Golden Bears rookie since Dylan Stanley posted 24 back in ’05-06. Back then the Golden Bears played 44 games in a season.
- MRU rookie sensation Bradley Kennedy has seen his pace rear to a sudden halt having gone nine straight games without scoring since Jan. 5th/18.
- Doesn’t look like Zak Zborosky will return to action for the Regina Cougars this year. Tough end to the season for a program which showed some real promise at the start of the season. Anyhow, with a healthy Zborosky next year and a couple more WHL recruits in hand they could be in good shape.
- With Alberta’s two wins against Saskatchewan this week, they improve to 328-149-24 all-time against the Huskies in their 501 games played.
Dylan Busenius, D | Calgary Dinos
For those outside of Canada West, Dylan Busenius won’t typically get the credit he’s due. Everyone in the conference knows how good Busenius is, but on a country-wide scale, he’s one of the most underrated defenceman in U SPORTS. He got some nice recognition with an invite to the U SPORTS all-star team in December, but he’d probably much rather take pride in seeing his team battle back to make the postseason. A veteran of four seasons in Canada West, Busenius only played 15 games as a rookie, but soon turned into a key part of the Dino d-corps. Now he anchors the show for them and has career-highs in every offensive stat category including 20 points. Now with a chance to book their ticket to the postseason, he’ll be relied upon once again this weekend.
Key Game This Week:
Calgary vs Manitoba | Fri. February 9th, 7:00 pm MST
Sadly, it doesn’t appear the Pronghorns are putting up much of a fight for the playoffs this year after an ugly losing streak leading up to their final week of the season. That leaves the door available for Calgary to slam shut on Friday. All they need to do is beat the Manitoba Bisons, and the Dinos are secured for the playoffs. Manitoba has been playing some good hockey of late, but so has Calgary. It won’t be easy, but there’s every reason to believe the Dinos can get the job done this week.