Tuesday Morning Skate: Week 5, November 7th, 2017


Top Stories:

1. It’s been another wild week in the Acadia Axemen camp. With the news of the AUS handing out a four game suspension to Alex Lepkowski for his hit on UNB’s Chris Clapperton, Acadia is very understaffed on defence. On top of not having Geoff Schemitsch and Matt Pufahl, Axemen defenders Liam Maaskant and Marc McNulty were assessed 10 minute misconducts against StFX. That left Michael Zipp and StephenWoodworth as the only two Acadia defenders during a portion of the game. As a result, both Sam Fioretti and Remy Giftopoulos have moved back to the blueline at various times. Despite all the roster difficulties and blowing a 5-1 lead to StFX, the Axemen walk away from this week winners in six of their last seven games. With the limited resources this program currently has, that’s a massive accomplishment. Lepkowski is due back on Nov. 15th, but the status of Schemitsch and Pufahl still sounds like second semester will be the soonest they return. Once again, the AUS roster cap claims another victim.

2. For the first time in a long time, the StFX X-Men are looking back on what was an ugly week of AUS competition for their program. With their perfect record on the line trailing SMU 4-2 headed into the third period, the X-Men clambered back to force OT, but eventually lost in a shootout. The following night they scrapped back from a 5-1 deficit to Acadia on the road, but again fell short, this time in overtime. StFX should still be happy they managed to steal a point from two of the country’s best programs while trailing by multiple goals in the third period, but working from behind isn’t a position Brad Peddle wants his group to be in. Since 2016-17, StFX is an immaculate 25-3-2 when scoring the first goal. Rarely does this team let games slip away when they get in the driver’s seat early.

3. Judes Vallée finally got his long awaited first win behind the bench of the Moncton Aigles Bleus against UPEI on Wednesday after enduring a lengthy eight game losing streak. The early struggles for UdeM isn’t exactly surprising by any stretch, but the fact that Moncton’s biggest weaknesses from a season ago seem to be even worse this year is slightly concerning. But on the plus side, it looks like Moncton has a real player in Vincent Deslauriers. His four point performance against UPEI is the first time an Aigles Blues player recorded four points in a game that isn’t J.F. Plante or the Saulnier twins since Alex Noël had a goal and three assists in a 10-3 dismantling of the Dalhousie Tigers on Jan. 24th/15. With Plante playing in his fourth year of eligibility, it’s good to know Moncton might have at least one offensive powerhouse to build around for the future.

4. Now officially losers in seven straight games, the UPEI Panthers are in bad shape. The only opponent they’ve beat this year is Moncton, which isn’t saying much. However, they gave UNB a real good run for their money this week. They came out of the gates flying, but ultimately couldn’t hold off the Varsity Reds forever. They limited the Varsity Reds to 26 shots. Before that, it was 80 straight games since an opponent contained UNB to under 27 shots in a game. That’s a very bright sign for a defence which has had its fair share of struggles thus far. But in this case, I think it’s more of a reflection of UPEI’s possession game against UNB, which looked very good. In net, their team .842 SV% is dead last in the country, and it’s going to take some time to climb out of the basement.

5. With all the chaos elsewhere in the AUS, the UNB Varsity Reds managed to fly under the radar for the most part this week. UPEI gave them a close contest on Saturday, but for the most part the V-Reds rattled off two expected wins against Moncton and UPEI. Kris Bennett recorded his first career regular season hat-trick in the AUS against Moncton, but had his five game point streak snapped against UPEI. Elsewhere in the lineup, Stephen Anderson leads the way with nine goals and 17 points. Just a season ago, Phil Maillet had exactly 17 points himself to this point in the season, but had only seven goals. Last year UNB led the country with 54 goals 10 games into 2016-17. This year, their 46 goals are second only to Acadia’s 47.

Other Notes:

  • In all three regular season matchups between StFX and Acadia, the winner has blown a 3-to-4 goal lead only to win in OT or a shootout. It’s never over until it’s over folks.
  • Stephen Harper absolutely popped off for nine points on the week. His five points against StFX is an AUS career-high, and equals an OHL career-high which he hit three times.
  • For the second time this season, the SMU Huskies are winners in two straight games. On Wednesday they’ll look for their first three game win streak since they won five straight from Nov. 11th – 26th last season.
  • #CizzlerSighting: It hasn’t taken ex-Acadia Axemen Devin Williams very long to settle into life in the ECHL. His 2.04 GAA, and .944 SV% leads the way for the Tulsa Oilers.
  • As if the UPEI Panthers needed more troubles defensively, Austin Levi suffered an injury in warm-up against UNB. Timetable for return still unknown.

Unsung Heroes:

Remy Giftopoulos, F | Acadia Axemen

With the Acadia Axemen defensive corps under enormous pressure right now, they’ve needed to enlist the help of some forwards on the back-end. That’s where Remy Giftopoulos found himself on Friday night in the heat of battle against one of the country’s best programs at StFX. Being thrust into a new position on short notice is a challenge, but even more so against some of the conference’s top offensive threats. Not only did Acadia stay competitive with StFX with a short bench, they beat them. It took overtime to do so, but contributions in all situations from players like Giftopoulos are why Acadia went 2-0 this weekend.

Steven Shipley, F | SMU Huskies

For an ex-NHL draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, some expected Steven Shipley‘s offensive output to be greater in the AUS than it has been. But now a fifth year veteran, and captain of the Huskies, Shipley’s game is coming full circle, just as it did in the OHL. With four goals on the season, all on the power play, Shipley has been a key ingredient in SMU’s special teams scheme this year. Although his point totals still aren’t mind-blowing, he’s a very durable player who you know what you’re going to get from on a consistent basis. That’s why he’s captain and a mainstay in the Huskies’ lineup.

Key Games This Week:

StFX vs UNB | Friday, November 10, 7:00 pm ADT

There’s not much I need to add here to tell you why this is the most anticipated regular season matchup of the year in the AUS regular season. A rematch of last year’s AUS finals, the X-Men will look to hand UNB their first regular season loss at home in what feels like a century. Few rivalries cut as deep within the fabric of both programs, and that will be reflected on the ice of the Aitken University Centre come next week.

OUA East:

Top Stories:

1. The UQTR Patriotes and Queen’s Gaels gave us an entertaining two game set from Le Collisée. In game one the Patriotes handed Jacob Brennan the worst statistical road start in his OUA career with a 6-3 win. But the Gaels responded with a 2-1 overtime victory the following afternoon, thanks to an extra-frame winner from Duncan Campbell. Going back to Brennan, he’s started all four games for Queen’s since they beat Ryerson 4-3 on Oct. 21st. Word on the street was Kevin Bailie tweaked something late in the game against the Rams, and that appears to be true. With back-to-backs against UQTR and McGill/Concordia in the rearview mirror, this was as good a time as any to start Bailie. Although it’s worth acknowledging, he was on the bench for Queen’s in all four games. Whatever the injury, it appears it’s a day-to-day issue.

2. Without many positives to talk about from up north, it only took a 63 save performance in a 4-3 win over Ottawa from Laurentian‘s Joel Vienneau to secure a spot on the ‘top stories’ section. As mentioned on Twitter, Vienneau’s 63 stops are the most by any OUA goalie in a win since records begin in 2009-10, making it an unofficial record. So how did Vienneau follow up his legendary performance? By allowing four goals on 20 shots to Carleton before being pulled after 33:13 mins of action. But after facing 66 shots the night prior, you can’t really blame Vienneau for not having his A game the very next night. For the rest of the team, offensive struggles continue to plague the program. They’re averaging just over two goals per game, and don’t really have any offensive standouts at all. But that’s nothing new for a program which hasn’t had more than two double digit goal scorers in a single season since the program’s resurrection.

3. The Concordia Stingers have won three straight after ploughing through UOIT and RMC this week at home. Led by the magnificent start from Anthony Beauregard, the Stingers shoot to kill. Concordia leads the entire OUA with a shooting percentage of 13.07%, making them the most dangerous team in the league when in possession of the puck. Massimo Carozza recorded his first career OUA hat-trick this week, and joins Alexis Pépin as one of the best rookies in the conference thus far. But even past those threats, Concordia can only get better with Philippe Sanche and Phil Hudon back in the lineup soon. Goaltending continues to be stable enough to win, but whether or not Julio Billia is as lights out as Philippe Cadorette was last season could wind up being the determining factor in a Queen’s Cup run.

4. Although the Carleton Ravens were heavy favourites to win both games against Nipissing and Laurentian at home this week, what haven’t the Ravens done to exceed expectation so far this year? Their offence is deeper than most predicted it to be, their defence hasn’t shown many cracks, and their goaltending has given them a chance to win every game. Among the individuals, Jared Steege surged for three goals on the weekend, and is now tied with Keigan Goetz for most goals by an OUA rookie with seven. For a player who showed nothing more than average offensive capabilities in the OHL, this is a welcome surprise for the Ravens.

5. After coming into the week with a 4-1-1 record, losing to both Laurentian and Nipissing on home ice is a massive disappointment for the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Sometimes there isn’t much you can do in a game where the opposing goaltender stands on his head and stones you 63 separate times (including one waived off goal), but allowing four goals in two periods to the Voyageurs is rather unremarkable. Even less impressive was their start against the Nipissing Lakers where they went down 3-1. With only seeing both Nipissing and Laurentian once more each before season’s end, missing out even a single point last weekend is a squandered opportunity.

Other Notes:

  • McGill‘s Keanu Yamamoto recorded his first career OUA hat-trick against RMC on Friday. Meanwhile, his brother Kailer was sent back to Spokane (WHL) by the Edmonton Oilers.
  • Of the five power plays the Nipissing Lakers had on Saturday against Ottawa (including a 5-on-3), they managed just 1:45 of offensive zone time with the puck and surrendered a shorthanded goal.
  • After scoring 11 goals last season, Mike Robinson continues to be one of the league’s most underrated offensive threats. He’s posted six goals for UOIT through his first eight games.

    Unsung Heroes:

    Fabian Walsh, F | Carleton Ravens

    The recent performances from Jared Steege, Brett Welychka, Dalen Hedges, and others on the Ravens have been a big part of their early season success, but Fabian Walsh has done his share of heavy lifting too. Now with five assists in his last three games, the transition period to adapt to OUA hockey has been minimal for Walsh. He’s found some effective chemistry already with line mates, and along with the late offseason addition of Hedges, could very well turn out to be the last reinforcements the Ravens needed to be contenders again this year.

Key Games This Week:

Carleton vs Ottawa | Friday, November 10, 7:30 pm EST

After a big letdown going 0-2 against Nipissing and Laurentian, the Ottawa Gee-Gees are granted an opportunity to get back on the right foot against their arch-nemesis from Parliament Hill. The Ravens haven’t showed many faults this season, but if the Gee-Gees come out of the gates with a strong start, this game will come down to the wire muck like their final meeting last season.

OUA West:

Top Stories:

1. The York Lions suffered through their first few losses of the season this week, dropping contests to both the Laurier Golden Hawks and Guelph Gryphons, but winning 2-0 over Waterloo. The Golden Hawks continue to pester the Lions, having gone 4-1 against them since 2015-16. That’s the best head-to-head record against York of anybody in the OUA West in that time. The Golden Hawks are also the only OUA team to beat Mack Shields five times in a single game. Andrew Fritsch finally got his first goal of the season against the Lions, but even without much numerical contribution from him this season, Laurier has done okay offensively. Of the 22 players to have suited up for them this season, only defenceman Nick Tetley is without a point. Widespread offensive contribution and an improved defence have served the Golden Hawks very well so far.

2. Another week, and another goalie graces the presence of the Western Mustang‘s crease. Clarke Singer managed to bring in Zach Springer from the London Nationals of the GOJHL, and so far, so good. Springer won both games this week, turning aside all but four shots sent his way. Once Luke Peressini and Liam Herbst get healthy, there’s a high chance we’ll see five different Mustang goalies take to the crease this season. As far as records go, nothing indicates Western has ever used more than three goalies in a single season in program history. Goaltending aside, the Mustangs had two of their better overall efforts. Rob Polesello and Spenser Cobbold are setting the tone offensively with seven points each, while Trevor Warnaar‘s four goals are well on pace to smash his previous career-high of six.

3. Winners of four straight games, the Lakehead Thunderwolves are suddenly a top five OUA West team with a 4-3-1 record. October was the best month for Lakehead goaltending since Jeff Bosch and Devin Green combined for a .910 SV% in February of 2016. With a 3-0 win over Brock on Saturday, Green gathered his second career OUA shutout as Nic Renyard hasn’t missed a beat since an ugly debut against Laurier. This is a promising sign for a Lakehead team which has had suspect goaltending in previous seasons. The netminders need to be especially good on a team that has limits offensively. With Guelph, York, and Ryerson on deck in a three-in-three weekend up next, we’ll see what this Lakehead team is really made of, especially when it comes to defence. A weekend like this gives great opportunity to make a huge leap in the standings, but also a huge drop.

4. After playing in just four one-goal games in last year’s regular season, the Ryerson Rams have already been in five this season. Most figured 2017-18 would be a more challenging year for the Rams, who lost a chunk of offence, but even this is a little too close for comfort for Johnny Duco. The Waterloo Warriors are the latest team to give Ryerson a scare, forcing OT at Columbia Ice Fields. But Matt Mistele scored his second overtime winner of the year (third if you include his SO winner vs Laurier). It’s a good thing Mistele has been fantastic for Ryerson over the last few weeks, as they’ve had to live without Alex Basso and Aaron Armstrong in the lineup recently. Both are expected to return sometime this week.

5. For as much will, work-ethic, and potential the U of T Varsity Blues have under Ryan Medel this year, one thing is becoming clear quickly: the Varsity Blues have one of the league’s least intimidating offences. Even on paper, Matt Campagna is the only player with a proven track record of scoring at a high level consistently. Having failed to score more than two goals in a game since their opening night victory over Waterloo, U of T’s goals-per-game average is a country-worst 1.43. With Campagna, Aidan Wallace, and Dean Klomp have been relegated to just four points combined in the first seven games. That number will likely increase. But past those players, nobody else appears to be underperforming offensively. Part of Medel’s plan for U of T in his first year was to keep the game plan simple, and focus on keeping games close. If you look at it from that perspective, they’ve actually done quite well. U of T are allowing 2.58 goals against so far, contrary to the 3.92 they allowed a season ago.

Other Notes:

  • Keigan Goetz has had a brilliant start to his career with Waterloo, but look out for Markson Bechtold too. The numbers aren’t as impressive, but they will be before too long.
  • Right now, the Brock Badgers are one of the worst road teams in the country. While in enemy territory, they’ve scored just 1.80 goals per game (4.00 at home) and have a .904 SV% (.959% at home). Not to mention their power play is a fat 0-for-22 on the road (25% at home).
  • After playing in just seven games for Chris Dennis on the York Lions, Josh LaFrance is suddenly a regular in the lineup with three goals already on the season. Didn’t see that one coming.
  • Among the early season surprises is Guelph‘s Todd Winder. A fairly unheralded offseason add out of the OJHL, Winder is riding a seven game point-streak, and is tied with Cody Thompson for the lead in team points on the Gryphons.
  • A couple weeks ago I asked Kevin Hamlin if he had an early favourite for a Jr. B breakout star from this year’s Windsor Lancers recruit class. He said without hesitation, Jonny Reinhart. Reinhart’s 1.58 GAA and OUA leading .958 SV% suggest his coach is on to something.

Unsung Heroes:

Dylan Butler, F | Lakehead Thunderwolves

On a team that’s needed offensive contribution from everybody in the lineup in the worst way, Dylan Butler has taken charge for the T-Wolves offence early this season. A player who was barely in the lineup during his rookie campaign in 2014-15, he’s slowly progressed, and is just starting to blossom into a consistent point-producer in the OUA. Now with points in four of his last five games, Butler has been a huge component of Lakehead’s four game winning streak. For the Thunderwolves to have continued success, they’ll need Butler to keep playing at the level he’s at right now.

Key Games This Week:

Windsor vs Waterloo | Friday, November 10, 7:00 pm EST

Two teams that play in fairly small rinks will clash on campus in Waterloo on Friday in what could turn out to be an all-out war. Both teams win games based on their industrious style of play, and don’t take many things for granted on the ice. Both programs are also known for their physicality and willingness to never back down. Should things get dicey between two tough-as-nails programs, we could be in for a very spirited affair.

Canada West

Top Stories:

1. With a bye-week for all programs, its been a dormant week in Canada West. Some teams will use the time to get healthy, others to knuckle down on specific elements in practice, while other coaches are getting a good look at what the WHL has to offer in this year’s overage class. Here’s a look at a few early top-end targets for Canada West schools.

Logan Flodell, G | Swift Current Broncos

In the offseason, Regina’s Tyler Brown was the consensus for top overage goalie heading into the WHL season, but Swift Current’s Logan Floodell has stood above the rest through his first 13 games with a 2.68 GAA and a .920 SV%. Patrick Dea and Logan Thompson are also both off to good starts in net.

Kevin Davis, D | Everett Silvertips

Following in the footsteps of another highly coveted ex-Silvertip D-Man from a year ago, Davis is piecing together a point-per-game season from the blueline with 17 points in as many games. A long-time Silvertip, he’s one of the best two-way defenders out of the WHL. Seattle’s Austin Strand and Kamloops blueliner Joe Gatenby are two other D-Men generating positive reviews so far.

Matt Bradley, F | Regina Pats

A Montreal Canadiens draft pick who has yet to be signed, signing an ELC definitely isn’t off the table for Bradley. But that won’t stop university programs from scouting him and even pitching. Bradley is off to a hot start playing on this year’s Memorial Cup hosts and will be heavily scrutinized by NHL teams throughout the season. File Swift Current’s Glenn Gawdin and Prince Albert’s Jordy Stallard in the same scenario too.

Patrick Bajkov, F | Everett Silvertips

If you’re looking for a safer bet to land in the university ranks next year, Bajkov is one of the best players out there who’s most likely destination is university hockey. After posting 78 points with Everett last year, he’s already racked up 25 this year.

Jayden Halbgewachs, F | Moose Jaw Warriors

After posting a stellar 101 points in the WHL last season, Halbgewachs remains unsigned and undrafted by a pro organization. If he wants to go the pro route, he can probably find a deal somewhere, but he’ll be heavily pursued by university programs too. Trevor Cox and Michael St. Croix are the only two ex-100 point WHLers to be currently playing university hockey.

Key Game This Week:

Lethbridge vs Alberta | Saturday, November 11, 5:00 pm MST

After having a week to sit around and stew about their poor start to the season, here’s a chance for Lethbridge to make a big statement. Last year they showed their propensity to play up… or down, to their competition. Alberta was given a good run by Regina last week, and have to lose a game sooner or later, right?