Tuesday Morning Skate: U SPORTS Week 13


Top Stories:

1. The StFX X-Men are the most recent AUS team to clinch a playoff berth, but it wasn’t exactly a pretty week for the X-Men. Wednesday’s 5-2 win over Acadia is definitely a plus, but Friday’s 3rd Period meltdown against SMUm which saw StFX allow five goals in the third period, definitely sticks out as one of their more unsightly performances of the season. In fairness, Saint Mary’s tagged on an empty netter and a virtually meaningless goal at 19:21 of the 3rd Period to make the final 6-2, but a loss is a loss for StFX. Worth noting here that StFX doesn’t have a single player above their third year of eligibility, which makes them the third-youngest team in the country.

2. It’s been a topsy-turvy second semester for the SMU Huskies who found themselves in the win column twice, beating Dalhousie and StFX, but were unable to close the deal against Acadia on Saturday. Hunter Garlent is making a serious case for U SPORTS all-rookie honours, if not Rookie of the Year honours, but even he can’t seem to solve SMU’s powerplay struggles which have plagued them all season long. The Huskies managed to pop a few past Dalhousie on the man advantage, but SMU’s powerplay numbers are still the worst in the AUS at 11.2%. You’d expect more from a team with such talented offensive personnel.

3. Disappointing week for the Dalhousie Tigers who drop both contests and now sit two points back of Moncton for the last playoff spot. The offensive numbers for Dalhousie in January have been promising, especially their powerplay, which functioned at 27.3% on the month. It really makes you wonder what could have happened to this team with a healthy Corbin Boes. Without another game against Moncton this year, Dalhousie needs some fortune on their side, and at least one win from this week’s match-ups against UPEI and UNB.

4. The UPEI Panthers have a healthy chance to make the AUS playoffs this year, but it’s not going to be by a comfortable margin. There’s a lot of things that can go wrong in the next two weeks with both Moncton and Dalhousie getting a shot at the Panthers. The Varsity Reds and X-Men also stand in the way of UPEI, but those are two teams the Panthers have already beaten this season. One of the most inconsistent teams in the country, it’s hard to tell for sure what kind of UPEI team we’re going to see in the next four games. The Panthers don’t need to be perfect to close out their season, but they can’t afford to take any of these next four contests lightly.

5. The Moncton Aigles Bleus took care off the UPEI Panthers on Wednesday by a 5-2 final, and the fact they managed to make their contest on Saturday against UNB fairly close constitutes a successful week for UdeM. Their goaltending has had its moments again in January, but overall, this was their best month from a goaltending perspective. Moncton has a fairly tough schedule ahead with SMU, Acadia, and UNB as their next three opponents, but if Moncton keeps playing the way they did in January they’re in good shape for the playoffs.

Other Notes:

  • The Acadia Axemen turned to Devin Williams in net for a few starts this week, and he came away with two wins to show for it. It looks like Darren Burns is going to use the next few weeks to figure out which goalie he wants to move forward with.
  • UNB beats both UPEI and Moncton this week, reaffirming the notion we’ve all had the entire season: the Varsity Reds are really good at hockey.
  • After a few less-than-stellar outings in first semester, Etienne Marcoux had a nice month in January, going 5-0 to the tune of a 1.18 GAA, and a .941 SV% for UNB.

Unsung Heroes:

Steve Lebel, F | Moncton Aigles Bleus

With three losses in their last four games, Moncton hasn’t exactly been great, but the play of Steve Lebel is definitely worth a mention. A fourth year veteran out of the QMJHL, Lebel set a career high for goals in an AUS season with nine, after scoring twice for Moncton this weekend. Moncton’s top-line still has the spotlight, but les Aigles Bleus aren’t in the playoff picture without players like Lebel.

Bronson Beaton, F | SMU Huskies

With all the talk recently about Hunter Garlent and Aaron Berisha, it’s easy to forget just how good Bronson Beaton has been in his first season with the Huskies. After a very respectable first semester, Beaton went off the radar in second semester, going pointless in six straight contests. Beaton turned his fortune around with three goals and six points this weekend, and now has 22 points overall in his rookie season.

Key Games This Week:

UPEI vs Dalhousie, Fri. Feb. 3rd, 7:00pm AST

It’s desperation time now for the Dalhousie Tigers who sit two points back of a playoff spot with just two weeks remaining in the regular season. Moncton may seem like their most reachable target to take out, but a loss on Friday would be devastating to the UPEI Panthers. More than enough reason for both teams to come out hard in this one.

Moncton vs Acadia, Sat. Feb. 4th, 7:00pm AST

Another game with big playoff implications, les Aigles Bleus can really distance themselves with two wins this weekend. That won’t be easy on Saturday, hitting the road to take on a nationally ranked program. But the Axemen have their cracks, and when you have the firepower Moncton does, one crack is all you need.

OUA East

Top Stories:

1. As reported this week, the McGill Redmen have received a letter of intent from Halifax Mooseheads defenceman Frederic Aubé for 2017-18. A long time Drummondville Voltigeur, Aubé made his way to Halifax at this year’s trade deadline, and has been producing from the back-end for the Mooseheads with four goals and nine points in 12 games played. Aubé’s is valuable as a defensive player, but comes with a handy offensive skill set too. Although he may not be another Dominic Talbot-Tassi, he strengthens McGill’s blue line production next season.

2. The Laurentian Voyageurs made a right mess of January, going 1-4-2, scoring just 1.68 goals per game, allowing 4.53 goals per game, with a powerplay working at 7.7%, and a penalty kill successful 78.8% of the time. Those are some ugly stats for the Voyageurs, and although losing Brent Pedersen and coach Craig Duncanson to FISU hurts them a lot, they’re still a better team than this. Their 9-1 loss to Concordia on Saturday is the low point of their season, but with the turn of the calendar this week, maybe it’s enough to wake them up in time to salvage the final few games of the season to hold off Nipissing for the final playoff spot.

3. Speaking of the Nipissing Lakers, Saturday’s 3-2 shootout win over UQTR shows there’s still a sign of life in North Bay. January hasn’t been a great month for the Lakers either, especially their penalty kill, but they sit just five points back of Laurentian for the final playoff spot. Meanwhile, Saturday definitely wasn’t a great look for the UQTR Patriotes. But without six of their best players in the lineup, it definitely neutralized their matchup against Nipissing, to an extent. On the bright side, goalie Alex Belanger has been fantastic in Sebastian Auger’s absence, posting a 1.46 GAA, and a .957 SV% in the month of January.

4. Le Colisée in Trois-Rivières showed its age this week, as after a pane of glass was smashed on the ice during UQTR’s game against Concordia on Wednesday, the teams were forced to finish the game on a separate pad of ice. Built in 1938, Le Colisee is one of the oldest barns in the entire country, and as much character as it may have, incidents like this aren’t great for the game. UQTR would go on to win, 5-2, but their new rink can’t come soon enough.

5. The Queen’s Gaels didn’t exactly look like a nationally ranked team this week playing their first games without Slater Doggett, Eric Ming, Kevin Bailie, Spencer Abraham, and coach Brett Gibson. Even without those pieces in the lineup, the Gaels are an average offensive team by OUA standards, but their ability to win tight games this season is why they’ve had so much success. Of their 17 regular season wins, 12 have been by two goals or less. They’ll have to dig very deep into the lineup the next few weeks to continue to find ways to win.

6. It wasn’t a great week for the Capital Hill region teams as the Carleton Ravens dropped a pair of contests to Waterloo and Laurier, while the Ottawa Gee-Gees lost their first game of 2017 at the hands of the Guelph Gryphons. Despite being down 4-1 at one point, Ottawa managed to make it close, thanks in part to Jacob Harris, who has been fantastic of late with seven points in his last three games. Goaltending certainly didn’t help Carleton on Friday against Laurier, and on Saturday when the Waterloo Warriors played one of their best games of the season. Having their momentum stopped so abruptly definitely isn’t an ideal situation for the Ravens.

Other Notes:
  • The UOIT Ridgebacks publicly announced their addition of Erik Pedersen to the roster for 2nd semester last Tuesday afternoon. Teammates with Kevin Domingue from the Whitecourt Wolverines in the AJHL last season, Pedersen transfers to UOIT after not playing a game for Michigan Tech in first semester.
  • Anthony De Luca popped off for a career-high seven points in a single game when he victimized Laurentian, scoring four times and adding three assists. De Luca goes from being pointless in four game before this weekend, to now leading the OUA in points in a matter of just two games.
  • Still sorting out details, but the UQTR Patriotes appear to have at least four QMJHL D-Men lined up for next season. The agenda for the Patriotes is to strengthen their defensive game over the offseason. Standby for names later this week.
  • A return to action isn’t imminent just yet for McGill’s Daniel Milne, but Kelly Nobes expects him to be back in the lineup for the postseason. His eight goals on the season will be a welcome acquisition.
  • The Carr-Harris Challenge Cup is coming up on Thursday night, and mark my words, the RMC Paladins are going to make a game of it. It is the oldest rivalry in hockey history, and Queen’s is down some firepower. For RMC, they’ve had this date marked on their calendar since the summer.

Unsung Heroes:

Philippe Hudon, F | Concordia Stingers

Statistically speaking, Phil Hudon hasn’t packed the same kind of punch Concordia’s snipers have this season, but his value to the team is still paramount. One of the best two-way forwards in the OUA, Hudon has played consistently well for Concordia all year. But what makes him a hero this week is his work with Bell Let’s Talk in spreading awareness and sharing his experiences to help others.

Jeremy Pominville, G | Nipissing Lakers

There were definitely times that Nipissing outplayed UQTR on Saturday, but they don’t emerge with two points in hand if Jeremy Pominville didn’t show up to play. Pominville made 24 saves in regulation, and slammed the door shut in both overtimes against one of the best finishing teams in the league. His slick glove save in the first round of the shootout wound up to be a big difference-maker in the end too.

Key Games This Week:

Carleton vs Ottawa, Thurs. Feb. 2nd, 7:30pm EST

When these two teams met at the beginning of the season, the Ravens clearly outmatched the Gee-Gees. But now in February, this Ottawa team is no where near the same as they were in October, and neither is Carleton. This game should be much closer than last.

Carleton vs McGill, Sat. Feb. 4th, 7:00pm EST

A rematch of last season’s OUA East semi-final, both teams are missing key elements to Kazakhstan, but the talent still remains to make this game a great matchup. When you have a best-of-three playoff format, there’s an elevated importance on getting into the playoffs on the right foot. Both teams should be hungry for momentum on Saturday.

OUA West

Top Stories:

1. The Waterloo Warriors have been one of the most entertaining teams to watch in second semester with their last three games going right down to the wire, all winning efforts for the Warriors. Ever since his write-off performance against Ryerson, goalie Mike Morrison has improved in each of his last three games, shining especially bright on Saturday against the Carleton Ravens, making 36 saves. Even without Mike Moffat, Waterloo’s defence is also clicking again, with Stephen Silas and Eric Diodati carrying an offensive burden too. Waterloo may still be on the hot seat, but their play of late suggests they’re good enough to be a playoff team.

2. The Western Mustangs will be damned if they don’t make a valiant run at the OUA West playoffs this year, as with Lakehead finding ways to lose close games recently, the door is definitely open for Western, who sit four points back with four games to play. Not to mention two of which will be against Lakehead in the final week of the regular season. Those games could be fun to watch. Western will be on a high after taking down the mighty McGill Redmen in a shootout on Saturday. In the meantime, Western sees the other two Quebec schools in Concordia and UQTR this week on the road, while Lakehead battles it out with Ryerson and Waterloo in a three-in-three weekend.

3. It’s a two-horse race for OUA West supremacy in the last two weeks with the Ryerson Rams and York Lions perched on top of the conference. Ryerson stands three points ahead of York, but with the Lions taking on Laurentian, Nipissing, and RMC, six points in the bag is very realistic for York. Ryerson and their unstoppable offence take on Laurier and Lakehead, two teams who have had issues at times with defence, but the Rams will round out their season against Guelph, who have been playing very good hockey of late. It’s a shame we won’t see these two match up again in the regular season.

4. Had the Guelph Gryphons managed to beat McGill on Friday, I would’ve been tempted to pull the ‘national ranking time’ card on Twitter, but unfortunately for the Gryphons, they came up short, losing 4-2. It’s still been an impressive run for Guelph lately, who are 9-2-1 since November 18th. What’s impressed me most about the Gryphons this year is how their success has been a product of developing their better players from scratch, like Robert LepineSeth Swenson, and Cody Thompson. Among teams in the OUA, Guelph has to be one of the best at turning average players into standouts in this league.

5. The U of T Varsity Blues were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week, but at least they’re going out in style. A win against UOIT on Thursday makes life more miserable for a Ridgebacks team who are struggling at the moment, and the Varsity Blues gave Queen’s a run for their money on Saturday. What U of T is doing right now is the equivalent of flipping every desk in the classroom after bombing out on your final exam. It’s a real pain in the rear for some people, but fun to watch nonetheless.

6. Andrew Fristch now leads the way for the Laurier Golden Hawks in points, as the Golden Hawks continue to find consistency with their forwards’ ability to produce points. Their game against RMC was a little too close for comfort, but if Laurier figured things out earlier this season defensively, they’d be right on the heels of Ryerson and York at the top of the OUA West. Derek Schoenmakers found his offensive touch again this week, but consistency remains the focal point for this Laurier team moving towards playoffs.

Other Notes:

  • Aaron Armstrong of the Ryerson Rams leads the league in shorthanded markers with four this season, a Ryerson single-season record. Between himself and teammate Daniel Clairmont, the two have 9 shorthanded markers in the last three seasons, making them the most lethal shorthanded unit in the country.
  • Waterloo‘s Adam Bignell unfortunately found himself on the sidelines again this week for Waterloo. The Warriors hope to get him back for the playoffs.
  • The Brock Badgers shouldn’t be feeling totally comfortable in the West right now. Most of the talk is about Waterloo, Lakehead, and Western, but the Badgers are just a couple losses from undoing a promising season.
  • The Windsor Lancers have been fighting through a very poor stretch of hockey throughout the second semester. In 2017, Windsor is 1 for 36 on the man-advantage, and their overall production is hurting dearly as a result. In an odd schedule quirk, Windsor has the week off before facing Waterloo and Laurier to end their regular season.

Unsung Heroes:

Dexter Bricker, F | York Lions

A first year forward out of the Kindersley Klippers in the SJHL, Bricker has been putting up some very nice numbers for the York Lions in 2017. Now on a four game point-streak, Bricker scored an OT winner against Lakehead on Friday and finishes January with six points on his ledger. For a guy who didn’t score much until his final season of junior hockey, he’s exceeding expectations right now at York.

Stephen Silas, D | Waterloo Warriors

Clutch goals only for Stephan Silas this week. A third period marker sparked Friday’s comeback effort against RMC, and a late goal against Carleton tied the game up and ensured at least a point for Waterloo. Both games wound up in a shootout, and in both contests, it was Silas who supplied the winner.

Key Games This Week:

Waterloo vs Lakehead, Fri. Feb. 3rd, 7:00pm EST

Both Lakehead and Waterloo have found themselves in some very entertaining games recently, so this week’s series in Waterloo has all the makings to be a classic. The Warriors and Thunderwolves are right on the precipice of the OUA West playoff picture, and if one of these two teams picks up more than two points from the weekend, it throws the other right on the cliff’s edge.

Waterloo vs Lakehead, Sat. Feb. 4th, 4:00pm EST

There’s really not much in the way of in-conference OUA West hockey this week, so just do yourself a favour and watch both games between Waterloo and Lakehead.

Canada West

Top Stories:

1. What a wild Saturday it was in Canada West with a couple afternoon slugfests. The UBC Thunderbirds and Lethbridge Pronghorns combined for 15 goals in an 8-7 OT victory for Lethbridge in Spiros Anastas’ return to the bench. The Pronghorns picked up a huge victory the night before, a much more mundane 5-2 final. Both wins are huge for Lethbridge, but blowing a 6-2 lead against UBC to go to overtime leaves the door open a crack for the T-Birds to squeak into the playoffs. With two winnable games against Regina this week, and Lethbridge taking on Alberta and Saskatchewan to round out the season, the Canada West playoff race is far from over with just four points separating both teams.

2. The Calgary Dinos and Manitoba Bisons had their own free-for-all on Saturday, with the Dinos blowing their own 6-2 lead to force overtime, but recovered on the strength of a Cain Franson double overtime winner to prevail, 7-6. This was a key victory for the Dinos too, having lost Friday’s contest 4-3. Had things turned out different on Saturday, the Bisons could’ve been just two points back of Calgary for fourth in the conference, and even now, sit back just three. Manitoba is coming on real strong in 2017, having only lost twice in the new year, both by just one goal, but their schedule hasn’t exactly been the toughest either. With Saskatchewan and Alberta coming up to close the season, we’ll find out if the Bisons are for real going into the playoffs.

3. What a fantastic series between the Alberta Golden Bears and Mount Royal Cougars this week. With the Golden Bears taking both games, they’ve officially swept the season series against MRU, 4-0. But don’t let that fool you, the Cougars could’ve swept this weekend themselves had they had a few more bounces go their way. Brendan Burke continues to play very well for the Golden Bears in net, and fifth year veteran Rhett Rachinski finally hit the scoreboard for the first time this year, netting three goals for Alberta this weekend. Alberta is still one of the youngest rosters in Canada West, but teams who bring in big hauls from the CHL tend to prosper closer to the end of the season. But in the playoffs? Well… who knows.

4. The Saskatchewan Huskies continue to roll right along in a season that has been nearly flawless for them. Although, it’s worth noting that the Regina Cougars definitely made a game of Saturday’s showdown. Had it not been for a couple late powerplay coffin nails, the Cougars were within one goal right down to the wire. It’s been a painful 12 game losing streak for Regina, but they truly aren’t as bad as their record indicates. But unfortunately for the Cougars, that doesn’t change the fact that there’s a clear disparity between them and the best teams in this league.

5. The Mount Royal Cougars and Calgary Dinos will spend this week gearing up for one of the biggest spectacles in U SPORTS MHKY, the Crowchild Classic. After breaking a CIS attendance record a season ago, early indications are that this year’s crowd could even reach 15,000 at the Scotiabank Saddledome. Mount Royal comes into this week on the heels of two losses to Alberta, but are still one of the best teams in the country. Calgary on the other hand is not playing their best hockey of the season by any stretch, but the winner of Thursday’s game may be the one who handles the pressure and atmosphere the best. Whether or not you’re willing to admit it, the Crowchild Classic is anything but a normal regular season game.

Other Notes:
  • After scoring 12 goals over a 12 game span in first semester, Alberta’s Jayden Hart has just one goal in his last 10 games. During his 12 game hot-streak, Hart registered 36 shots, and now has just 21 in his last 10 games. He’s not shooting the puck at the same rate, but Hart is still good enough to be effective in other ways for Alberta. But production from Hart again would be more than welcome.
  • The Lethbridge Pronghorns have former WHL forward Brooks Maxwell set to come into their program next season to join both Russell and Mitch Maxwell. Brooks put up solid numbers in his last few seasons with the Red Deer Rebels, but having spent two seasons away from high-level hockey, it will be tough to gage where Maxwell is at until he’s on the ice with the Pronghorns.
  • Connor Rankin‘s 15 goals this season now positions him just one behind Eric Galbraith for the most by a Mount Royal Cougar in a single season since the Cougars joined the CIS in 2012-13.
  • Saskatchewan’s rookies combined for 11 points this week against Regina, which is a nice sign from a recruit class which drew a lot of hype in the offseason, but hasn’t payed huge dividends yet this season. Connor Gay stands apart with his five point performance from the series.

Unsung Heroes:

Brett Stovin, F | Manitoba Bisons

Brett Stovin is having one of the best second semesters in the conference with 12 points in eight games for the Bisons in 2017. Nine goals in one weekend by your team lends itself to inflated points totals, but even without big stats, Stovin has been the straw that stirs the drink for Manitoba in Januray. His 17 assists on the season is tied for second most in Canada West.

Clint Filbrandt, D | Lethbridge Pronghorns

What a find Clint Filbrandt is turning out to be for the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Recruited out of Drumheller in the AJHL, Filbrandt landing in Lethbridge wasn’t exactly a splash, but he’s making a case for being the most underrated recruit in Canada West. Now with 16 points and six goals on the season, Filbrandt netted another two this weekend, and posted four points against UBC on Saturday.

Key Games This Week:

Mount Royal vs Calgary, Thurs. Feb. 2nd, 7:45pm MST

If there’s anything we’ve learned from the Frosty Mug, SteelBlade, and the UBC Winter Classic, it’s that big crowds typically equal fantastic games. The Scotiabank Saddledome will be rocking come Thursday night in one of the biggest spectacles you’ll find in U SPORTS hockey for the Crowchild Classic.

Lethbridge vs Alberta, Fri. Feb. 3rd, 7:00pm MST

Lethbridge is one of the most intriguing teams in the country right now given where they sit in the standings, and all the news coming out of the program in the last few weeks. If they have a repeat defensive effort from last Saturday against Alberta, they don’t stand a chance, but this is a Pronghorns team that’s already beaten the Golden Bears once this season.