OUA men's hockey mid-season review
Source: OUA Communication / Photo credit Andrew Scott
HAMILTON, Ont. – As the fall exam period comes to life across Ontario and Quebec, the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) men's hockey schedule takes its winter break. The break is set to act as the midway point to the season, despite the fact teams have already played at least 15 of their 28 regular season matchups, but also serves as an opportunity to evaluate performances put forth since the beginning of October.
A look at each team's progress and standout performers from the first half:
The Redmen started the season with four straight victories before falling in two consecutive games to fellow Quebec opponents in October. It seemed like if you could push McGill to extra time you might have a chance, as both their losses came in overtime. The No. 2 team in the nation has since righted that ship with a shootout victory in early November and overall are 13-1-2.
The key for McGill has been their defensive play, leading the league with a best 37 goals against. It has been the tandem of Hubert Morin (St. Georges de Beauce, Que.) and rookie Mark Segal (Vancouver, B.C.) in net, posting seven and six wins each, respectively, and an average save percentage hovering around .920.
Offensively, Francis Verreault-Paul (Mashteuiatsch, Que.) leads the way with 11 goals in 12 games while defenseman Marc-Andre Dorion (St. Hubert, Que.) leads the team with 21 points. Last year's leading scorer and player of the year, Alexandre Picard-Hooper (Boucherville, Que.), has only played in half the Redmen's games so far but look for him to jumpstart the offence when he gets healthy.
Captain Evan Vossen (Swift Current, Sask.) became the longest serving Redmen in team history on November 11, surpassing the previous record of 187 games set in 1986.
Though the program has been strong the last few years, the men from UQTR may be the surprise of the season so far. Boasting a young lineup with just one senior, the Patriotes have a 13-5-1 record and have lit the lamp for a league best 86 goals. They have yet to score less than three goals in a game and have reached double digits twice already this season.
Leading the way is Felix Petit (Jonquiere, Que.) with 11 goals and 23 points while Alexandre Demers (Laurier-Station, Que.) has 24 points on six goals and 18 assists. First year Olivier Ouellet (Drummondville, Que.) leads all rookies with ten goals and 17 points.
Another rookie, goaltender Guillaume Nadeau (St-Jean-Chrysostome, Que.) has adjusted to OUA play quickly, registering ten of the team's wins.
As good as the UQTR offence has been, the team's leading scorer from a year ago, Olivier Donovan (Gatineau, Que.), has just two goals so far, so it could get even better if he can get things going.
The men donning the garnet and grey have already matched their win total from a season ago, enter the break as one of the hottest teams going 8-1-1 in their last ten games, and are on pace for one of their best seasons. The Gee-Gees seem to have bought into Real Paiement's tactics in his first year behind the bench.
With 14 different goal scorers, Ottawa has a balanced offensive attack but are also sound defensively, surrendering the third fewest goals thus far. Rookie goaltender Russell Abbott (Mill Bay, B.C.) has logged most of the minutes in net, posting seven of the team's 11 victories and sits fifth in the league in both save percentage and goals against average.
Leading the Gee-Gees up front is last year's east division rookie of the year, Luc Olivier Blain (Longeuil, Que.) with 22 points. Freshman Stephen Blunden (Ottawa) leads the team's goal scoring race with nine. Ottawa looks to carry their momentum into a tough second half schedule which finds them playing nationally ranked McGill and UQTR three times apiece.
The Lakers have been hovering in and out of the national rankings all season and enter the winter break with a 9-4-4 record. Despite the winning record, the Lakers have let a lot of games slip away, coughing up leads in the final period, which is something they will be addressing over the break.
Second year forward Connor O'Donnell (Hamilton, Ont.) set a new school record on October 11, recording seven assists and eight points in a single game against Concordia. O'Donnell leads the Lakers with 23 points while Dan Watt (Winnipeg, Man.) and Dorian Peca (Oakville, Ont.) lead the team in goals with nine each.
Daniel Spence (Langley, B.C.) has been a force in the Lakers' net, logging just over 950 minutes to lead the league, and has appeared in all but one of Nipissing's games thus far.
Nipissing sits fourth in the east after a solid first half against stiff competition and, come January, will face off against teams currently at or below the .500 mark in nine of their final 11 games. Watch for the Lakers to leap frog some teams ahead of them in the standings.
Rarely can you have continued success on the ice when leading the league in penalty minutes, but the Carleton Ravens have compiled a 9-5-2 record despite amassing 600 minutes in penalties. The fifth place Ravens have relied on their 84.8% efficient penalty kill to keep them within striking distance and also lead the league with six shorthanded goals.
Goalie Matthew Dopud (Pointe-Claire, Que.) has had a good first half, building on his success from a year ago. The second year tender is currently third in the league with a .921 save percentage.
Brandon MacLean (Burlington, Ont.) once again leads the Ravens in scoring, potting eight goals and 26 points, good for sixth in the league.
Carleton will be on the road for seven of their remaining 12 games, including a stretch of five straight away from the Ice House.
The Stingers seem to have a lot of individual talent but have yet to consistently put it all together. They have two of the league's top three scorers in Mike Stinziani (Montreal, Que.) and George Lovatsis (Markham, Ont.), and a goaltender in Nicholas Champion (Labrador City, N.L.) in the top five for saves, but enter the break in sixth place in the east with a 9-7-2 record.
Lovatsis leads the league with 15 goals scored through 18 games while Stinziani's 21 assists is tied for the top spot. Stinziani has registered at least one point in each game he has played and holds the longest point streak this season at 17 games.
Concordia has surrendered the most goals in the east and second most across OUA. One of the prime areas for concern is the penalty kill, operating at just 77.6% which is fourth last in the league. The Stingers will need to tighten up on defence in order to keep pace in the east and find success in the second half and into the postseason.
Toronto Varsity Blues
The Blues started their season with a dramatic come from behind shootout victory which seemed to set the pace for their season. Toronto was a part of nine one-goal games in the first half of the season, tying them for second most in the league.
Toronto is averaging just over 3.5 goals per game, but boosted their average with an 11 goal performance on November 11. Fourth year winger Byron Elliott (Burlington, Ont.) is having himself quite the season, collecting 24 points through the midway point which is just four shy of his total for all of last year.
The Blues are using a tandem system with their goaltenders as Garrett Sheehan (Cremona, Alta.) has appeared in nine games, registering four wins, while rookie Brett Willows (Rivers, Man.) has earned his playing time, appearing in eight games and also picking up four victories.
Toronto hopes their experience will guide them in the second half and make up some ground to better their sixth place finish from a year ago.
The winter break could not have come at a better time for Ryerson. The Rams limped through their final games of the fall and will be using the break to heal injuries.
Despite the injury bug, the Rams are playing .500 hockey with a 7-7-2 record and are just one win behind their total from 2010-11. Ryerson plays a true team concept style of hockey and all but one skater has registered a point so far this year.
Senior Greg Payne (Thornhill, Ont.) leads the way with 13 points but the Rams have had solid contribution from their rookie class, as Mark DiFruscio (St. Davis, Ont.) has 12 points while David Grant (Owen Sound, Ont.) and Brian Birkhoff (Richmond Hill, Ont.) each have 11.
OUA rookie but OHL graduate Troy Passingham (Mississauga, Ont.) has become the clear number one goalie for the Rams, playing in 15 of the team's 16 games.
Andrew Buck (Newmarket, Ont.) has ten points so far and could be a difference maker down the stretch for the Rams as they push for the playoffs.
With a 4-1 record through the first five games, surely the Queen's men would like to see a better record than 6-7-1 heading into the break. However, with 13 rookies dressing, the first half of the season was a learning experience for the young Gaels squad.
Fifth year captain Jonathon Lawrance (Steinbach, Man.) set the tone for his team and the rookies have rallied around him. Three freshmen lead the Queen's scoring race with Kelly Jackson (Toronto) at 13 points, Tyler Moore (Winnipeg, Man.) at 12 points, and Corey Bureau (Amherstview, Ont.) with a team best 8 goals and 11 points.
Riley Whitlock (Calgary, Alta.) has emerged as the Gaels' number one between the pipes, registering five of the six wins and is in the top ten in the league with his 369 saves.
Having played the fewest games of any team, the Gaels have the chance to make up some ground in the second half. One of the key aspects the Gaels will want to address is their power play. With just ten goals on the man-advantage, Queen's sits 15th in the league.
The Paladins started the season strong, winning two games in a row to pull their record to 2-2 through four games. Since then, however, they have suffered 12 straight defeats and are on the outside looking in.
Several of the RMC players seem to have bursts of greatness but very quickly cool off again. The most consistent offensive players have been rookie Scott Domenico (Ottawa) with six goals and 13 points and captain Landon Lavictoire (Kirkland Lake, Ont.) with 12 points.
Improvements to special teams will help any club, but with a league low penalty kill, the Paladins will need to tighten up their defence to give their offence an opportunity to put some points on the board.
University of Ontario Institute of Technology Ridgebacks
The word "disappointing" is probably one heard often around the Campus Ice Centre in Oshawa when asked about the Ridgebacks' first half. After a successful preseason which included a victory over the University of Michigan, the Ridgebacks sit at the bottom of the west standings with a 3-14-1 record.
While their record may not reflect it, the Ridgebacks have been in tight with many of their opponents. They were involved in eight one-goal games and only lost by more than two goals three times.
Fourth year Josh Vatri (Barrie, Ont.) scored his 50th career OUA goal on November 12 and sits tied for second on the team with 11 points behind leader Tony Rizzi (Kingston, Ont.) who has 14 points. Vatri is the first in team history to reach the 50 goal plateau.
With eight seniors on the team the Ridgebacks have the experience to turn things around, they just need to translate their effort into results on the ice.
Laurier Golden Hawks
The Hawks have had trouble finding the back of the net so far this year, scoring a west division low 38 goals, and are struggling to find the consistency that helped them to a second place finish a year ago.
Once again, netminder Ryan Daniels (Pickering, Ont.) leads the league in saves with 520. He is also in the top ten with his .912 save percentage.
Another young team, Laurier has had some growing pains in the first half of the season. Sophomore James Marsden (Exeter, Ont.) leads the team with six goals and ten points while third year Mitchell Good (Wellesley, Ont.) also has ten points. An injury has sidelined Ben Skinner (Markham, Ont.), brother of Carolina Hurricanes standout Jeff Skinner, which has forced more of a scoring by committee style.
With their 4-11-1 record, Laurier holds the eighth and final playoff spot for the moment but are only two points ahead of UOIT and could be in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2001-02 season.
The Gryphons first half was marred by a seven game losing streak and the inability to string together consecutive victories to recover. Entering the winter break Guelph sits seventh in the west with a 4-9-4 record. Much like Ryerson, the Gryphons have been hampered by injuries and will be taking the time off to recuperate.
Both goaltenders Cody St. Jacques (Iroquois Falls, Ont.) and Andrew Loverock (Elmvale, Ont.) are struggling through sophomore slumps. Last year St. Jacques posted a 6-2 record with the Gryphons before returning to the OHL and Loverock was solid with an 8-4 record. So far this year though, neither have been able to surpass the two wins mark.
Three-time reigning team goal scoring leader Kris Belan (Florence, Ont.) is currently tied for the team lead with Jon Thomas MacDonald (Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont.) with nine goals.
Once the Gryphons get healthy again, they should be able to make a run and improve their playoff seeding.
The Badgers have had a very back and forth first half to their season. They have been unable to put together a winning streak of more than two games but have also avoided a losing streak of more than three.
Sophomore Thomas Stajan (Mississauga, Ont.) has been a pleasant surprise and taken his game to the next level, recording six goals and 17 points through 16 games after just five points last year. Matt Abercrombie (Sarnia, Ont.) has shown great discipline and skill, managing to stay out of the penalty box all season and record 12 points.
Brock seemed to be a sleeper team through the first half – no one paid particularly much attention to them, yet they are quietly putting together a solid season. The second half will be a challenge, however, with four games against No. 7 ranked Lakehead and an additional game with No. 3 ranked Western.
Heading into the break the Lancers are locked in at fifth place with an 8-9-0 record. Windsor has a much improved offence from a year ago, having scored 65 goals as a team so far which is just ten shy of their previous total.
So many teams are relying on rookies to contribute this year and the Lancers are no different. Freshman Evan Stibbard (Windsor, Ont.) leads the team in both goals (nine) and points (17) while fellow rookie Ryan Green (Essex, Ont.) is right behind him with eight goals and 16 points. Drew Palmer (Tecumseh, Ont.) has 15 points which rounds out this solid rookie trio who are all in the top ten in the rookie scoring race.
Parker Van Buskirk (Windsor, Ont.) has been busy in the crease, playing in 16 of the 17 games and sits third with 452 saves and second in minutes played.
This Windsor team came together rather quickly and has but one game in the second half against a nationally ranked opponent. They have an excellent chance of maintaining or advancing their current standing and improving upon their eighth place seeding a season ago.
The Lions have the potential for the best turnaround from the 2010-11 season. After finishing last in the west last year and missing the postseason, York enters the winter break in fourth place with a 7-7-3 record. They might even have the best turnaround within this season – starting with just one win in their first seven games, the Lions have been able to pull themselves back to the .500 mark.
Second year winger Jesse Messier (Keswick, Ont.) leads the way offensively with 21 points but it has been freshman Jordan Forfar (Sutton, Ont.) with the scoring touch as he leads his team and all rookies with 12 goals. Forfar is joined by fellow rookies Tyler McGee (Timmins, Ont.) and Troy Barss (Barrie, Ont.) in the top ten rookie scoring.
The Lions are one of the few teams who have three goalies who have seen action, but all have picked up a victory so the rotation is paying off.
York's schedule has saved them the displeasure of facing some of the tougher east division teams and they have the potential to post their first winning season since 2008 with a strong finish in the second half.
After bursting out of the gate with four wins in their first five games and garnering a national ranking, the Warriors were faced with a reality check during a three game losing skid. Since then, Waterloo won seven of their last nine games and sit third with an 11-4-2 record.
Led by Kirt Hill (Winnipeg, Man.) and Chris Ray (Kelowna, B.C.), the Warriors have the third most goals in the west division. Hill is second in OUA goal scoring with 14 and is tied for third with 28 points. Ray has matched his point total from a season ago, recording nine goals and 27 points.
Having the top power play in the league never hurts your chance at success, and the Warriors are enjoying their 24.7% efficiency. Their discipline (second fewest penalty minutes) has also contributed to their success, limiting opposing teams from man advantages.
Waterloo is having success in their own zone as well as both netminders are in the top ten for goals against average and save percentage.
If the Warriors can stay healthy, they look poised to make another run in the playoffs and could do some damage against the top ranked teams.
Tied for the league-high with 13 wins, the Thunderwolves are sitting pretty in second place entering the winter break. With just three losses so far, it's not surprising that No. 7 ranked Lakehead holds the longest winning streak of the season as they rattled off seven straight from October 14-November 4 and closed the first half with another six game streak.
Goaltender Alex Dupuis (Thunder Bay, Ont.) has been dominant, posting 11 wins to lead the league and match his total from last season. He has also been perfect in overtime, recording two shootout victories. The defence in front of Dupuis has stepped up as well and boast the top penalty kill unit, operating at 91.7% efficiency.
The Lakehead offence is a balanced attack with eight players in double digits for points already this year. Matt Caria (Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.) leads with 19 points while Adam Sergerie (Thunder Bay, Ont.) leads the club with nine goals, four of which have been game winners.
Having not yet played the division leaders, four matchups with Western in the second half of the season should determine who takes the number one seed heading into the postseason.
Experience holds rank through the first half. The Mustangs are one of the most experienced teams in the league with just four freshmen seeing regular playing time through the first half and it is no surprise they sit atop the west division with a 13-1-2 record and are ranked No. 3 in the nation.
It has been the combination of a high-powered offence, technically sound defence, and aggressiveness that has the Mustangs holding down the number one seed in the west.
Keaton Turkiewicz (Brantford, Ont.) leads the league with 30 points in 16 games and teammate Kevin Baker (Georgetown, Ont.) goes into the break tied for eighth with 24 points. Rookie Tyler Peters (Sarnia, Ont.) has secured his name in the lineup, posting ten goals and 16 points to sit fifth in rookie scoring.
The Mustangs goaltenders have been steady all year. Josh Unice (Holland, Ohio) boasts a .924 save percentage and is third in wins with nine. Backup Alain Valiquette (Sudbury, Ont.) has been perfect, going 4-0 in his five starts.
With last year's Queen's Cup defeat still on their minds, Western is primed to avenge that loss this year. However, two of their three losses this season have come against McGill, the team that hoisted the Cup in front of them a year ago, so the Mustangs still have some work to do to become the top team in the league.
OUA men's hockey returns in the new year with a few games early in the week before most teams get back to action on the weekend.
January 3, 2012
7:30 pm – RMC @ Queen's
January 4, 2012
7:00 pm – Ottawa @ Carleton
January 5, 2012
7:30 pm – York @ Guelph
January 6, 2012
7:00 pm – Ottawa @ McGill
7:00 pm – Queen's @ Nipissing
7:00 pm – Ryerson @ RMC
7:00 pm – Carleton @ UQTR
7:15 pm – UOIT @ Brock
7:30 pm – Laurier @ Western
7:30 pm – Waterloo @ Lakehead