By: Graham Neysmith (@GNeysmith)
With the first half of the U Sports women’s hockey season in the books, let’s take a look at how things are shaping up across the country.
With the help of graphs showing the progression of the standings from week to week, we can see which teams are steady which ones have been inconsistent. It’s interesting to see who was hot at certain points in the season, and where they are now.
Keep in mind some standings may be skewed because certain teams have played more games than others.
From the outset, the consensus was that St. Thomas and Saint Mary’s would be battling it out. This has materialized, as the teams have split their two meetings in the first half. The two powerhouses will square off twice more, on January 21st and February 3rd.
Perhaps the most surprising development of the season has been UPEI staking claim to the third position. The Panthers finished in last place a season ago, but have experienced a nice resurgence. This is because they have taken care of business against the programs ranked below them – they own an 8-1 record against teams without “Saint” in their name.'
Personally, I liked what I saw going on with the program at StFX heading into the season. They started off shaky, but reeled off five straight wins to close the first portion of the year.
It has been an absolute dog fight at the top of the Quebec conference this year. With the defending National Champion Montreal Carabins faltering early, the door was wide open for the Ottawa Gee Gees to explode onto the scene. The battle at the top of the standings may well be the best in Canada, with no program holding on to top spot for more than two weeks at a time.
The Carabins beat the Gee Gees on the final weekend of the first half, which is a sign that order could be restored in the country’s most competitive league. However, the harsh reality is that some combination of Ottawa, McGill and Montreal will have to face off in the first round of the playoffs, with the winner earning a Nationals berth and the loser leaving empty-handed. First place plays fourth and second plays third come playoff time, which means that number one position is more important than ever. Truly, every game counts from here on out.
Having spoken to OUA coaches in the preseason, most agreed that this would be one of the tightest years for the league, ever. So far, they have been right. Apart from Guelph and Nipissing pulling away at the top and York and Laurier settling down at the other end, everything is still to play for.
Currently, seven teams have between 20 and 17 points. That’s half of the league! 20 points would put a program in 5th place, a favourable playoff position all things considered, while 17 could put a team as far south as 11th place and out of the playoffs altogether.
I was told by a veteran coach that Nipissing would be the team to watch this year, and he was right. After falling in triple-overtime in game three of the semi-finals last year, the Lakers look poised for a another deep playoff run. Very impressive for a program that is one of the youngest in Canada.
However, I like the Toronto Varsity Blues down the stretch. They are 5-1 on home ice, and have beaten top-quality programs such as Guelph, Waterloo and Western.
It should come as no surprise that UBC is leading Canada West and have been since the third week of the season. However, the extent of their dominance may have caught some off guard. Since a hiccup against the Saskatchewan Huskies on the first weekend, the T-Birds have rattled off 14 straight victories, all while having the conference’s best defence and most potent offense. They have already opened up a 12 point lead over the rest of the field.
Don’t look now, but here come the Golden Pandas of Alberta. They ended the first half on a seven game unbeaten run, capped off with back-to-back victories over the Huskies. I’m a sucker for clutch teams, and ten of Alberta’s 16 games have been decided by one goal. The Pandas and T-Birds square off the first weekend back from the break in a can’t-miss showdown.
National Top 10
I’m not the only one who has a problem with this Top 10. The programs that are ranked are pretty much spot on, but the order could use some tinkering in my opinion.
The big issue with this poll is comparing and contrasting the conferences. Is the second-place AUS team really that much better than the second-place OUA team? Is the fourth-place Canada West team better than the third-place Ontario program? This would be the equivalent of the NCAA’s ‘strength of schedule’ debate. The only time of year these questions can be answered is at the National Championships.
Personally I don’t have a problem with certain conferences being valued over others, but the least the voting committee could do would be getting the rankings within the conferences right!
Here are three points that I believe should be corrected;
- Nipissing has to be higher than 7th place. A two loss team being ranked behind numerous three and four loss programs is ridiculous. While they are in second place in Ontario, Nipissing actually has two games in hand over first-place Guelph, and beat the Gryphons in mid-November.
- I question how Montreal is ranked above McGill. The Martlets have beaten the Carabins twice this season, including a 5-1 thrashing at U de M on opening night. McGill has given up the second-fewest goals in the nation this year. That has to count for something right?
- The Ottawa Gee Gees deserve to be nationally ranked. They’re going blow-for-blow with two of the best programs in the country, but are not getting any respect. I’m not saying the Gee Gees are superior to McGill or Montreal, but they are most definitely in the conversation.
The main problem is that there are only four people voting in the women’s hockey Top 10. There are at least a dozen voters on the men’s side of things, so a consensus can be reached. The same cannot be said for the women.
For the reasons outlined above, here’s how I believe the Top 10 should look.
1. UBC (15-1-0, 1st CW)
2. Nipissing (10-1-1, 2nd OUA)
3. St. Thomas (12-1-1, 1st AUS)
4. Saint Mary’s (10-1-2, 2nd AUS)
5. McGill (8-2-0, 1st RSEQ)
6. Guelph (11-2-1, 1st OUA)
7. Montreal (7-4-0, 2nd RSEQ)
8. Alberta (10-3-3, 3rd CW)
9. Ottawa (6-3-1, 3rd RSEQ)
10. Manitoba (11-4-1, 2nd CW)
Bringing in players from programs across the country for the U Sports All-Star team, everyone comes with their own ‘how they made it’ story. But perhaps none are more improbable than that of Mathieu Pompei’s, the only member of the U Sports All-Stars to have never played a game of major junior hockey.
Mathieu Pompei is one of the best players in the OUA. With 29 points through his first 17 games, he sits alone atop the OUA scoring leaderboard and has sparked McGill to a 12-3-1 record after the first semester of 2016-17. Not only is Pompei one of the most lethal offensive threats in the OUA, but you’ll have a hard time finding a better conditioned athlete.
“He’s trained really hard in the summers, put on a lot of muscle mass, and it’s really given him an extra step in his game,” says head coach Kelly Nobes. “It allows him to battle with the biggest guys in the league for pucks.”
That physical strength is key for a player who stands at 5-foot-8. But it’s certainly no surprise to see a player of small stature succeed at the U Sports level. In fact, three of the top four point-scorers in U Sports this season are under 6-foot-0. But when you consider Pompei’s journey that resulted in him barely getting into McGill, he becomes one of the best ‘where did he come from?’ stories in U Sports hockey.
In 2009, Mathieu Pompei was playing for Kings-Edgehill School U18 in the CAHS. Located in Windsor, Nova Scotia, Kings-Edgehill sits on the precipice of hockey obscurity. Not known for being a factory of top-quality hockey talent, Pompei knew he would have to look elsewhere if he wanted to further his hockey career.
“I was already 18 years old then, so [playing major junior] wasn’t in the picture,” says Pompei. “I was close to Yarmouth [Nova Scotia] and knew a few people in the area, so I tried to make it there.”
Relocated from Dartmouth in 2002, the Yarmouth Mariners are a junior A hockey club in the MHL (Maritime Hockey League). Although their history isn’t particularly rich, Yarmouth has produced solid U Sports hockey products such as Robert Lepine (Guelph), Colin Campbell (Nipissing), and Kyle Campbell (York) among others. It’s a desirable place to play for young players looking to ply their trade in junior hockey, and it represented the next logical step for Pompei’s hockey career. As a 19 year-old, Pompei showed up to training camp as a virtual nobody.
“Talking to [Yarmouth’s] coach later, I don’t think he was even expecting to take a long look at me,” says Pompei. “But I came in pretty strong, I was ready, I worked out all summer, and I didn’t give them the choice to cut me.”
By the end of his second season, Pompei lead the entire MHL with 43 goals in the regular season, and registered 19 points in 18 playoff games on route to the MHL finals in 2012. Pompei finished his MHL career with a whopping 126 points in 103 games. Yarmouth made the right choice in keeping him around.
Even after all the success in his two years of MHL hockey, Pompei wasn’t exactly juggling offers heading into the 2012-13 season. You’d think that leading the MHL in goals would garner more attention, but how Mathieu Pompei ended up on McGill’s radar isn’t the conventional route for most recruits.
“I didn’t really have any options until July,” recounts Pompei. “Applications were almost done, and it was the assistant coach, Daniel Jacob, who knew someone who knew me.”
Kelly Nobes on the other hand was continuing his never-ending search to find the right guy to help his team out for the upcoming season.
“My assistant coach says, ‘you gotta come and see this kid’, and I ended up watching him in a summer league,” says Nobes.
The OUA’s leading point-getter halfway through the season was recruited out of a summer league. But Pompei’s story doesn’t end there. He barely managed to apply to McGill in time, and he still wasn’t considered a ‘high-end’ recruit by any means heading into training camp.
“He was gonna have to grind it out just to get in the lineup,” says Nobes of the expectation for Pompei in his rookie season. “We knew he could score goals, the question was whether or not he could learn to play without the puck and not be a liability on the ice defensively.”
Pompei grabbed the attention of his new team immediately, scoring a hat-trick in a 5-1 preseason win against RMC in his first career U Sports action. Pompei would go on to score 10 goals in the regular season, tying Christophe Poirier for the team lead, and was a point-per-game player in the postseason. Not bad for a guy who was just days away from not even getting into McGill, and had to ‘grind it out’ to make the lineup.
Now in his fifth and final season at McGill, Pompei can look back on what has been a remarkable career playing hockey for one of Canada’s most storied, and reputable hockey programs. Pompei would go on to suit up for McGill at nationals in 2014, and had a career season in 2015-16, posting 37 points in 28 games, including 19 goals, tying him with Jordan DePape for 6th in the entire country. As for the questions about his ability to play defence, they were answered quickly.
“He learned and adapted really fast. That’s why he’s become such a great player in our league,” says Nobes. “He’s a two-way guy now, and he wasn’t when he started.”
The ability to adapt and become a better defensive player is what Pompei credits towards most of his success with McGill, although he admits there’s still room for improvement.
“Defensively I wasn’t as solid I am today, although I still need some work there. But it wasn’t part of my game, especially in junior. I’ve developed a lot, and I think [playing solid defence] changes the game a lot when you can play 200 feet, you’re more reliable, and your coach believes in you more. You start on defence and the offence will come.”
Pompei’s roadmap to success in the OUA has been a lengthy one, but you can’t argue with the philosophy of a guy who has 122 points in 114 career U Sports games. With his invitation to represent U Sports against Team Canada, Pompei is finally getting the respect and recognition he’s worked so hard for.
“I’m a late bloomer. I never gave up, and I just kept pushing and pushing through and I’m really happy about where I’m at today,” says Pompei.
Always confident in his ability to learn and adapt, Pompei still keeps an honest perspective of where he was as a hockey player in 2009.
“I never thought I would be [playing against Team Canada], and I never thought I’d be at McGill. It’s been unbelievable, and I’ve been quite lucky with the journey and how things have happened.”
But the job isn’t done yet for Pompei. McGill has a team capable of going and long way this year, and Pompei plans on continuing his hockey career in Europe next season after he graduates.
It’s a good thing Mathieu Pompei didn’t give the Yarmouth Mariners the choice to cut him back in 2010.
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)
So I lied.... last week's Tuesday Morning Skate wasn't actually the last one of 2016. But whatever. I figured with all the info I've compiled while in Blainville, it was enough to constitute another edition, albeit a different one. The Christmas break is an odd time for U Sports hockey. Some teams are ravenously searching for another addition to their roster, while others rather not be part of the ruckus at all, unless a player falls right into their lap. There's still a few quality players available, some of which have already been scooped up. So put down your notes and take a study break, it's been a busy few days in U Sports hockey.
Canada: 5 U Sports: 3
Goals (CAN): Dylan Strome, Taylor Raddysh, Sam Steel, Mitchell Stephens, Sam Steel (2)
Goals (U Sports): Philippe Maillet, Brett Welychka, Nathan Chiarlitti
Goalies (CAN): Carter Hart, 10 S 10 SVS; Michael McNiven, 13 S 10 SVS
Goalies (U Sports): Connor Ingram, 29 S 24 SVS
1. Sam Steel, Team Canada (2-0-2)
2. Philippe Maillet - U Sports (1-1-2)
3. Elgin Pearce - U Sports (0-2-2)
Game Length: 2:07
1. The SMU Huskies have a commitment and enrollment from Aaron Berisha for second semester. That's about as official as it can get before a player hits the ice in U Sports. Berisha was a fairly big deal during his days as a Toronto Marlboro, taking the OHL Cup MVP honours in 2011 on a team with Nick Ritchie, Roland McKeown, and Josh Ho-Sang among others. Berisha posted an impressive 45 goals last year on a stacked London Knights team, and although the talent level isn't the same at SMU, they're a deep offensive team. Playing alongside Hunter Garlent or Ben Duffy could go a long way in seeing Berisha put up big goal numbers not just this year, but for seasons to come.
2. Ever since Jason Fram was released from his contract last week, it's been a general assumption that he is destined to play at the University of Alberta in second semester. When I spoke with a source at the U of A, he did acknowledge that "there is a good chance he ends up with us", but clearly it isn't a done deal just yet. Assuming things do pan out that way, Fram joins an notoriously deep Alberta team, and should be able to pencil right in as an impact player. Fram may be the type of defenceman who gets better with time, but as is the case with most teams, Alberta won't say no at an opportunity to make themselves better right now. Also worth noting defenceman Nick Charif is set to become eligible in January for Alberta.
3. The Alberta Golden Bears have reportedly landed forward Cole Sanford from the ECHL's Colorado Eagles. This is another humungous add for the Golden Bears who bring in another WHL player to have surpassed the 90-point plateau. Sanford isn't a large player at just 5-foot-8, but the impact he can have on any given game is giant. With both Jason Fram and Sanford in the lineup for second semester, the Alberta Golden Bears are changing the balance in Canada West, and will give the Saskatchewan Huskies all they can handle and more.
4. It's a fairly rare occurence to see a second round NHL draft pick appear on a U Sports roster, but Lukas Sutter (Winnipeg Jets) and Peter Delmas (Colorado Avalanche) are both recent examples of those who have. Gabryel Boudreau may be the next in line, as after being released by the ECHL's Cincinnati Cyclones last week, he's garnering a large amount of U Sports interest. It's hard to imagine UQTR isn't in the chase, as Boudreau seems to fit the Patriotes mold to a tee. But it's also not hard to picture an AUS team taking a good swing at Boudreau. Some teams with roster cap space and the resources to attract Boudreau will like his upside as a guy who can immediately produce when healthy.
5. The Moncton Aigles Bleus announced their signing of forward Joey Richard for the 2017-18 season. Richard was originally a Saint John Sea Dogs draft pick back in 2013, and went on to play 25 games with Saint John in 2013-14. Richard spent the next two seasons with the Gatineau Olympiques and Moncton Wildcats before landing in the MJAHL with the Dieppe Commandos this year. Richard didn't score much in the QMJHL, but he's having a great season in Dieppe thus far, leading the team with 38 points through 27 games so far. Moncton hopes to find similar success with Richard that they've had with Robbie Graham, a recruit from Dieppe back in 2015.
6. The Concordia Stingers have made a big splash in acquiring the services of Anthony Beauregard for second semester. When I spoke with Concordia head coach Marc-Andre Element a few weeks ago, it seemed as though he was expecting that Beauregard would wind up staying pro. Clearly things have changed in that time span, as the Concordia Stingers now have another lethal offensive threat who is just a season removed from 93 points in the QMJHL with Val-d'Or. Expect the Concordia Stingers to be even better in 2017 with the addition of Mickael Beauregard on the blueline, as well as Marc-Antoine Turcotte in net.
7. As I was told this week, Jackson Houck has committed to staying pro for the rest of the season. However, another great WHL product in Jaedon Descheneau remains interested in U Sports hockey. The list of teams he is legitimately interested in is fairly small, and not entirely comprised of Canada West schools. With the University of Alberta supposedly not in on Descheneau, the recruitment battle is wide open.
8. Over about the last month or there have been rumblings about OUA Conference realignment. There's not much to report yet, other than the fact that it is being talked about in OUA circles. Most people tend to think it could mean more games against teams in close proximity (i.e. Carleton vs Ottawa, Toronto vs Ryerson), and may also end up meaning a few less long road trips throughout the course of a season. It's an interesting thought with a number of possibilities, and something that may not be too far ahead of the OUA's future.
1. Winners in four of their last six games, the Moncton Aigles Bleus are no longer in the AUS basement after dethroning both Dalhousie and StFX this week. The Saulnier's and J.F. Plante continue to bear the offensive weight of the team, but now Mtichell Robillard has a goal in three straight games, and with Steve Lebel and Robbie Graham, the Moncton offence has looked a little deeper over the last few games. Brandon Thibeau picked up a pair of much needed wins in net this week, but for Moncton the story of their first semester has been chronic struggles in the defensive zone.
2. After a November that saw them lose only three games, the Acadia Axemen are second in the AUS. Robert Steeves is arguably the biggest surprise performer in the AUS this year, and will need to continue to be very good to keep Acadia where they are in the standings. Stephen Harper and Remy Giftopoulos have been great this semester, and Brett Thompson goes into the break on a five game point streak, but Boston Leier leads Acadia offensively. 10 of his 19 points came in November as Leier is the heartbeat of an Acadia team that didn't go through the best month in October, but have turned things around quite nicely heading into the break.
3. The UNB Varsity Reds looked like the same old team again this week after beating Acadia and SMU, filling the net to capacity in the process. For UNB, this semester has gone exactly how it was supposed to for a team that's expected to be a favourite for a national title this year. The four losses this semester can certainly become teachable moments from a program that sometimes seems invincible. The offence has been virtually spotless, and the defence exceptionally strong. If there's anything UNB wants to improve on, it'll be consistent goaltending. The Varsity Reds rank surprisingly low in team save percentage at .894%, 23rd in the country. But overall, A+ semester for UNB.
4. A season ago the StFX X-Men were 11-2-2 at the break. This season they've matched that win total, however they've dropped seven contests, all in regulation. It's not an ideal start for the X-Men, but it's hard to imagine Brad Peddle doesn't have a good sense of what his team is capable of 18 games into the season. Holden Cook has been a standout for the X-Men this semester, and so has Chase Marchand in net. The X-Men have the talent to repeat what they did last year, it's simply a matter of better execution night in and night out. Despite a few road bumps along the way, StFX gets a passing grade by a comfortable margin this semester.
5. The Saint Mary's Huskies had their five game winstreak broken by UNB this week in a game which they gave the Varsity Reds a run for their money, although you wouldn't know it by the score. Four goals in the second half of the third period pulled UNB to an 8-3 victory in a game that was otherwise fairly close. It's been a semester of adversity for the Huskies who battled through their well-documented injury issues on the back-end. A streak of bad luck robbed their offence to start the season, but it's now clear Hunter Garlent, Ben Duffy, Bronson Beaton, and others are as good as marketed. Trevor Steinburg has to be happy with SMU's streak in November, but you can bet a healthy team and consistent goaltending are going to be on the top of his Christmas list this year.
6. As if the UPEI Panthers didn't have a bad enough end to their semester, Thursday's tilt against SMU was cancelled due to weather. UPEI turned around the next night lost a tight contest in the shootout to Acadia, but it inflates UPEI's losing streak to seven in a row. The play of Cody Payne, Beau McCue, and some of the other new recruits is promising, but UPEI will have to find a way to get better with the roster they have right now if they want to make the playoffs. Now behind Moncton, it's going to be a very tough upcoming semester for UPEI who are experiencing the pain of a bad streak in a short season where every game matters.
7. The success of the Dalhousie Tigers has been one of the best underdog stories in U Sports this semester, but after losing five of their last six, the Moncton Aigles Bleus are right on their heels. Dalhousie obviously has no deficiencies at all in net with Corbin Boes, but they need to find a way to score in second semester. Whether it's a player out of junior or pro, or somebody on their roster that steps up, 2.22 goals-per-game won't be enough to have success in the long-term. Definitely some positives with the Tigers this semester, but there will have to be a marked improvement still for this team to be a sure bet for the playoffs.
***Brett Thompson: F Acadia Axemen
Just two seasons removed from a 38 point year, Brett Thompson hasn't had the most productive start to his season, but he's turned it on lately for Acadia, registering a point in five consecutive games and posting four points over his last two games against UPEI and UNB. Don't be surprised to see Brett Thompson take over Acadia's offence come second semester.
**Allain Saulnier: F Moncton Aigles Bleus
It's been a pretty good week for Allain Saulnier who posted five points for Moncton in wins over Dalhousie and StFX this week, and was named to the U Sports All-Star team to take on Team Canada next week. This semester has been a roaring success for Saulnier who leads the country with a whopping 33 points despite having only scored four times. Not a surprise when you consider the 56 assists he posted in his overage year with the Moncton Wildcats.
*Philippe Maillet: F UNB Varsity Reds
After being held off the scoresheet in two consecutive regular season games for the first time since October of 2014, Philippe Maillet responded in a big way for UNB this week, slapping seven points on the board. Maillet has been dynamite for UNB's explosive offence this semester, and at this rate, he's likely to catch his career-high of 41 points, set back in his rookie season.
1. The Queen's Gaels have been very consistent this year, and that's why they lead the OUA East at the Christmas break. A win over the UQTR Patriotes on Saturday certainly turns some heads from out of conference as the Gaels join the Carleton Ravens as the only teams to hold UQTR to one goal in a game this season. Matter of fact, the last time Queen's held UQTR to just one goal was on Feb. 28th, 2008 with Brady Morrison in net. Kevin Bailie, Spencer Abraham, Slater Doggett, and Eric Ming have lead the way for the Gaels this semester, but players like Ryan Bloom, Jacob Brennan, and Warren Steele are what make Queen's deeper than last season.
2. The UQTR Patriotes had their winning streak abruptly stopped at five after losing to Queen's on Saturday, but UQTR closes out the semester as one of the best teams in the OUA. There's too many contributors this from this semester to name in one paragraph, but it's obvious that UQTR is just a little better with Sebastien Auger and Guillaume Asselin in the lineup on a nightly basis. Although UQTR didn't get off to the best start, they're still in a position to make another deep run, which has been the expectation all year for the Patriotes.
3. The Concordia Stingers have to be thrilled with their first semester. Coach Marc-Andre Element has done such a fantastic job in turning this program around to the point where they don't look out of place with the top tier teams at all. Anthony De Luca is an early candidate for recruit of the year, and Philippe Cadorette has done everything he's needed in net. Olivier Hinse and Philippe Hudon lead one of the OUA's deepest offensive groups, but Concordia still has a lot of work to do. It doesn't matter how good their regular season is, a first round exit from the playoffs will be a huge disappointment. Concordia has a tough schedule coming up with Ryerson, McGill, UQTR, and Queen's all set to face them in second semester.
4. When the Ryerson Rams and McGill Redmen met on Friday night in a battle of two of the OUA's best offensive teams, it was somewhat surprising to see a 1-0 OT final. That's a heartbreaker for McGill in what has to be a candidate for game of the semester, but the Redmen are still a juggernaut. Mathieu Pompei leads one of the most productive offences from first semester, and a blueline featuring Nathan Chiarlitti, Dominic-Talbot Tassi, and Gianluca Curcuruto has to be considered one of the best. With a healthy Etienne Boutet next semester they get even better, and rumours persist that Nikolas Brouillard will join them in January. Chances are, second semester version of the McGill Redmen will be better than the first semester version, and that's bad news for a lot of OUA teams.
5. The Ottawa Gee-Gees aren't just surviving their first season back in the OUA, but they're starting to thrive. Newcoming programs like Nipissing and Carleton have had success in their first year too, but you can make a good arguement that Ottawa has had to contend with a deeper conference than both Nipissing and Carleton did when they broke in. Kevin Domingue has been a great find for the Gee-Gees, and since returning, Marc Beckstead has easily been one of Ottawa's best players. With Ottawa's confidence starting to rise, it's no wonder the Gee-Gees came away with three points this weekend after forcing a shootout with the Ryerson Rams.
6. In what's becoming deja vu every week, the Carleton Ravens win their first game of the weekend, but fall short in the Saturday night contest. After disposing of York 4-0 on Friday, Carleton comes out the next night and gets shutout by the struggling Brock Badgers, 1-0 in double overtime. Carleton is over .500, but they're not going to be content with where they sit in the OUA East. The Ravens still have a top-heavy lineup with talent, and Francois Brassard has been very servicable for them in net this semester, but the Ravens struggle to put together consistency. It can be a frustratring things sometimes, but the Ravens need to come out a different team in second semester if they intend to go deep into the playoffs.
7. After a dominant start to the season, the UOIT Ridgebacks evened out a little throughout November into December. Still just two points out of first in the conference, UOIT have the tools to consistently win games, but they were missing a key contributer in Ben Blasko this week. His absence definitely hurt UOIT, but they still managed to muster three points in taking Concordia to overtime and downing RMC 7-2. Blasko along with Danny Elser, Mike Robinson, and Cam Yuill have been offensive leaders on a team primarily known for defence and grit. The deeper we get into the season, UOIT's roster will be pushed harder than ever with Queen's (x2), Carleton (x2), York, Ryerson, and UQTR all due up on their schedule.
8. The Laurentian Voyaguers are caught in another streak, and it's not of the friendly variety. They've dropped contests to Western, Guelph, and Queen's all in a row, and the Voyageurs now find themselves clinging to a playoff spot. Still without much starpower, Laurentian has relied on scoring by committee this semester, but Darcy Haines and Brent Pedersen stand just a step above the rest of the team. Charlie Millen and Joel Vienneau have both had good and bad outings this season, and looking ahead, Laurentian will only go as far as their goaltending allows them.
9. The RMC Paladins and Nipissing Lakers find themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the first semester. There's a solid five point gap between Laurentian and Nipissing, and although it's not insurmountable, the Lakers are going to have to be marginally better than they were this semester in order to capture that playoff spot come February. For RMC, they've been a fairly tale at times this year with a couple huge upsets, but getting them to the playoffs might be a little too much to ask. If they miss out, it's certainly not for lack of work ethic, which RMC arguably has the most of in the conference. But quite frankly, it's extremely difficult for RMC to compete in a conference as deep as the OUA East. Having said that, they should still be proud of their accomplishments in first semester.
***Raphael Lafontaine: F Concordia Stingers
Rafael Lafontaine's two goals against UOIT this week puts his grand total at seven, third most on Concordia, behind Anthony De Luca and Olivier Hinse. Lafontaine was a captain with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan for a couple of season in the QMJHL, and although he was never a big-time point producer, he's a very valuable player, as evidenced by his production on Concordia this season.
**Malik Johnson: F UOIT Ridgebacks
Malik Johnson isn't your prototypical offensive threat for the UOIT Ridgebacks, but you wouldn't know it from his five point weekend against Concordia and RMC. Johnson posted some reasonable numbers with the Campbellton Tigers in the MJAHL, but he's played the role of an energy player to a tee this season. Don't expect numbers like this to consistently come from Johnson, but expect a great effort from him every night.
*Slater Doggett: F Queen's Gaels
Slater Doggett exploded for four points against the Laurentian Voyaguers in a Friday night 6-3 win, then one night later scored the late game-winner against the UQTR Patriotes to secure the perfect weekend for the Queen's Gaels. His 25 points lead the way for Queen's this season who expect to get just as much production from Doggett in the second semester.
1. The Ryerson Rams close out their first semester with a bang, carrying a program best eight game win-streak into the holidays. The Rams muscled out a pair of thrilling wins against McGill and Ottawa this weekend, and are on pace to set all kinds of program season records. Still lots of time left in the season, but it's been a virtually perfect first semester for the Rams, who prevail with 13 wins despite battling a rash of injuries through October and half of November. Aaron Armstrong continues to be a revelation on a team getting contributions from stars Alex Basso, Michael Fine, and Matt Mistele. The Rams will rest up for arguably their toughest road trip of the season when they face UQTR and Concordia in early January.
2. The York Lions are in a couple of ways Ryerson's arch-nemisis, and it's too bad they won't square off again in the regular season. A homestand against Carleton on Friday yielded a disappointing 4-0 loss, but the Lions rebounded with a 6-2 win against Waterloo on Saturday. Goaltending was somewhat of a question mark for the Lions coming into this semester, but both Alex Fotinos and Mack Shields showed they're capable of game-stealing performances in the OUA. The Lions have star-power with Trevor Petersen and Derek Sheppard again this season, so there's plently of reason to believe the Lions will be right in the race for the OUA West throughout the second semester.
3. The Windsor Lancers just won't go away. 10 of their 18 games this semester were decided by one goal, and despite the fact there's not a ton of star power on the Lancers they continue to find ways to win games. The Lancers grinded out a pair of wins against Nipissing this week, while Dylan Denomme, Todd Ratchford, and Justice Dundas lead the team in scoring after the first semester. The Lancers are a feisty, gritty team like year's past, and they certainly don't make many friends in the OUA. But I get the impression they're just fine with that. Expect a few great battles involving the Lancers come second semester.
4. Even though the Waterloo Warriors lost to York on Saturday, their huge victory over Western on Thursday keeps the Warriors in the playoff discussion. It's been a rough semester for Waterloo who are clearly in a period of transition, yet they've found a way to win some important games. Waterloo's offence continues to be what hurts them the most, but they have a goalie and a defence that can still frustrate the best teams in the league when they execute well. That execution will be paramount in second semester, as you can't expect Waterloo to be a completely different offensive squad come 2017, but you can expect the same fight and determination from season's past.
5. While the Warriors fight to make the jump back into playoff positions, the Western Mustangs fight to fall out. It's not a position I expected the Mustangs to be in at this point, but after a semester which saw a famine overcome the Mustangs' offence, here they are. The Christmas break could turn out to be well timed for the Mustangs who can use the time to refocus. For some teams, they'll want to start 2017 with a clean slate, Western is one of those teams. But amidst all the struggle, a late semester surge from Luke Karaim, and the seasoned Greg Dodds in net provide hope for the future.
6. A week after surrendering a third period lead to Lakehead, the Laurier Golden Hawks did it again on Wednesday when they blew a two goal lead late in the third and went on to lose in double OT. It highlights Laurier's consistency issues in their own end, which has certainly robbed them of a couple winnable games. On the upside, Colin Furlong has had flashes of brilliance, while Andrew Fritsch has been fantastic for the Golden Hawks offensively. Derek Schoenmakers has been scoring as per usual, and if the Golden Hawks could figure out their game in time for playoffs, they're a seriously dangerous team. Definitely some negative moments for the Golden Hawks this semester, but there's a lot to like too about Laurier.
7. Saturday night was a backup goalies delight when Carleton's Justin Nicholas and Alex Brooks-Potts from the Brock Badgers went toe-to-toe into double OT before Matt MacLeod scored the game-winner. 39 saves against the Carleton Ravens is nothing to scoff at, and it highlights what's been a turbulent start to Brooks-Potts' OUA career. For Brock, the win was needed in the worst way after losing six straight off the heels of a six game win streak. It's been a weird semester for the Badgers who have looked great one night, and unimpressive the next. They've still only scored five goals in their last five games, but with Andrew Radjenovic, Sammy Banga, Mitch Nardi, Adam Lloyd, and Matt MacLeod in the lineup for second semester, that number will improve. Getting Clint Windsor back in net theoretically helps a ton too. I still stand by my prediction that the Badgers are a top five OUA West team this season.
8. The U of T Varsity Blues are one of those teams who'll be thrilled to see the Christmas break arrive. They're losers of five straight after dropping contests to McGill and Ottawa, and they continue to sink further and further out of the playoff picture. If anything, Matt Campagna, Charlie Connell, and Aidan Wallace have been bright spots this semester, but there's a lot to be desired from U of T. Grant Holliday becomes eligible for second semester, but even with him in the lineup, it's hard to see U of T pulling off a miraculous comeback. But I said the same thing about their chances in the playoffs last year, so what do I know?
9. Niether the Guelph Gryphons nor the Lakehead Thunderwolves had games this week, so they got a headstart on Christmas shopping and baking. Both teams have showed good and bad signs this semester. Lakehead is an improved team from last year, and a healthy Billy Jenkins makes them even more dangerous in second semester, but goaltending may ultimately tell the tale of how far Lakehead goes this season. Guelph's offensive explosion at the end of the semester is reason to believe they can still piece together a really solid run, but goaltending will also be crucial for them down the stretch. Both teams should be satisfied with their first semester.
***Trevor Petersen: F York Lions
Getting shutout by the Carleton Ravens on Friday certainly isn't a highlight, but Petersen's three point night against Waterloo on Saturday certainly is. York's affable star scorer hasn't missed a beat this year with 22 points through 18 games, including eight goals. At this rate, Petersen is on track to eclipse his 29 point season from 2015-16. Sometimes it's hard to believe this guy only scored eight times in his two season OHL career.
**Charlie Graham: G Ryerson Rams
The Ryerson Rams had a barn burner on Friday night when they took on the McGill Redmen, and the goaltending on both sides was terrific. However, Charlie Graham gets the edge because not only did he win the game, but Graham now has back to back shutouts having stonewalled the Waterloo Warriors back on November 18th.
*Dylan Denomme: F Windsor Lancers
Dylan Denomme is one of the brightest young players to come out of the LaSalle Vipers organization where he posted a couple of 70+ point seasons. He's continued that success with Windsor, as the third year forward is piecing together another productive season with 18 points in as many games. His four assists this weekend played a big part in Windsor's two wins over Nipissing.
1. It's usually a fantastic battle when the Alberta Golden Bears meet their arch rivals at Saskatchewan, but this week the Golden Bears just didn't seem to have the same team that beat Saskatchewan back in October. They only scored one goal this weekend thanks to Dylan Bredo, but even against Jordon Cooke, you'd expect more offence out of Alberta. Overall, it's been a great semester for Alberta who don't seem to have lost much talent from last year's roster. Many of their recruits have made a great transition to Canada West, and now with their goaltending starting to look comfortable, Alberta has to be happy with how they've set themselves up for second semester.
2. It almost didn't happen, but the Saskatchewan Huskies are the leaders of Canada West heading into the Christmas break. A lot of Saskatchewan's players got off to a hot start this season, but as the first semester progressed, some of their top offensive scorers went through minor droughts, leaving us with not a single point-per-game player on the Huskies. That hasn't crippled them however, as Saskatchewan's depth has been a crucial difference maker with eight players already in double digit point totals. Jesse Forsberg and Parker Thomas are both having career years, but the majority of Saskatchewan's scoring is coming from their top WHL recruits. Of course, Jordon Cooke has been fantastic. Saskatchewan has been every bit as good as they were projected to be at the start of the season.
3. With two regulation losses from the Golden Bears this week, the Mount Royals Cougars pounce into second place in Canada West with 22 points. It's not a surprise at all to see Mount Royal in this position, lead by a first semester MVP candidate in Connor Rankin. This week Mount Royal made quick work of the Manitoba Bisons as Matt Brown was reinserted into the lineup, winning both games 4-3, and 5-1. As long as Mount Royal holds the course, they'll cruise right into the playoffs, and a matchup against either Saskatchewan or Alberta could create some real fireworks out west. Apart from a few flat efforts, Mount Royal has had a textbook first semester.
4. The Calgary Dinos' offence still leaves a lot of room for improvement, but their defensive zone play this season has been so darn good it's no wonder they won 10 games in the first semester. But perhaps Calgary's biggest impact has been made in the crease. Coleman Vollrath hasn't had a great start but contains very high potential, meanwhile Steven Stanford has been rock solid, while Matt Greenfield is putting up ridiculous numbers with a 0.86 GAA and a .965 SV% through six games played. Calgary is turning out to be better than I expected, and now with Parker Bowles joining Elgin Pearce, Dylan Walchuk, and Cain Franson up front, the Dinos may see their offensive issues rectified in second semester.
5. The Lethbridge Pronghorns have been a hotbed for positivity this semester with their documented success against national opponents and what is a program blooming right before our eyes. Justin Valentino has been a sensation for the Pronghorns with 12 goals thus far, and Mitch Maxwell's 15 assists lead the conference. Tim Campbell has been a stud defensively, and it's clear the Pronghorns have a talented young netminder in Garret Hughson. It wasn't all sunshine and rainbows this semester for Lethbridge who certainly fell on some hard times losing four straight over two weeks, but ending the semester with five wins in their last six games has to have the Pronghorns bursting with confidence going into the break.
6. The Manitoba Bisons are not making my preseason predictions look good right about now. Manitoba exits the first semester on a flat note having lost five of their final six games, but they still find themselves in a playoff position, albeit by two points. Remi Laurencelle has looked really solid as a rookie registering 11 points in his first 12 games, and Justin Augert and Shaq Merasty have complimented star Jordan DePape so far, but past that, there isn't much to get excited about with Manitoba's offence. Defensively, Blake Heinrich checking into the lineup in the second semester will help, but even then, Manitoba's defence will need to take a step forward. Byron Spriggs emerged as the number one goalie towards the end of November, but overall it's been a disappointing first semester for the Bisons.
7. It's been a trivial season for the UBC Thunderbirds. This weekend they go ahead and shutdown Calgary in a 2-1 win, but then drop the following contest, 4-1. You just never seem to know what you're going to get out of the UBC Thunderbirds. Their three game win streak a few weeks ago was promising, but now that they've lost five of their last six, that win streak is rather insignificant. The good news is UBC has a collection of very good hockey players. Austin Vetterl, Luke Lockhart, Chase Clayton, and Jerrett Smith are the real deal in this league. Besides them, there's definitely talent within UBC, but it hasn't always shown on the ice. Defensive breakdowns have killed them on a couple of occasions, and when their netminding isn't strong, the Thunderbirds have a real tough time competing.
8. The Regina Cougars limp into the Christmas break on a four game losing streak after what has been a difficult semester to say the least. The emergence of Tristan Frei, Cody Fowlie, and J.J. Coleshaw towards the end of the semester was a great sign, but Regina can't make the playoffs playing the way they have been. Defence needs to be the bread and butter of the Cougars in order to win, and their 74 goals against this semester suggest it's not where it needs to be at all. If Regina can get some game-stealing type goaltending from one of their netminders in second semester, then they have a chance on any given night, but as it stands, the Cougars have a lot of work to do to clamber into a playoff position.
***Jordon Cooke: G Saskatchewan Huskies
Anytime a goalie holds the Alberta Golden Bears to just one goal over the course of two games, it's worth recognition. It's not overly surprising to see Jordon Cooke post a .985 SV% this weekend, but it's a welcome sign after Cooke had a few unspectacular outings in November. No doubt he's still one of the best, and he'll show off his talents against Team Canada next week.
**Justin Valentino: F Lethbridge Pronghorns
Justin Valentino continues his torrent pace through the Canada West ranks, as two goals this weekend now tie him with Alberta's Jayden Hart for most in the conference at the break. Lethbridge had a breakout week from Jay Merkley too, which was key, but Valentino has been producing all season long.
*Connor Rankin: F Mount Royal Cougars
Connor Rankin ripped off another casual four goal weekend, and now stands atop the conference with 20 points. Rankin is in the conversation for Canada West MVP through the first juncture of the season, and after his last series against Manitoba now has 7 goals alone against the Bisons.