The quality of goaltending in the CIS has never been better. Now with 33 of the 35 teams in CIS having ex-major junior goalies on their roster, there is more than enough talent in the net to give teams a chance to win on any given night. It's easy to peg Jordon Cooke and Kevin Bailie as 'goalies to watch' this season, but for the sake of digging a little deeper, here's a look at some goaltending talent that could be flying under the radar, and may wind up being a huge reason for their team's success this season.
1. Brandon Hope: StFX X-Men
Watching the 5-foot-8 Drew Owsley fly around the StFX crease the last four seasons will be a sight AUS hockey fans will miss this season. But even with Owsley off to pro, the expectation for StFX remains very high. Coach Brad Peddle means business and feels he has the firepower in net to be a powerhouse in the AUS once again with Brandon Hope and Chase Marchand. Now heading into his second year, Hope has the chance to take the reigns with one of the most coveted crease-jobs in the CIS. Of course Chase Marchand is no pushover either, and the first year recruit will inevitably make a run at the starting job himself. But with the year of experience already in hand for Brandon Hope, he'll be the public favourite to grace the crease in the key games early this season. Whether it's Marchand or Hope in net, one thing we know for sure is that the StFX X-Men are on a mission this year to take down their rivals from Fredericton, and would love to spoil the party come University Cup time in March. Brandon Hope had a front row seat to all the madness last season which saw the X-Men dethrone the Varsity Reds in the AUS Final, but fell just short on the national stage. With great numbers in his last three OHL seasons, Hope has a strong hockey pedigree, but will have to prove himself to StFX and the rest of the league in the regular season before the X-Men have any hopes of another deep playoff run.
2. Philippe Cadorette: Concordia Stingers
For years the Concordia Stingers have had a lethal offence, but were always held back by defence and goaltending that wasn't on par with the powerhouses in the OUA East. This season, that may finally change. Coach Marc-Andre Element has already made public his desire to improve the defence, but perhaps the most notable difference at Concordia this year is a highly regarded QMJHL recruit in net. Philippe Cadorette has proven his worth over five seasons in the QMJHL, consistently posting save percentages about .900 in his final three years with Baie-Comeau and Shawinigan. Although his brief pro stint with Norfolk in the ECHL wasn't exactly pretty, Cadorette could have found work in the pro ranks if he wished to go that route this season. Luckily for Concordia, he chose the Stingers for 2016-17, which came at the right time after it became known that Maxime Clermont would indeed not play CIS hockey for Concordia this season. Miguel Sullivan proved at times last year that he can be a help to Concordia, but now with Cadorette joining him, there will be healthy competition for Concordia's starting role between two QMJHL veterans, something that Concordia has needed for a long, long time.
3. Francois Brassard: Carleton Ravens
Francois Brassard may have the biggest shoes to fill of any CIS goalie in 2016-17. After enjoying two seasons of juggling Patrick Killeen and Francis Dupuis, coach Marty Johnston hopes to find similar success with Francois Brassard and Justin Nichols. When you look at Brassard's hockey resume, his CHL goalie of the week honours, QMJHL All-Star moniker, and his NHL Draft selection by the Ottawa Senators in 2012 make him more than qualified to start for a CIS hockey team. But after just five games with the Peoria Rivermen in the SPHL last season, and Justin Nichols brought in from the Oshawa Generals, it makes you wonder if Brassard can actually live up to what his past suggests he can be. In any event, Brassard will get the chance at some point this season to make a difference for Carleton, and the same can be said for Justin Nichols. Having both goalies in the system is a nice insurance policy, and it's not like Marty Johnston doesn't have experience dealing with two talented goalies on the same team. The bar set by Killeen and Dupuis over the last two season was a gold standard, and it might be too much to expect Brassard to be Patrick Killeen to Nichols' Francis Dupuis, but seeing whether or not Brassard turns out to be the acquisition his history says he is will be fun to watch.
4. Andrew Hunt: U of T Varsity Blues
For all the work Andrew Hunt did in getting the Varsity Blues one goal away from the OUA West Conference Finals last season, he simply hasn't received the credit he deserves. The U of T Varsity Blues were not a very good regular season team in 2015-16 by any stretch, and barely snuck into the playoffs as the eighth seed. Despite being pulled in a 5-0 loss in game one of the playoffs, Andrew Hunt rebounded to backstop U of T to a shocking upset of the top-seeded York Lions in round one. Taking on the favoured Western Mustangs in round two, Hunt made a whopping 53 saves in game one to give the Varsity Blues the series lead. Although they eventually lost in overtime of game three and were eliminated, the Varsity Blues turned a forgettable regular season into a miraculous playoff run, a large part of which was made possible by Andrew Hunt. Perhaps the best part of the story is the Varsity Blues never actually gave Hunt regular starts until the second semester when Brett Willows went down with injury. Hunt returns to the Varsity Blues crease in 2016-17, and although the V-Blues lost a large portion of their veteran presence in the offseason, another 50+ save performance from Andrew Hunt could be all it takes to send another OUA goliath tumbling.
5. Garret Hughson: Lethbridge Pronghorns
The 2016 offseason marked one of the best recruit classes for the Lethbridge Pronghorns in recent seasons, with all eight recruits having major junior experience. Garret Hughson was the only goalie recruit this year for Lethbridge, and the expectation for him is fairly high. After moving from Spokane (WHL), to Windsor (OHL), and finally to Brooks (AJHL) to be closer to home this season, Hughson comes to Lethbridge on the heels of an AJHL championship run where he posted a ridiculous 1.10 GAA, and a .957 SV% in 13 games. His 1.10 GAA was an AJHL playoff record, and four playoff shutouts tied the AJHL playoff record in what was one of the best goaltending performances in AJHL history. Damien Ketlo and Warren Shymko remain in the crease for Lethbridge, but the stage will be Hughson's come the regular season if he continues to impress. Coach Spiros Anastas has indicated that he believes the Lethbridge Pronghorns are finally close to a breakthrough in Canada West. If they want that to happen, Garret Hughson will have to summon some of his AJHL playoff magic in the CIS. If Hughson and the rest of the Lethbridge Pronghorns get the ball rolling this season, they could turn into one of the best 'where did they come from?' stories in the CIS this season.
6. Matt Mahalak: UPEI Panthers
The second goalie on this list who can boast an NHL Draft selection, Matt Mahalak will get his moment in the sun with UPEI after backing up Mavric Parks for parts of two seasons. A highly-touted second round draft pick in the OHL Priority Selection, Mahalak had a solid junior career with the Plymouth Whalers and Kingston Frontenacs in the OHL, which saw him once named the CHL goaltender of the week, but never managed to make a deep playoff run with his junior teams. Now on a UPEI team which hopes to stay healthy this season, Mahalak has two years of CIS hockey already behind him. In his first season, Mahalak went through the proverbial adjustment period but rebounded with much better numbers in 2015-16. For the majority of the second semester in '15-16, Mahalak was UPEI's starting goalie and proved his worth at times outplaying Mavric Parks. However, Parks returned for the playoffs, as Mahalak took a back seat in UPEI's first round upset of the Acadia Axemen. Now with Parks gone and a solid offseason of recruiting in the books, Mahalak will be relied upon to shut the door on six other AUS teams. Mahalak doesn't need to be the best goalie in the league to give the Panthers a chance to win this season, but his consistency will be vital to any hopes the Panthers have of contending in the playoffs.
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)