Carlos Verde and Graham Neysmith make up approximately 40% of the broadcasters in the Quebec-based RSEQ Conference of CIS women's hockey. With the itch for hockey beginning to return after a long, hot summer, the boys got together to discuss some off-season moves and try to figure out exactly how the 2016-17 season will shake down in Canada's most-competitive women's hockey conference.
Carlos Verde (comms guy, uOttawa Hockey): Well, where do we start? So much to talk about in this league, I guess last year would be a good place to start. Montreal was just stupid good, and the scary part is they're returning pretty much their whole team.
Graham Neysmith (play-by-play, McGill Martlets Hockey): Yup. Best goalie in the league, best offensive defenceman, and three out of six members of the All-Rookie team. And it wasn't even their coach's full-time job until last year!
Carlos: I don't really think the term 'embarrassment of riches' does it justice: Barker's pretty much the only piece they're losing. They've got to be the odds-on favourite to repeat, in conference and at nationals, in 2016-17 no?
Graham: Definitely. The sad thing is Barker was the driving force behind that Montreal-McGill rivalry. It won't be as fierce. It's not even a conversation, they're pre-season favourites.
Carlos: So, let's start at the bottom: Carleton University. Pierre Alain's done some pretty remarkable things there, and his recruiting game is stronger than any 5-15 coach's should be. They'll be better, but I don't think they're quite there yet, you know?
Carlos: Delaney Ross is an interesting recruit, but I'm curious to see if their sophomores - Nicole Miners, Becky Davidson, Jen Semkowski etc. - will have sophomore slumps the way Robyn Belland and Sid Weiss did last year.
Graham: This is the third-straight year that Carleton has more talent coming in than going out, although they did lose a stud play-by-play man, so I guess that's up for debate.
Graham: Delaney Ross, damn, 100-something points in a league that produced 30-plus NCAA D1 recruits? Let's see if that translates to the RSEQ.
Carlos: I just don't think there's enough high-end talent there for them to break into the top 3 just yet. They might be able to challenge Concordia for the final playoff spot though, as they did only finish four points back last year.
Graham: Nope. The Ravens are a couple years away. For Concordia, it will depend on how goalie Katherine Purchase plays. She was the rookie-of-the-year in 2014-15, but fell out of favour and I never quite understood why. She's looking for a bounceback, just like Carleton's Robyn Belland.
Carlos: Prediction-wise, I think it'll be more of the same for Carleton: They’ll claw — sorry — their way to 4-5 wins, but you can't be a playoff team getting outshot 50-10 every second weekend. 5th-place again, for me.
Graham: They shutout the Martlets at one point. The Ravens can compete on the day, but won't factor into the playoff picture.
Carlos: Let's move on to Concordia. The Stingers are a program in limbo, I guess, after longtime HC Les Lawton had his coaching career cut short by a health issue. Too bad, he's one of the good guys in the RSEQ. Anyways, Julie Chu — basically the HC last year — is back behind the bench. I just don't see a ton of talent on the Stingers: 6, maybe 7 wins, and a first-round playoff exit.
Graham: Cut short? He was there for longer than I've been alive! ConU did add Audrey Belzile, who led her college to the Quebec playoff champioship, so there is a bit of extra punch up front. The two Allards from Victoriaville should have standout seasons once again.
Carlos: That team will only go as far as Purchase carries them.
Graham: Assuming Purchase is the starter.
Carlos: Which should be a no-brainer, barring injury. I mean, she had a .960 save percentage as a rookie in 2014-15. That's disgusting.
Graham: For some reason, they went with Briar Bache for a couple of key games at the tail end of 2016, including the playoffs. I agree, however: I'd go with Purchase in a heartbeat.
Carlos: Alright, so we agree: Concordia finishes 4th? They averaged a goal and a half per night last year, and I don't see that changing. 4th it is, and a sweep in round one against the Carabeasts.
Graham: Hey, as Toe Blake said, "Predictions are for gypsies." We saw last year how much one player can effect a program with Melodie Bouchard in Ottawa. For me, it's not necessarily a stretch to think the same of Ross in Carleton.
Carlos: We'll see. Let's talk about Bouchard and the horse gang at uOttawa. I mean hell, they lost pretty much nobody and are coming off their best year under Yanick Evola. They added some nice pieces from the Cegep league in Camille Periard and Alexe Drouin, but I think they'll find themselves in that awkward third-place spot for another year or two.
Graham: You're only as strong as your weakest link, and for the Gee-Gees, that's defence. They had a penalty kill at something like 75%. They made up for it by having an excellent goaltender and a really good offence.
Carlos: They were such a wildcard last year in the RSEQ: they'd beat Montreal and McGill, then go out and lay an egg against Concordia and Carleton. The program's moving in the right direction, and I'm excited to see what Mel Bouchard and Roxanne Rioux do as sophomore. 3rd-place, again.
Graham: Well, the Carabins are going to nationals, and as long as McGill has Melodie Daoust, the Martlets will be there. But I think we can both agree that at some point in her career, Bouchard will feature at a national championship.
Carlos: Please tell me that wasn't a below-the-belt shot at a potential transfer.
Graham: Nah, transfers are so rare. Although, the Gee-Gees did lose Maude Laramee to Montreal in a transfer, and I bet they wish they had her on defence.
Carlos: No comment. She's a damn good two-way defenceman though, haha.
Carlos: Let's talk your bread and butter: McGill. To me, this is still very much a team that is dependent on one player. Olivia Atkinson was solid as a rookie last year, and they did have a nice mobile d-core, but once Melodie Daoust leaves I really don't see this being a national contender-type team. I thought Taylor Hough was shaky at times in net against good teams. What's the goaltending situation look like for 2016/17?
Graham: They've still got Britany Smrke for two more years. She was in net when they went to nationals in 2015. Injured for all of last year sadly.
Carlos: What say you of the Martlets past Daoust?
Graham: The 2016-17 Martlets are like the '51 Yankees. Dimaggio's last season, Mantle's first. Daoust and Gabrielle Davidson are leaving, Jade Downie-Landry is coming in. I was a huge fan of her game even before she committed to McGill - not kidding. Talk about complete player. I'll tell you this much: She came out of the same league as Daoust and Marie-Philip Poulin. In Poulin's final season: 58 points. Daoust's: 55. Downie had 63 last year.
Carlos: So, what you're saying is McGill is primed for a down year offensively? Or is that just wishful thinking on my part?
Graham: Offence will be just fine. Three key defencemen graduated (two All-Canadians), and there's not really anyone to take their place. There's potential, but not a whole lot of experience.
Carlos: Hm. Another second-place finish and trip to nationals for the Martlets, then?
Graham: Regular season, yes. All but one game between the Martlets and the Carabins last year was decided by one goal. Anything can happen in a 3-game series.
Carlos: Buckle up kids, it's time to talk about the powerhouse Carabins.
Carlos: They lost Barker and that's, well, pretty much it. Chabot's back in net, arguably the best women's goalie in the CIS. Labelle, Dubois, etc. still have at least three more years. It's pretty scary what they've got returning. 20-0? I'm only half-kidding.
Graham: Martlets did it a couple of years back against virtually no competition. I'd expect much of the same as 2015-16. 8-0 in the national final, not quite. We can't forget that Barker was a big-game player, especially against the Martlets. Her graduation is softened by the great rookies (now sophomores) but a huge void to fill nevertheless.
Carlos: Let’s jump on the reminiscing train. Favourite moment from last season?
Graham: Gotta go with game 2 of the finals. Martlets down two against league's best defence and perhaps the country's best goalie. They tie it up with 45 seconds left. Honestly, I was sure there was no way they could do it, and it ended up being all for not, but the euphoria of that moment was incredible. On a more personal (and self-serving) level, the dad of one of the players came up to me and told me about how the whole family would gather around the computer back in Nova Scotia to watch the broadcast and really enjoyed it. I'm sure it happens to seasoned announcers all the time, but for me, it was pretty neat.
Carlos: Yup, similar experience here. The weekend that Carleton upset McGill 1-0 on the Friday, then lost 2-0 in Montreal on the Sunday, it felt like a tide was turning. Kind of a "damn, we just played one of the best teams in the country tight for 120 minutes!" Of course, they lost 11 of their next 12, but still. It was a pretty euphoric moment. It's always great when a parent comes up and shakes your hand or, in one weird but cool case, brings you grandma’s cookies.
Carlos: What rookie(s) are you keeping an eye on for 2016/17?
Graham: As we mentioned, Downie, Belzile and Ross. It'll also be fun to watch a pair of sisters make their debuts. Meagan and Taylor Mcgaughey, playing for McGill and Ottawa respectively. I don't know what the parents are planning on doing. Taking two shirts and cutting them down the middle then sowing them back together?
Carlos: Who knows. All I know is they both won the Esso Cup in 2015 and have that winning pedigree. I think Alexe Drouin will be a real fun player to watch on Ottawa. Standout in the Cegep league with plus speed.
Carlos: So, putting you on the spot: who's going to win what in 2016/17?
Graham: Okay, all-stars will be the two Melodies (Bouchard and Daoust) and Dubois. On the back end, Laramee and Marie-Joelle Allard. Maude Levesque-Ryan in goal. Scoring title will be Bouchard.
Carlos: I'd be happy with a Bouchard scoring title, haha. I'll go Daoust, Bouchard, Labelle up front. Laramee and Beaulieu for a clean Carabins sweep. Steele from Carleton gets the nod for sheer number of saves.
Graham: Rookie of the year is Downie-Landry, with Belzile at ConU having a really good year too. Isabelle Leclaire wins coach of the year because somehow she's only won it once?!
Carlos: Coach of the year will go to Yanick Evola, because Ottawa will establish itself as a consistent threat to McGill/Montreal. ROTY is Downie, no way she doesn't win it if she's healthy all year.
Graham: Plus Downie is already 20-21, and competing for the award against kids.
Carlos: Yeah, that's another disadvantage for schools like Carleton and to a lesser extent Ottawa, which recruit heavily out of Ontario. They're getting 17-18 year-olds and competing against 20-21 year-old Cegep kids.
Graham: Yes indeed. Conference title Montreal, again, Daoust wins MVP although Levesque-Ryan, Bouchard, Purchase all get strong consideration.
Carlos: Well that does it. Guess I'll see you, what, November 6th at McConnell? Go Gee-Gees!
Graham: Take it easy.