The UQTR Patriotes are set to defend their OUA titles out of the East this year, and as usual this conference provides us with some top-heavy talented teams. UQTR, McGill, and Carleton are all favourites to stay on top of the standings, but the league behind them continues to get deeper this season.
1. McGill Redmen: 2015-16, 22-6-1 (43 pts)
Team Strengths: The McGill Redmen are covered on all of their bases this season. Jacob Gervais-Chouinard, Joe Fleschler, and L.P. Guindon make a case for the best goaltending trio in the CIS this season, Mathieu Pompei highlights a star-studded offence, and AUS transfer Nathan Chiarlitti fits into a top-end defence including Dominic Talbot-Tassi, Gianluca Curcuruto, and Etienne Boutet. The Redmen have it all this season, and are perhaps the team best suited to dethrone UQTR. The Redmen have always been a talented offensive team, but now with the acquisition of players like Alexandre Sills and Samuel Tremblay, they are deeper than ever in the bottom half of their lineup.
Team Concerns: Tough to find one on McGill, but perhaps the biggest concern might be staying the course this season. If the Redmen look too far ahead, they could find themselves in trouble. Coach Kelly Nobes however is not the kind of coach to lose sight of the one step at a time approach, and a successful veteran of this league, he'll find a way to bring McGill back even if they do start to veer off course. On paper, this team is nearly flawless, but teams don't usually stay that way when the regular season gets going.
Recruit Class: Fantastic job from top to bottom in bringing in some of the best talent the QMJHL had to offer this offseason. Jasmin Boutet, Samuel Tremblay, and Alexandre Sills will all come into their first years of CIS hockey as effective bit-pieces, and will function as the classic 'type of players you win with' this year for McGill. Guillaume Gauthier possesses great potential to be a dominant offensive force in this league after scoring 86 points last year in the QMJHL. Nathanael Halbert has been spoken well of as a hard-nosed defenceman from the QMJHL, and as mentioned, L.P. Guindon comes into a crowded crease, but has had a standout preseason for McGill. Harlan Orr joins the team out of the BCHL, and finally, two-time AUS second team all-star Nathan Chiarlitti comes to McGill to close out his CIS career. The Redmen have had a fantastic offseason.
Verdict: It's impossible not to buy into McGill after what they've done this offseason. On paper they look amazing, but we'll find out for sure if they can back it up when they hit the ice. There's still a lot of time for things to change as the season progresses.
2. UQTR Patriotes: 2015-16, 24-3-1 (49 pts)
Team Strengths: The UQTR Patriotes were the best offensive team in the OUA last year, and what's scary is the fact they have a minimal roster turnover. Guillaume Asselin, Tommy Giroux, Martin Lefebvre, Marc-Olivier Mimar, and the usual suspects return again for UQTR, and make them undeniably one of the deadliest offensive teams on paper in the country. The Patriotes will be flying up and down rinks again this year, torching teams who come ill-prepared on defence. In net, Sebastien Auger returns again after a stellar first season and there shouldn't be any questions about his ability to be a game-changing goaltender in the CIS.
Team Concerns: As the saying goes, perhaps too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. That good thing in UQTR's case is offence. Offseason acquisitions Elie Berube and Allan Caron should stabilize UQTR's defence a little more than last year, but players like Charles David-Beaudoin and Jeremy Beaudry can't afford to let their guard down this season defensively. Some questions exist about UQTR being a soft team, but they hope players like Gabriel Slight solve any problems in that regard.
Recruit Class: UQTR didn't do a whole lot this offseason, but they really haven't needed to do much at all. Deven St-Hilaire and Timothé Simard will both likely be depth pieces this season, and Gabriel Slight should help them with size and physicality on their forward unit. Allan Caron and Elie Berube are decent defensive recruits from the QMJHL, and goalie Alex Belanger is expected to head back to UQTR after giving pro a chance first.
Verdict: UQTR will be every bit as deadly this year as they were last, and in theory, even got a little better with their offseason recruits. The Patriotes will inevitably be in the chase for the top seed in the OUA East, and once they make it into the playoffs, who knows what could happen.
3. Carleton Ravens: 2015-16, 20-7-1 (41 pts)
Team Strengths: The Ravens retain their top three scorers from a year ago and hope to get just as much this season from Mike McNamee, Ryan Van Stralen, and Brett Welychka. Brent Norris was an underrated contributor last season, and with Corey Durocher compose a very reputable top six in the CIS. The Carleton Ravens have had possession numbers in the stratosphere recently, with a shots for/against differential of a whopping +1169 in the last three years. To put that into perspective, UQTR's differential is +340 in the same time period. The Ravens also had a fantastic defence last season, most of which returns in 2016-17.
Team Concerns: It feels weird putting Carleton goaltending in this category after they've been the envy of the league for the past few seasons. With a grand total of zero games of CIS experience, nobody really seems to know for sure what Justin Nichols, Francois Brassard, and Matt Jenkins can offer the Ravens this year. Nichols and Brassard are both accomplished goalies from major junior, but will it translate to CIS? The Ravens lose their captain Joey West for this season, but leadership shouldn't be much of a concern with players like McNamee and Durocher still on the roster.
Recruit Class: The Ravens were another OUA East team with a small recruit class, but again, didn't really need to add much. The void in net has been taken care of with Brassard and Nichols, and both Josh Burnside and Evan De Haan come into the program out of major junior. De Haan gives coach Marty Johnston another option on defence, and Josh Burnside is the ultimate utility player from the OHL. The Ravens will wish they had been able to hang on to Nathan Todd, but they're still a top team even without recruiting him from the Ottawa 67's.
Verdict: The biggest question mark here is in net, and if it's answered early on, there's no reason the Ravens can't contend for OUA East supremacy again. We saw last year that this team was very worthy of being at the University Cup, but if the Ravens can't solidify their crease in the regular season, they could possibly slip as low as fourth in the conference.
4. Queen's Gaels: 2015-16, 17-7-4 (38 pts)
Team Strengths: As long as Kevin Bailie is with this team, you cannot count out the Queen's Gaels. Among the cream of the crop at this level of goaltending in the country, Bailie can keep Queen's in any game and if he retains form this year, will be the main attraction on the Gaels. Defenceman Spencer Abraham is a great player in his own right, and is primed for another great season at Queen's. Forwards Eric Ming and Slater Doggett have flexed their muscles in this league, and with help from a resurgent Darcy Greenaway solidify a very talented top six.
Team Concerns: The Gaels ran into some depth exposure issues last season, and although it's something they believe they've addressed this offseason, we won't know for sure until this team hits the ice. Some defensive issues have also risen in the past for Queen's, and as good as Kevin Bailie is, they'd rather not have to rely on him to steal a game every week. A returning Warren Steele could help, but the Gaels could use their whole defence to take a step forward if they want to improve in the standings.
Recruit Class: You can tell by the sheer volume of players that coach Brett Gibson is looking at a number of options to find scoring depth. Brothers Luke and Brock Edwards from the NCAA could be the answer, but Dylan Anderson, Luke Bertolucci, and Francesco Vilardi may also help. Andrew Ming, Ted Hunt, and Eric Margo all hope to eventually be what Patrick McGillis was for Queen's last year. Nevin Guy and Graeme Brown hope to help Queen's out defensively this season. Overall not a bad recruit class for Queen's at all, but no particular standouts either.
Verdict: Brett Gibson must know he's in a unique window where the time limit on Kevin Bailie and Spencer Abraham in the CIS is being to draw near. For years the Gaels have been close, but just outside the picture of the big three in the OUA East. With some serious star power on his team, Gibson must be chomping at the bit to catch the top teams in this league.
5. Concordia Stingers: 2015-16, 10-12-6 (26 pts)
Team Strengths: The Concordia Stingers are a program on the rise, and after a successful offseason, have to be taken seriously this year. Over the past three seasons, the Stingers have the second highest shooting percentage in the conference, trailing only UQTR in that regard. It's a reflection of how deadly this team has always been. The returning Olivier Hinse is one of the most dangerous forwards in the OUA, and will be Concordia's shining star once again. With Philippe Hudon, Dany Potvin, Scott Oke, and Dominic Beauchemin back for another year, offensive fire power will be Concordia's strength once again.
Team Concerns: Historically, the Stingers have been held back by goaltending and poor defence. This season, coach Marc-Andre Element hope he's found the solution to those problems. Philippe Cadorette manning the crease this year is huge for Concordia if he lives up to the hype. Defensively, Concordia needs to play better team defence and can't afford to go all-in all the time on offence. They can fly around the ice, but need to sort out any defensive deficiencies before they can improve as a team.
Recruit Class: Hats off to Concordia for a great job of brining in some serious fire power with Anthony DeLuca and Philippe Sanche. Already a deadly team up front, the Stingers got even better with these two. Alex Gosselin, Mathieu Desautels, Anthony Gingras, and Philippe Bureau-Blais are all brought into the overhauled defence, and hope to stick as key cogs. In net, the aforementioned Philippe Cadorette may turn out to be Concordia's saving grace if he pans out the way his resume suggests he might.
Verdict: The Stingers definitely got better on paper in the offseason, and that's a step in the right direction for a program that seemed to be floundering in the OUA East for too long. Rumours still exist that Anthony Beauregard may wind up at Concordia before season's end and make this team even better offensively. Stacking the offence to max capacity worked for UQTR, maybe the same happens for Concordia.
6. UOIT Ridgebacks: 2015-16, 18-8-2 (38 pts)
Team Strengths: The Ridgebacks contain a unique identity in the OUA East as one of the most physical teams the league has to offer. There's rarely an easy win against this squad, who will take any chance to punish you. Coach Curtis Hodgins clearly found something that worked for this team last year when they went on a run into the second round of the OUA playoffs. Ben Blasko showed what he's capable of offensively, but it's the gritty players like Loren Ulett, Mitch Bennett, and Jake Logan that make them so hard to play against.
Team Concerns: The Ridgebacks are already off to an unlucky start despite looking good in preseason action. Loren Ulett looks to be out long-term with an upper-body injury, and UOIT wound up losing Mark Petaccio, Jesse Stoughton, and James Woodcroft from their top six. Blasko remains, and nine goals last season from Connor Jarvis offers some promise, but the Ridgebacks will desperately need to find offence from somebody else if they want to stay afloat in the OUA East.
Recruit Class: Definitely not the most star-studded, but UOIT has seemingly done a nice job of finding guys to fit into their system. Defenceman Kyle Locke was one of the most physical players in the OJHL a year ago, and forward Malik Johnson should fit right into UOIT's style of play. UOIT hopes Anthony Latina or MacKenzie Brown can be a source for offence, while Josh Carrick adds major junior experience to the back-end. Jack Patterson is an experimental player, and goalie Tyson Teichmann adds better depth in net and rounds out UOIT's recruit class.
Verdict: UOIT could be up against it this year offensively. If Curtis Hodgins can keep the Ridgebacks solid defensively and a tough, rugged team to play against, then the Ridgebacks definitely have a chance to stir up the standings in the East like they did last year, but it won't be easy.
7. Ottawa Gee-Gees: 2015-16, N/A
Team Strengths: It's tough to evaluate a team full of players who have never played a regular season game against any of the teams in this league before (except Gabriel Vermette). So essentially, your guess as to what the Gee-Gees will do well this year is as good as mine. They've managed to bring in some seemingly talented junior hockey players, but on a team full of first years, it's impossible to tell for sure how they'll all come together.
Team Concerns: Well... I suppose I sort of underlined the biggest concern this team has in the strengths section. Forgive me, it's been a long week.
Recruit Class: Overall, I give coach Patrick Grandmaitre two thumbs up for the work he and his team have put in to making the Gee-Gees a reality once again. Building a team from scratch is a tall task, especially when you have to deal with the powerhouses of the OUA East taking the majority of the talented major junior players. Regardless of all that, Ottawa managed to bring in reputable names such as Jacob Sweeney, Anthony Brodeur, Jacob Harris, Quinn O'Brien, and Marc Beckstead.
Verdict: The Ottawa Gee-Gees: the great unknown of the CIS this season. It's not like first year programs haven't done well before. Nipissing, Carleton, and Lakehead all had successful first seasons, and with how the Gee-Gees have looked during the preseason, it shouldn't come as a surprise if this team leapfrogs right into the playoffs.
8. Laurentian Voyageurs: 2015-16, 7-15-6 (20 pts)
Team Strengths: Laurentian believes they've made themselves a better defensive team this offseason, and in the end, that will be what wins them games. Joel Vienneau holds down the net, and although he's barely played in the last two seasons, he wasn't a UNB Varsity Reds recruit for no reason. Long-time Voyageur Vincent Llorca returns to the defence and is joined by another CIS veteran Elliot Richardson. Andrew Tessier becomes eligible after transferring from Lakehead, and now Jayme Forslund will also play for Laurentian. All together, not a shabby looking defence on paper.
Team Concerns: Offence was the kryptonite for the Voyaguers a season ago, and there's no guarantees they got substantially better in that category this offseason. Brent Pedersen was an offensive highlight last year, but it's imperative the Voyageurs get more contribution from other players. Nick Esposto could potentially provide that assistance, but players like Brandon Francisco, Dylan Fitze, and Sebastien Leroux could also step up.
Recruit Class: Laurentian's best bet offensively out of the new group could be Blake Luscombe, who put up some solid numbers in Caledonia a year ago. Cray Roberge, Derek Varrin, and Ryan Wildman were all serviceable players at the junior level, but come with some question marks into CIS. Scott Pedersen represents the only pure recruit on defence (not counting Tessier or Forslund), and finally Gunner Rivers gives Laurentian a three goalie rotation. No particular standouts in Laurentian's recruit class just yet.
Verdict: Laurentian's defence should be the highlight of their season, and although they won't be the most fun team to watch, if they get the job done, that's all they care about. Not convinced they are again the fourth place OUA East team from 2014-15, but can be better than they were last season for sure.
9. Nipissing Lakers: 2015-16, 12-12-4 (28 pts)
Team Strengths: The Nipissing Lakers believe they are anchored by a strong goaltender in Domenic Graham this season, and expect to be a harder team to score on than they were last season. Defenceman Jimmy McDowell is one of the tougher players in this league to play against, and will be relied upon this year to matchup with the best forwards in the OUA. Erik Robichaud and Colin Campbell both return for Nipissing and will have to carry the weight again this year offensively for this team to do well.
Team Concerns: Both offence and defence were issues at times last year for the Lakers. More consistent defence will be necessary this year, and they'll need to get scoring past guys like Robichaud and Campbell. Most importantly, Nipissing needs to figure out an identity here. Right now it's tough to place a particular style with this team, and because of that, it's very hard to predict which version of Nipissing you're going to get on any given night.
Recruit Class: Nipissing brings an assortment of players in from across the country to comprise a fairly large recruit class. Taylor Davis has the OHL experience on defence, whilst Tyler Edwards is a defenceman from the MJHL. Adam Clements is a nice puck moving d-man from the Trenton Golden Hawks, and forwards Deverick Ottereyes and Jeremy Butterworth have experienced various levels of success out east. The biggest highlight for Nipissing this offseason was bringing in Danny Desrocher, captain of the Sudbury Wolves. He adds front-end talent and leadership. But perhaps the biggest story is who Nipissing didn't get, as Jordan DaSilva, Brett Jeffries, and Drake Lindsay were all announced as recruits, but are strangely absent from Nipissing's roster page. It certainly throws up a few red flags when three players mysteriously disappear from a team's roster.
Verdict: It's tough to get a solid reading on Nipissing right now, and the sense I get is that this could be an on and off again team this season, much like they were in 2015-16. The Lakers will need a big contribution from Domenic Graham and will need to find alternate contributors on offence if they want to have playoff success this year.
10. RMC Paladins: 2015-16, 4-21-3 (11 pts)
Team Strengths: No strangers to being the underdogs, the RMC Paladins always seem to find a way to upset at least a couple of teams each season. Believe it or not, the Paladins have also improved statistically in the last three seasons. Their possession numbers have seen increases in each of the last few seasons, and the argument can be made that they have continued to become more and more competitive. If they can take another step forward this year, it'll be a great sign out of a program with more obstacles than any other team in the CIS.
Team Concerns: As usual, can RMC just be good enough to contend with teams this season? Talent-wise, they don't compare to most teams in the league, but that hasn't stopped the Paladins from pulling off upsets in the past. RMC will struggle throughout the season to keep up stats-wise with the rest of the league, but the question is how many times will this team catch other opponents off guard?
Recruit Class: Pretty much the usual here for RMC, an assortment of tier II players from around the country. Seamus MaGuire's 71 points last year in the NOJHL is an acquisition the Paladins will be very happy about, and brining in Mathew Michie after a full season in the BCHL is pretty good too. Goalies Austin Hannaford and Michael Desgroseillers will jostle for crease-time this season. Defencemen Colton Keuhl, Matthew McGall, and Matthew Muller join forward recruits Scott Emerson and Torin O'Brien to complete RMC's 2016-17 recruit class.
Verdict: Bruce Hornbrook and John Livingston should both be good again for the Paladins, but it takes some serious stones to predict RMC as a playoff team this season. But as always, RMC seems to sneak out a few wins here an there which can really upset a season for an OUA East team searching for a playoff spot. The Paladins are well coached by Richard Lim and hope to continue to improve their program this season.