The CIS has become a league notorious for seeing players seemingly come out of nowhere to have dynamite seasons and become star players. Sometimes they come straight from junior, other times they take some time to get a handle for the CIS game. Today we look at six players already with experience in the league who may find themselves near the top of the points leaderboard before too long.
1. Robert Polesello: Western Mustangs
There was a time when Robert Polesello was being hyped as the 'Canadian Johnny Gaudreau'. Although it's nearly impossible to imagine a player going on from CIS to have the impact Johnny Hockey has had on the NHL, it's not a stretch to find similarities between the way they play the game. Polesello possesses one of the best sets of hands in not just the OUA, but the entire CIS. Even drawing back to his days in the OHL with the Kingston Frontenacs, Polesello was a standout offensive player. After transferring from Vermont (NCAA) to Kingston in the early part of 2013-14, Polesello registered 38 points in 48 games, quickly solidifying his legitimacy on a Kingston team packed with talent. Unfortunately for Polesello, injuries hampered his 2014-15 season, cutting his season short at just 38 games, with 36 points on the board.
The Western Mustangs had an issue finding a spot to fit Polesello's style of play last season. Part of it had to do with Polesello missing the first half of the season, and another part can be attributed to Western's injury crisis which left them with a disheveled roster structure. This season, Polesello will finally get his chance to shine with the Western Mustangs. On a team where not a single player scored more than nine goals a season ago, Polesello could turn out to be a huge catch for a team searching for an offensive stalwart early in the season. Polesello's quick hands and offensive ability could serve him and his team very well this season, and if that turns out to be case, we'll see the true 'Robbie Hockey' Kingston Frontenac fans saw for two seasons.
2. Connor Rankin: Mount Royal Cougars
Transitioning from junior hockey to CIS can be a difficult jump, but transferring from pro into CIS midway through a season should be considered just as difficult, if not, even more so. Connor Rankin was one of those players last year who after a 13 game sample with the Norfolk Admirals in the ECHL, joined the Mount Royal Cougars midway through the season. Not only is the midway point of the CIS hockey season basically the stretch run to the playoffs, but Rankin was thrown into a cutthroat Canada West Conference on a team expecting to contend with the best in the west on a nightly basis. Rankin certainly had an adjustment period coming into the CIS, but can you blame him?
Rankin's two goals, both of which came in seven-goal blowout wins, aren't a true demonstration of what he's capable of on the scoresheet, as indicated by two 32 goal WHL seasons on his resume. Now that Rankin has had a full offseason to prepare and commit to the CIS hockey season with 11 games under his belt, it's go time. Now on a Mount Royal team without Tyler Fiddler, there will be a big role up for grabs at the start of the season, and Connor Rankin is the type of player who has the potential to fill that void. One of the best recruits available out of the WHL in 2015, Rankin has the ability to help Mount Royal in all three zones, and if the Cougars have any thoughts of being a top three Canada West team again, that type of contribution from Rankin will be a very welcome addition.
3. Marcus McIvor: UNB Varsity Reds
Marcus McIvor never made a name for himself by headlining the boxscore, and if the second year UNB defender has everything go according to plan, that won't change in 2016-17. Known as one of the best defensive defencemen under Stan Butler's North Bay Battalion in the OHL, McIvor was easily one of the best OHL defenders available when UNB recruited him in the summer of 2015. Having spent five years in the OHL, his last as the captain of the Battalion, McIvor enjoyed a couple of deep playoff runs, and served an integral part of North Bay's 2014 OHL Finals run. Unfortunately for McIvor, his roll of momentum came to a halt after an ankle injury limited him to just seven regular season games in 2015-16 with UNB.
Even though the roster turnover for UNB was minimal this offseason, and the introduction of Matt Murphy into the lineup adds another top-end junior hockey defenceman into the fold, McIvor will have a chance to be a pivotal part of UNB's defence. Chances are McIvor will never provide the offensive punch that Matt Petgrave or Jordan Murray supply for UNB, but his gritty style of defensive play and constant reliability can be enough for him to make a difference on the ice every night. With a clean slate and a new beginning at training camp for McIvor, don't be surprised if he emerges as one of the best defenders in the AUS this season.
4. Joey Champigny: Waterloo Warriors
With the Colin Behenna era over at Waterloo, they're in need of a new hero, especially with Andrew Smith and Brett Mackie also leaving from the top six. It's hard to imagine finding a successful player in this league who's smaller than the 5-foot-8 Behenna, but the 5-foot-7 Joey Champigny might just be that guy. Much like his first season in the CIS, Champigny's rookie year with the Ottawa Jr. Senators in the CCHL wasn't statistically astounding, but by the time he graduated the junior hockey ranks, Joey Champigny was a household name in the CCHL. His final season with the Jr. Senators in 2014-15 yielded 76 points in 60 games, good enough for fourth in the league that season. In his first season of CIS hockey with Waterloo, Champigny registered 14 points in 23 games.
Last season wasn't the most accurate representation of what Champigny is capable of, as a second semester injury certainly slowed his pace. Champigny was nearing a point-per-game pace in January when an injury took him out of action, and who knows how much better Champigny would have looked at season's end if he was healthy. This year, Champigny will undoubtedly get a chance to play top six minutes with the Warriors, and much like his CCHL career, the Warriors hope his OUA rookie season was just a tune up for things to come. A diminutive forward, Champigny will keep OUA opponents on their toes with his deceptive speed and playmaking ability. A breakout season from Champigny would go a long way in replacing Waterloo's key departures, and prove once again that in CIS, sometimes it's the little guys that play big roles.
5. Anthony Repaci: Saint Mary's Huskies
You can make the argument that Anthony Repaci's breakout came at the 2016 University Cup when the rest of the country got to see how good this kid actually is on the national stage. But it's easy to be good for one or two games in the CIS. It's finding consistency in this league that has been the problem for some very talented junior hockey players. But there's more than enough reason to believe that what we saw out of Repaci at the University Cup was more than just a flash in the pan. Repaci is one of the best examples of a player who was passed up time and time again in junior, but after making a strong impression with the OJHL's Toronto Jr. Canadiens, found his way into the CIS as a walk-on with Saint Mary's and has quickly secured his spot as a key player in a competitive AUS conference.
If you ask around the league about Anthony Repaci, you won't hear a bad thing about him. Well-liked as a person by his coaching staff and teammates, Repaci seemed just happy to be on Saint Mary's roster last year, let alone in the University Cup on national TV. Maybe just realizing how good he can actually be in this league, Repaci put in the work last season and captured the opportunity to be an impact player when it arose. Now with another season approaching, Repaci has already proven he can hang in this league, it's just a matter of continuing to improve and having confidence in his ability. Rave reviews coming out of Tampa Bay Lightning development camp this summer certainly won't hurt Repaci's stock either.
6. Jayden Hart: Alberta Golden Bears
Historically, finding breakout players from the University of Alberta can be a difficult task. Not because there's a lack of talent, but rather an abundance, to the point where most 'breakout' players have already broken out in their rookie season. Jayden Hart could be the exception to that, especially with such a large roster turnover on the Golden Bears. Prime ice-time on the forward unit will be at a premium with players such as Trevor Cox, Tyson Baillie, and the returning Jamie Crooks set to be key contributors among others, but Jayden Hart certainly has the capability of making his own impact on Canada West this season.
Never known as a prolific goal-scorer at the WHL level, Hart still received plenty of NHL interest, and at the end of his WHL career, latched on with the Rochester Americans in the AHL for 11 games, scoring four goals. After participating in the New York Rangers main training camp in 2015, Hart went back to Alberta for the start of the season, and posted 15 points in his 26 game rookie season. Listed at 6-foot-2, 209-lbs, Hart is a strong player who has a year of experience behind him, and on a talented team like Alberta, is capable of putting up numbers north of 20 points and becoming a cornerstone of the Golden Bear forward unit moving forward. With all the fanfare and attention from Alberta directed at their shiny new recruit class, seeing a sophomore breakout for the Golden Bears in 2016-17 might catch some off guard.
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)
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.
In a move that sent shockwaves around Canada West, Adam Shell has departed as head coach of the UBC men's hockey program after just 384 days at the helm.
The 2016-17 season looked promising for the UBC Thunderbirds, who wound up with one of their more impressive recruit classes in recent seasons. In the months leading up to training camp, the vibe out of the UBC men's hockey program was one of positivity, excitement, and anxiousness for the new season. But just days into camp, the balance of the men's hockey program has been turned upside down.
With neither Adam Shell nor the UBC Thunderbirds available for further comment, there's a lot we don't know about what happened in the last week that lead to Shell's departure. But here's what we do know.
This move caught many off guard within the league. A strong recruit class and high expectations laid down by Adam Shell made it appear he was set to lead the Thunderbirds to a run at the playoffs in 2016-17. Well-liked by many of his colleagues and players, no one anticipated Shell would be leaving this close to the start of the regular season.
Some people from Canada West believe Shell was coaching the Thunderbirds as recently as last week Friday, August 26th. If this was the case, then the situation developed very quickly over the weekend into Monday. Details on what happens next for Adam Shell have yet to emerge, but if he's to land another coaching job in the CIS, it's hard to imagine he'll latch on with a program this close to the start of the regular season.
Until further notice, Shell's CIS coaching career will be put on pause at nine seasons, eight of which were spent with the RMC Paladins. A former defenceman for the McGill Redmen, Shell inherited one of the league's most difficult programs to coach at RMC, and managed to consistently raise the bar for the Paladins for eight seasons until he moved on to the head coaching position at UBC for 2015-16.
The departure comes at an awkward time for UBC, who were just embarking on their training camp, and are about to have their fourth different head coach in as many seasons. Now more than ever, the statement from former UBC head coach Tyler Kuntz after his departure in 2015 echoes around the league.
"ALL student athletes, coaches and staff at UBC must be appreciated and supported. Nobody should be treated with such ignorance and disrespect as my hockey program, players, and staff were in the past two years. I knew being relegated to tier 3 hybrid would be a financial challenge that we could overcome. What I did not know is that we would be considered irrelevant to the university and it's absent leadership" - Tyler Kuntz (courtesy the Ubyssey)
Some believe that differentiating viewpoints from recently appointed UBC Athletic Director Gilles Lepine may have contributed as a factor, but until either Adam Shell or UBC come forward, it's all speculation. The picture painted by Tyler Kuntz is not a pretty one for UBC, and coupled together with Shell's mysterious departure after just a season, UBC's image isn't getting any better.
In the meantime, assistant coach Sven Butenschon will take over on an interim basis, and the men's hockey team will attempt to carry on business as usual. UBC opens their season on October 7th, against the Saskatchewan Huskies.
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)
Building a hockey team from scratch can be hard. Building a hockey team from scratch to compete against UQTR, McGill, Queen's, and Carleton among the rest of the OUA East, well... some may say that's nearly impossible.
But don't say that to Patrick Grandmaitre.
It's hard to imagine Patrick Grandmaitre wasn't a little nervous heading into the 2016 offseason. Although the public expectation for Ottawa wasn't set terribly high given the circumstances, anyone who has competitive bones in their body doesn't care what the public expectation is. They want to win. With Ottawa plunging into a recruit race which has become increasingly competitive, political, and sometimes iniquitous over the years, the thought of not being able to lure top-end junior hockey talent away from the CIS powerhouses had to be a real fear. But that's not how the story unfolded for Ottawa this offseason.
With a base roster set heading into training camp, the Ottawa Gee Gees are producing a group of hockey players some believe will be good enough to not just survive, but thrive in their first CIS season.
Which ever way the roster shapes up, there's still another important aspect to the reconstruction of the Ottawa Gee Gees. The coaching staff.
Before finding the right players for the team, the University of Ottawa had to find the right coaches for the bench, and it began with the hiring of Patrick Grandmaitre, who was tasked with leading the Ottawa Gee Gees journey back to the CIS.
"Jacques Martin was part of the hiring process for my position," says Grandmaitre of piecing together the coaching staff, "When it was time to look for assistants, he had some good advice in saying try and find guys that complete you, that push you, that are different from you to make sure you have a full range of aspects of the game and personalities."
One of those different personalities comes in the form of Brent Sullivan. A former OHLer with the Sarnia Sting whose career ended after just four games with the Carleton Ravens in 2012-13.
"It's kind of a funny story," says Sullivan on being hired by the Gee Gees. "I was coaching with the Surrey Eagles out in B.C., and I had a goalie by the name of Justin Laforest. An Ottawa boy, wasn't having too much success [in B.C.], so I called Patrick to see if there was a spot [in Ottawa] for Justin. The conversation kinda progressed to what am I doing next year, and I asked Patrick what his plans were."
As they say, the rest is history.
"For a young guy, he's been in a lot of roles and gained a lot of experience in a short time," says Grandmaitre of Sullivan. "He's an outgoing person, he likes to socialize, and he's gonna be a good mix between me the coach, and the players."
At 26 years old, Sullivan is one of the younger coaches in the OUA. But that's nothing new in a league where Ben Fanelli was recently announced as an assistant with Waterloo at just 23 years-old, and even Parliament Hill rivals, the Carleton Ravens, brought Ryan Medel from the roster to the coaching staff in 2010-11 as a 23 year-old.
But the CIS expertise doesn't end there. For a pair of seasons, Matthew Dopud was the number one goalie for Marty Johnston's Carleton Ravens, and after last suiting up for the Ravens in 2013-14, Dopud returns to the CIS as the goalie coach for the Ottawa Gee Gees.
"The good thing about Matthew is that he's not someone I hired just because he's looking for something to do," says Grandmaitre. "He works at a goalie academy, so he has good knowledge of how to support goalies and how to work with them to try and build on their strengths, and tweak their weaknesses."
As the debate across the hockey world rages on between analytics and the old-school methods of player evaluation, the Gee Gees have followed suit with most teams, and hired an analytics manager, Liam Houlahan.
"I won't rely on [analytics] all the time, but I can't deny the fact that the numbers tell certain things," says Grandmaitre. "I just don't have the time or the knowledge to track all those numbers. [Liam] has that passion, and that twinkle in his eye for those type of things, so if [analytics] can give me an advantage, I'd be stupid not to look into it."
And most recently, the Gee Gees welcomed their newest addition to the staff, Ryan Lauzon. Another coach who continues the theme of CIS experience, having two productive seasons with Saint Mary's, leading the team in points both years he played.
"We interviewed four different people, and the university assistant coaching job sounds quite amazing on some points, but the budgets aren't amazing. So we have to find guys that are willing to put in the work and are eager to stay at a high level, and that's what Ryan was willing to do," says Grandmaitre.
With the coaching staff set in place, all the attention turns to the roster on the Gee Gees. A roster that was almost entirely reconstructed from the ground up with, the exception of the returning Gabriel Vermette.
"There were definitely some conversations prior to going out and scouting guys," says Brent Sullivan of the recruiting process. "We were thinking, always character first. We're settling into a three to four year marriage with these guys, so with this situation, we essentially get to watch these guys grow."
"I wish it had been a bit easier," says Grandmaitre reflecting on the offseason. "We worked really hard to promote the city, the school, and the idea of coming in and playing right away. The city of Ottawa is not hard to sell, the University of Ottawa is a good university academically, and there's a lot of other good schools out there, but the one thing we have is a fresh start. Some guys were looking at our school to be a place to come in and make an impact right away and not necessarily wait."
But as appealing as Ottawa's pitch may have been to some, contending with the other top CIS hockey programs proved to be a very difficult task.
"We missed out on a lot of guys," says Grandmaitre. "I can honestly say there's about four guys that I'm really mad that I didn't get because I thought we were really, really close. Those were good players, good character individuals. I can put myself in their shoes, and I understand why they ended up going to other schools, but you almost get attached to some of these good quality players that end up going to another good program."
With the CIS preseason on the horizon, we won't have to wait much longer to see how it all pans out for the Ottawa Gee Gees. With their sights set on the beginning of the season, the Gee Gees know what their team is capable of, and have goals in place to keep the season in perspective.
"We want to compete, and we are by no means going to be a doormat," says Sullivan. "We will have to compete with our work ethic, structure, and playing the game the right way. That's how we're going to win games."
On the surface, it appears nearly everything has gone according to plan for the Gee Gees. They have a roster, they have a coaching staff, and they have an okay-ish broadcast team. What more could you possibly want out of an upstart CIS hockey program?
Written by: Victor Findlay (@Finder_24)
The CIS has the popular moniker of being Canada's 'best kept secret' when it comes to hockey. But after an appearance from famed CIS hockey product Joel Ward in the Stanley Cup Finals, you'd have a hard time not hearing about his remarkable journey to the NHL. For all the attention and fanfare that Joel Ward deserves, his rare career-path from the CIS to the NHL wasn't the only story of it's kind this year.