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)