Hockey: Previewing the AUS

With all eight AUS men's hockey teams starting the regular season Friday night, it is probably time to take a stab at the AUS capsules.

While the casual observer might wonder what all this noise from the Maritimers is about regarding their self-proclaimed title of "most competitive conference," what with UNB and SMU getting all of the attention lately, but it is worth noting that in last year the AUS had six of the top 13 teams as per RPI, and in the last 10 years six of the eight AUS teams have won the AUS championship. The last two times UNB won the University Cup they were there thanks to the rotating wildcard ticket.

While one might be willing to concede UNB first place, SMU is not a lock again for second and the other first round playoff bye, with Acadia showing a lot of improvement. The middle of the pack is always difficult to sort out and predict, and while it may look easy to put STU and Dal out of the playoffs again, everything is easy on paper.

Acadia Axemen

  • Last season: 15-12-1 (8th out of 33 nationwide in RPI), Regular season finish: 5th
  • Power play – 21.8%, 4th; penalty killing – 83.9%, 1st; goals for – 96, 5th; goals against – 68, 2nd
  • '08-'09 recap: After a strong first half, the Axemen were 7-8-0 after Christmas and slid into 5th place. Acadia swept StFX in two games in the 1st round of the AUS playoffs and then they were swept by UNB in three games in their best-of-five semis.
  • Key losses: F Blair Jarrett
  • Newcomers: F Spencer Jezegou (Acadie-Bathurst - QMJHL), F Andrew Clark (Brandon – WHL), D Graham Bona (Halifax - QMJHL), F Doug Clarkson (Vaughan – OJHL)
  • Coach: Darren Burns (9th season). Burns is a two-time AUS Coach of the Year, and was named CIS Coach of the Year in 2005. Darren was a member of Acadia’s 1993 CIS championship team, and he was an assistant coach with their 1996 championship team.
  • '09-'10 outlook: Acadia was a young team last year that should only be better this year. They are a sound defensive team, but they struggled to keep up with quick teams like UNB and UdeM on their home ice, the only Olympic-sized ice surface in the AUS. Acadia had problems scoring goals last year, but newcomer Andrew Clark scored 40 last season for Brandon, Spencer Jezegou scored 29 for the Titan and Doug Clarkson scored 38 for Vaughan in the OJHL. Burns has been steadily rebuilding this team, and they just may be a contender this year.
  • Projected finish: 3rd place.

    Dalhousie Tigers

  • Last season: 4-23-1 (30th in RPI), Regular season finish: 8th
  • Power play – 14.8%, 8th; penalty killing – 73.7%, 7th; goals for – 78, 8th; goals against – 152, 8th
  • '08-'09 Recap: Last season was forgettable. Too many penalties. Too much rubber at the goalies. Too many went in. Special teams were brutal. Couldn’t score goals. Missed playoffs for fifth year in a row. Enough said.
  • Key losses: F Chad McCaffrey, F Tyler Dyck
  • Newcomers: G Bobby Nadeau (PEI – QMJHL), D Benoit Gervais (Rouyn-Noranda – QMJHL), F Ryan Stoddard (Dieppe – MJAHL), F Daniel Bartek (Everett – WHL), F Shea Kewin (Saint John – QMJHL), F Gabriel Lundin (AIK – Sweden), F Jordan Villeneuve-Gagné (Westside – BCHL), F Ronald Kelly (Westside – BCHL), D Jacob Johnston (Camrose – AJHL), D Jordan Berk (Fort McMurray – AJHL)
  • Coach: Pete Belliveau (2nd season). If there was any guy you would want to rebuild your team in a hurry, it would be probably be Belliveau. He guided Moncton to a CIS championship in 1995 and got them to the dance in 1999, where they lost to Alberta. In 2001 he stared building the new Lakehead Thunderwolves team, and he had them at Nationals his second season behind the bench. In 2006 they were back, but came up short against Alberta. After being pushed out of LU he re-appeared at Windsor for 2007-08 before coming back to the Maritimes last season to take over the reins at Dal.
  • '09-'10 outlook: You can only be better if you were the worst team, right? Dal announced around a dozen recruits over the summer, and ten arrived on campus. Bobby Nadeau (yes, the unwilling guy on the other end of Patrick Roy’s son’s infamy) may be the goalie Dal has needed for years. All those new forwards should invigorate the Tigers’ popgun offence. However, this is rebuilding, plain and simple. In the unforgiving AUS there may not be time this season to tinker with the line-up and find the right recipe and still make the playoffs.
  • Projected finish: 8th place.

    Moncton Aigles Bleus

  • Last season: 16-8-4 (9th in RPI), Regular season finish: 3fd
  • Power play – 22.2%, 3rd; penalty killing – 80.0%, 5th; goals for – 107, T-3rd; goals against – 93, 4th
  • '08-'09 Recap: Moncton got off to a great start with a season opening win streak (7 games), but finished the term and started the second half with a six-game losing streak, followed by a four-game win streak. Up and down team anyone? Rookie goalie Pierre-Alexandre Marion struggled with a 5-5 record and a not bad 3.20 GAA. UdeM took three games to eliminate bitter rival UPEI in the first round of the AUS playoffs, and pushed Saint Mary’s to four games in a tight best-of-5 semi-final series.
  • Key losses: D Christian Brideau, D Billy Bezeau, F Nicolas Laplante
  • Newcomers: F Pier-Alexandre Poulin (Dieppe – MJAHL), D Christopher Rodrigue (Dieppe – MJAHL), D Mathieu Boulduc (Shawinigan – QMJHL), F Bruno-Pierre Gosselin (Woodstock - MJAHL), D Mathieu LeBlanc (Dieppe – MJAHL)
  • Coach: Serge Bourgeois (1st season). After AUS Coach of the Year Bob Mongrain elected to return to his former pro team in Switzerland as head coach, UdeM decided to promote assistant coach and former standout player Serge Bourgeois as his replacement. Bourgeois’ previous head coach experience was with Moncton (now Dieppe) of the MJAHL. He was a popular choice, but now comes his test under fire.
  • '09-'10 Outlook: Key for les Aigles Bleus might be the return of veterans F Mathieu Bétournay and D Carl McLean to the nest. Both played senior hockey last year and are back in school for their Master’s. Their leadership should help a relatively young team. StFX was hard on UdeM’s heels last year, and look to have passed them with more significant recruiting. That being said, only UNB is quicker on the ice. Can a popular assistant coach succeed as a head coach and find a way to make this team more consistent? When they’re hot they’re near unbeatable and when they’re not …
  • Projected finish: 5th place

    Saint Mary's Huskies

  • Last season: 20-7-1 (3rd in RPI), Regular season finish: 2nd (AUS Champion)
  • Power play – 28.0%, 1st; penalty killing – 81.9%, 4th; goals for – 135, 1st; goals against – 90, 3rd
  • '08-'09 Recap: Two seasons ago SMU set a school record for wins, only to see UNB set an AUS record for wins and knock them off in the AUS championship. Last season in the AUS championship SMU was humbled in their first game against UNB, but roared back to take the next two games to win the best-of-3. Then in Thunder Bay the Huskies were a third-period meltdown against Western away from competing for the gold.
  • Key losses: D Scott Hotham, F Colin Power
  • Newcomers: G Neil Conway (Oshawa – OHL), F Cory Tanaka (Belleville – OHL), F William Harvey, D Patrick O’Keefe (Montréal – QMJHL), F Brad Smith (Summerside – MJAHL), F Shawn O’Donnell (Pictou County – MJAHL)
  • Coach: Trevor Steinburg (13th season). His resume is impressive; everything but the University Cup. 1996-97 MJAHL Coach of the Year. 1997- 98 & 1998-99 AUS Coach of the Year. 1998-99 CIS Coach of the Year. 1999-2000 AUS & CIS Coach of the Year. 2001 Team Canada Head Coach - World University Games (Silver Medal), 2001-02 AUS Championship , 2007 Team Canada Head Coach - World University Games (Gold Medal), 2008-09 AUS Championship. Bottom line, the former pro player is a good coach and players play for him.
  • '09-'10 outlook: The Huskies lose or win depending on their offence, more specifically their power play, and only Scott Hotham is gone from the unit that was ticking along at 30% for most of last season. The team defence is good, but could be better. SMU takes far too many penalties for an elite team (569 PIMs was worst in AUS). This is AUS MVP Marc Rancourt’s last chance for a ring, and most of his teammates are back, and they all should be pretty motivated. This is a team that is due. They are SMU’s most consistent sports team yet the football team gets all of the local media hype and glory while playing in a weak conference. They owned UNB last year, especially on the PP. Despite all of that, they may not be able to overcome the re-loaded V-Reds this year, but they still have the best chance of anyone in the AUS to do it.
  • Projected finish: 2nd place

    St. Thomas Tommies

  • Last season: 8-16-4 (27th in RPI), Regular season finish: 7th
  • Power play – 18.0%, 7th; penalty killing – 65.6%, 8th; goals for – 91, 7th; goals against – 147, 7th
    '08-'09 Recap: The young Tommies started the season with a nine game winless streak, won a few, and then dropped the first seven games of the second half. G Matt Davis was never able to find his groove that saw him steal several games the previous season. The good news is that STU was 5-1 in their last six games, and finished on a high note despite missing the playoffs.
  • Key losses: G Matt Davis
  • Newcomers: G Charles Lavigne (Québec – QMJHL), F Matt Eagles (Moncton – QMJHL), F Tyler Dietrich (UNB – CIS), F Alex Labonte (Victoriaville – QMJHL), F Jordan Scott (Yarmouth – MJAHL), F Mike Reich (Saskatoon – WHL)
  • Coach: Mike Eagles (8th season). The former long-time NHLer who worked too hard to be cut each year tries to instill that work ethic in the Tommies. He was the AUS & CIS Coach of the Year in 2003-04. Eagles works under a microscope in Fredericton since STU shares a campus with the much more successful UNB program, and the small liberal arts school has a hard time recruiting the calibre of recruits of its competition.
  • '09-'10 outlook: STU will be better this season as the young team continues to mature, and new netminder Charlie Lavigne looks capable of stealing some wins. Their specialty teams should be better this year. However, the rest of the AUS hasn’t been standing still either, so the big question is who will STU pass to make the playoffs? Their fans may need to hope that a team above them goes into a slide, or has key injuries.
    STU announced today the addition of F Kenton Dulle (Kamloops - WHL) who had a change of heart after signing a pro contract with an ECHL team. He had 25 goals and 59 points last year.
  • Projected finish: 7th place

    StFX X-Men

  • Last season: 15-11-2 (tied for 10th in RPI), Regular season finish: 4th
  • Power play – 19.9%, 5th; penalty killing – 82.6%, 3rd; goals for – 107, T-3rd; goals against – 100, 5th
  • '08-'09 Recap: After a slow start (4-5-2) StFX bookended Christmas with a seven game win streak. Then they went 1-5 before righting the ship and barely holding onto 4th place heading into the playoffs. As a team they gave up more shots than they took, helped by their next-to-worst team PIMs (only 2 PIM less than SMU). G Danny Battochio stole two wins each during the season against both SMU and UNB where X was badly outplayed. In the first round of the playoffs StFX surprised many by being swept by Acadia in two games.
  • Key losses: D Will Colbert, D Sam Roberts, G Danny Battochio, D Jeff Caron
  • Newcomers: G Joey Perricone (Moose Jaw – WHL), G Bryan Gillis (Salmon Arm – BCHL), F Ryan Sparling (Saint John – QMJHL), D Spencer McAvoy (Swift Current – WHL), D Josh Day (Brampton – OHL), F Brennan Wray (Red Deer – WHL), D Nick Pageau (Belleville – OHL), F Murdoch MacLellan (Dieppe – MJAHL), D Stephen Simms (OCN – MJHL)
  • Coach: Brad Peddle (4th season). The former X-Man captain, CIS All-Canadian defenceman, and Dr. Randy Gregg Award winner has made a smooth transition to coaching. He coached Halifax and Antigonish of the MJAHL before taking over from CIS champion Danny Flynn at X, who is now running the show with the Q’s Moncton Wildcats. As smooth as he was on the ice, he can be fiery on the bench, and he has no problem getting his players going.
  • '09-'10 outlook: Graduating your “thieving” goalie and top three d-men should make you a candidate to move down the AUS standings; however, their replacements looked very good in the pre-season, for what that’s worth. While not a true rookie (he played in the last game of last season), Joey Perricone is expected to be the go-to guy in the X nets and stole their tie with Boston University. D Spencer McAvoy had 44 points with Swift Current last year, and F Ryan Sparling, F Brennan Wray, D Nick Pageau and D Josh Day all had stellar Major Junior careers.
  • Projected finish: 4th place

    UNB Varsity Reds

  • Last season: 21-4-3 (tied with Laurier for 1st in RPI), Regular season finish: 1st (CIS Champions)
  • Power play – 22.6%, 2nd; penalty killing – 79.4%, 6th; goals for – 134, 2nd; goals against – 67, 1st
  • '08-'09 Recap: UNB was ranked #1 in the final CIS rankings for a reason – they were good, and showed it on the national stage once again. UNB’s goalies had a shaky pre-season, but got it together early in the season and the V-Reds made it look easy after that. Not that it was truly easy – UNB was involved in nine one-goal games and five two-goal games. However, they were only outshot once in the regular season and once in the playoffs. After the first round playoff bye, UNB swept Acadia in three games in their best-of-five semis. After humbling SMU 5-1 in the first game of the AUS championship, UNB’s only blemish was dropping the next two games against a motivated opponent. Fortunately for them UNB got a second chance with the rotating wildcard spot at Nationals. UNB made the most of their second chance, getting their revenge on Alberta for the University Cup the year before with a shocking five-goal first period and then rolled over host Lakehead in a 3-1 game that wasn’t really that close. Instead of the highly anticipated rematch with SMU in the final, UNB faced off against Western instead, and Mustangs G Brad Topping prevented the 1st period from being a potential rout. After a strong Western second period, UNB was back on form in the third period for their second national championship in three years.
  • Key losses: D Dustin Friesen, F Kevin Henderson, D David Bowman, F Jimmy Cuddihy, D Justin DaCoasta, F Rob Pearce
  • Newcomers: D Josh Kidd (Manchester – AHL), F Nick Layton (Montréal – QMJHL), F Matt Fillier (Montréal – QMJHL), D Ben Shutron (Windsor – OHL), F Taylor Procyshen (Tri-City – WHL), F Chris Culligan (Cape Breton – QMJHL), D Spencer Corcoran (Summerside – MJAHL), F Jeff Lee (Edmonton – WHL)
  • Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (10th season). UNB locked up Gardiner MacDougall with a new five-year contract over the summer for good reason. When MacDougall arrived in Fredericton he took the lay of the land and set the goal of turning UNB into the top hockey program in the CIS. How close is he? For nine consecutive years UNB has been in the AUS Final Four. They’ve been to nationals five of the last seven years (they hosted two years) and came away with two golds and two silvers. In their University Cup history they are now .500 or better in their meetings with every other team in the CIS. MacDougall has a 153-78-21 regular season record in the AUS, and is the all-time wins leader among UNB coaches. He is a two-time AUS Coach of the Year and he was part of the coaching staff that won a gold medal for Canada at the 2007 World University Games.
  • '09-'10 outlook: Like Alberta this perennial playoff powerhouse reloads each year and doesn’t seem to miss a beat. Seven players from the championship team have graduated or turned pro - two-thirds of UNB’s top line and their top two d-men. There are eight new faces in arguably the top recruiting class in the CIS. It is difficult to guess who will have the biggest impact – Memorial Cup d-man Ben Shutron? Three-time 30 goal man Taylor Procyshen? The big (6’4”) former AHL D Josh Kidd? Underrated Nick Layton? Mr. Everything in Cape Breton, F Chris Culligan? Or the rookie-once-again F Daine Todd? UNB has enough depth to weather the injury bug; if everyone was healthy they would players in the stands who would be a regular with the other AUS teams. If the goaltending stays focused it is hard to see anyone in the AUS denying their trip to Thunder Bay.
  • Projected finish: 1st place

    UPEI Panthers

  • Last season: 13-12-3 (13th in RPI), Regular season finish: 6th
  • Power play – 19.4%, 6th; penalty killing – 83.8%, 2nd; goals for – 92, 6th; goals against – 103, 6th
  • '08-'09 Recap: For most of the season UPEI was a win-some, lose-some team, until the end when they went into a 1-6 slide. Ouch. They were the only team that was outscored in the regular season that made the playoffs. The Panthers went out in the first round of the AUS playoffs in a hard-fought series with Moncton.
  • Key Losses: F Justin Donati
  • Newcomers: D Dylan Quaile (Trenton – ECHL), F Taylor Raszka (Dayton – ECHL), D Kyle Chagnon (Woodstock – MJAHL), F Brandon Biggers (Erie – OHL), D Zach McCullough (Ottawa – OHL), F Jared Gomes (Mississauga – OHL), F Chad Locke (Summerside – MJAHL), F Michael MacIssac (Summerside – MJAHL), D Kyle Chagnon (Woodstock – MJAHL,) F Greg Paynter (Summerside – MJAHL)
  • Coach: Dylan Taylor (4th season). Taylor left nothing on the ice when he was captain of the Panthers. Not overly skilled, but he led by example on the ice and in the classroom where he was twice an Academic All-Canadian. This is his first head coach gig – he was as an assistant with UPEI and the Q’s PEI Rocket.
  • '09-'10 outlook: If UPEI stay healthy this fairly young team could be a threat come playoffs. They also have to find a way to compensate for F Justin Donati’s 48 points. D Brett Nasby is a shoe-in for an All-Star if he can play a complete season. Sparkplug F Jordan Knox and F Cory Vitarelli also missed most of the pre-season. D Dylan Quaile played in the ECHL as a 20-year old last year and should have a postive impact, as should another former pro, F Taylor Raszka, when he becomes eligible late in the first half. Also in the good recruiting class are Jared Gomes who scored 31 goals with Mississauga and Brandon Biggers who scored 25 with Erie last year. This is a hard team to judge, and could finish anywhere from fourth to seventh.
  • Projected finish: 6th place
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    1. I think UNB beat Alberta at Nationals, not Acadia. No matter.

    2. Good catch, we appreciate the help ... David went to town writing this better than any of us might have!

    3. Good catch. When I'm typing Alberta my fingers must be more used to typing Acadia. And I consider myself a good proofreader!

      By the time I went back to fix it Neate had already done so. Thanks.

    4. UNB Bruins Fan10/14/2009 4:53 pm

      Great job Dave...very much appreciated

    5. Let's go les Aigles10/14/2009 8:15 pm

      "When they're hot they're near unbeatable and when they're not..."
      Describes last year's team perfectly. Hopefully with the core being a year older and the return of Bétournay and McLean, they will show more consistency.

      Great read, thanks for doing this.

    6. X losing 3 key d-men and the Batman... good recruiting replacements but they are rookies. Can't argue with UNB first, Acadia could catch SMU. 4 through 7 could be a crapshoot, but I call UdeM, St FX, STU with UPEI out of the mix. And Dal needs more time and talent.

    7. I was on the fence with UPEI and STU for sixth and seventh place: there is a lot potential with STU, especially with the new addition announced today, but UPEI is the "incumbent" at sixth place.

      Don't get me wrong - I'll be pleased as punch if STU passes UPEI and makes the playoffs. I love surprises, and avoid movie reviews and trailers for just that reason!