Hockey: Previewing the OUA East

The OUA season really gets going in earnest in a few hours, with eight games on Friday, so those OUA East capsules better get up, eh?

These capsules are not meant as definitive — especially the projected order of finish — but simply to provide a thumbnail of each team. The balance of power in the OUA East seems to have moved down the St. Lawrence.

The UQTR Patriotes missed the University Cup two seasons in a row, which is on par with the New York Yankees having not won a World Series for eight seasons (get those shots in while you can). McGill is at the top of the heap and (not that one game is a tell-all) continued that with a 7-3 exhibition win in Trois-Rivières on Wednesday.

A big question is whether another team will emerge to challenge the big two. Carleton, in only its second season, almost upset UQTR in the playoffs. Concordia and Toronto might not count as top-end teams, but they're solid and well-organized season-in, season-out.

(Note to readers: Each team's actual finish, not its playoff seeding, is used, to conform to how it's being down in the OUA. All rankings are OUA East.)

  • Last season: 13-11-4, 5th place (23rd nationwide out of 33 in RPI), lost 2-1 to UQTR in East semi-final (double overtime in decisive game)

  • Power play: 5th (17.7%); penalty killing: 6th (79.2%); goals for: 4th (91); goals against: 6th (89)

    '08-09 recap:
    In Year 1, it was enough for to be a playoff team after Carleton's 33-year hiatus from varsity hockey. For a follow-up, the reconstituted Ravens made an early-season appearance in the Top 10, won their first playoff series and extended UQTR to double overtime in a decisive game. It would seem like a pretty satisfactory season. The Ravens were sometimes goal-starved, being held to 'one or none' six times.

  • Key losses: F Andrew Gibbons, F Bryan Marriner, C Michael Testa, F Francis Walker, G Jordan Wakefield

  • Newcomers: F Connor Barrett (Kanata, CJHL), F Yves Bastien (Guelph/Peterborough), F Mike Byrd (Brockville, CJHL), F Joey Manley (transfer from Quinnipiac), F Chris Somerville (Nepean, CJHL), D Graham Klassen (Drumheller, AJHL), G Ryan Dube (Soo Thunderbirds, NOJHL)

  • Coach: Fred Parker (third season). Parker brough a unique curriculum vitae to Carleton when he was hired in 2006. He is an Ottawa native who has coached Junior A (he guided the Ottawa Jr. Senators to a RBC Cup berth in 2002) and been an assistant in both major junior (Kitchener Rangers) and NCAA Division I (Clarkson).

  • Cross-over opponents: Guelph (a), Laurier (h), Western (h)

  • '09-10 outlook: That favourite buzz phrase of hockey commentators, secondary scoring, factors in big time. Carleton returns a trio of OHL grads who were each point-a-game players last season, Andrew Self, Brandon MacLean and Ryan Berard (91 points combined). However, Walker and Testa, the adds-veterans-and-stir guys whom Parker recruited to tide the team over during the first couple seasons, have moved on. However, Derek Wells emerged as a goal-scoring threat in playoffs (he had four in the post-season, double his regular-season total) and in exhibition season. Jared Cipparone (from 37 points in '07-08 to 14) and Justin Caruana (21 to 10) each saw their numbers tail off last season. If that was a function of roles, they could bounce back. Byrd was also a top scorer in the CJHL.

    Defensively, Brad Good appears to be back from a stint at Boston Bruins camp, giving Carleton seven returnees on the back end to help out workhorse goalie Alex Archibald, who played all but two games last season.

  • Projected finish: 3rd
  • Last season: 15-9-4, 3rd place (19th in RPI), lost 2-1 to Carleton in East quarter-final
  • Power play: 3rd (18.5%); penalty killing: 2nd (85.3%); goals for: 3rd (94); goals against: 5th (84).
  • '08-09 recap: You win a prize if you know the Stingers accounted for two of UQTR's four regulation-time losses. The Stingers were one of the toughest defensive teams in the entire OUA, with goalie Maxime Joyal notching five shutouts, not too shabby in a 28-game schedule.
  • Key losses: F Nicolas D'Aoust, F Nicolas Lafontaine, F Simon-Pierre Sauvé, F Mike Baslyk, D Nicolaus Knudsen
  • Newcomers: C Charlies-Antoine Messier (Chicoutimi), C Pierre-Luc Champagne (Rouyn-Noranda)
  • Coach: Kevin Figsby (11th season). Figsby is a bit of a career coach who worked his way up, coaching AAA midget before taking over the Stingers.

  • Cross-over opponents: Waterloo (a), Western (a), York (h)
  • '09-10 outlook: Baslyk, D'Aoust and Lafontaine were credited with almost 40% of Concordia's goals last season (38 of 94, that's not even counting the assists), so there is an awful lot of scoring to replace.

    Marc-André Rizk (25 points last season) is Con U's leading scorer and former OHLer Cory McGillis showed a scoring touch in limited action last season. Their best asset is probably on the blue line and in goal. Six defencemen (Eric Bégin, Michael Blundon, Samuel Forget, Jesse Goodsell, Andrew Palombaro and Lyle Van Wieren) return to play in front of Joyal, who had a .921 save percentage last season.

    In other words, we'll see which CU (Carleton or Concordia) slides into that No. 3 rung.
  • Projected finish: 5th
  • Last season: 18-8-2, 2nd place (10th in RPI), OUA playoff runners-up, reached CIS University Cup, did not qualify for final
  • Power play: 7th (14.4%) penalty killing: 5th (81%); goals for: 2nd (100); goals against: 2nd (76)
  • '08-09 recap: If you look at RPI, it's no surprise McGill was able to knock off UQTR two straight in the best-of-3 conference final; they were simply the more battle-tested team. The Redmen were solid at each end of the rink, with three point-a-game scorers and good goaltending, particularly when now-departed Kevin Désfosses came in for the stretch run.
  • Key losses: F Sam Bloom (Cincinnati, ECHL), F Marko Kovacevic, G Kevin Désfosses (Corpus Christi, CHL), F Vincent Lambert, F Eric L'Italien
  • Newcomers: D Sebastien Rioux (Chicoutimi), F Kale Dolinski (Melville, SJHL), F J.F. Boisvert (Trail, BCHL),
  • Coach: Jim Webster (first season). Webster, 61, is replacing the successful Martin Raymond, whom the Montreal Canadiens tapped to join the staff of their AHL affiliate in Hamilton. Webster played at McGill in the early 1970s and has a long coaching career, mostly in Europe, although he coached the Ottawa Gee-Gees for a couple seasons two decades ago.
  • Cross-over opponents: UOIT (h), Laurier (a), Waterloo (a)
  • '09-10 outlook: Like Concordia, McGill lost a lot of players off the top of the stat sheet., but is relatively stable (eight D and two goalies return) thanks to the base set down by Raymond.

    Its top scorer, Alexandre Picard-Hooper (36 points), returns along with Francis Verreault-Paul (26 in 24 games). There also emerging talents such as third-year forward Guillaume Doucet, a former 35-goal scorer in the QMJHL who had close to 20 points each of his first two CIS seasons. If they get breakouts from players such as Doucet and fellow junior Simon Marcotte-Legare, McGill should be fine up front.

    Their RPI, plus the fact they scored 100 goals (3.57 per game) despite a meh power play, suggests there's a lot of upside.

  • Projected finish: 1st

NIPISSING LAKERS (expansion team)
  • Coach: Mike McParland (first season). McParland, a North Bay native, is trying to build a team from scratch in his hometown after a successful career coaching in Europe, mainly in Switzerland. He starred at Guelph in the late '70s and early '80s.
  • Cross-over opponents: Brock (a), Guelph (a), Waterloo (h), Laurier (h)
  • '09-10 outlook: In terms of expectations for an expansion team, in 2007-08 Carleton went 12-13-3, while UOIT was 6-19-3. The Lakers, on paper, figure to be somewhere in between.

    For leadership, McParland has brought in ex-major junior players such as captain Matt Lahey (Ottawa 67's, Moncton Wildcats) and defencemen John Quarrie (Oshawa), Sean Ryan (67's) and Brodie Beard (also 67's, by way of Carleton; he can play Oct. 24). Their scoring punch seems to originate from one province west: Dan Watt had 136 points in 60 games last winter with the Junior A Winnipeg Saints, while centre Tyler Riel, who had 88- and 80-point seasons in his final two years playing for Winnipeg South in the same league.

    Goalies Kyle Cantlon (Couchicing) and Matt Hache (Oakville) were both with winning OJHL teams last season. The big question is whether the whole can be greater than the sum of its parts, but with the conference being the way it is, Nip U should be able to make the expanded playoffs.

    (Everyone wearing Nip U's blue and green is a newcomer, so it is kind of redundant to list the entire roster.)
  • Projected finish: 8th
  • Last season: 12-11-5, 6th place (29th in RPI), lost 2-1 to McGill in East quarter-final
  • Power play: 4th (18.1%); penalty killing: 8th (78.1%); goals for: 5th (86); goals against: 7th (103)

  • '08-09 recap: The Gee-Gees have typically been a good second-half team across the past couple seasons. Last winter, they ran into a rash of injuries in January that sent them into a bit of a tailspin and allowed Queen's, which had a softer closing schedule, to almost overtake them for the final playoff spot. However, they won three of their last four, including one over McGill, to secure a playoff berth. The Redmen got them back for that in the playoffs, although Ottawa pushed them to a third game.

    Dan McDonald emerged as a top-end player (41 points in 25 games) before signing in the ECHL, but Matthieu Methot had 13 points in the 12 games he was able to play, which foreshadowed what he should do as long as he's in garnet and grey.
  • Key losses: F Dan McDonald (Utah, ECHL), F Yanick Charron, F Martin Hérard, F Kevin Glode, F Keven Gagné, F Sean Grady, D Winston Shariff, D Mathieu Desjardins, D Philippe Devault, D Tim Greene (recovering from hip surgery), G Martin Bricault
  • Newcomers: F Simren Sandhu (transfer, St. Scholastica, NCAA), Jonathan Reid (Truro, MJAHL), Paul Forster (Merritt, BCHL), D Darren Miller (Portage, MJHL), D Thomas Baubriau (Rouen, France), D Jamie Collins (Yarmouth, MJAHL), D Patrick Burns, D Mathieu Germain (Quebec, QJAHL), D Tavis Holden (Nepean, CJHL), G Aaron Barton (transfer, Waterloo)

  • Coach: David Leger (seventh season). Leger led the Gee-Gees to a University Cup berth in 2003-04, his first season, and his teams have been competitive ever since, usually around the .500 mark.

  • Cross-over opponents: Brock (a), Western (h), Waterloo (h)

  • '09-10 outlook: The Gee-Gees will wear the team-in-transition tag for a while due to all the roster turnover, but make no mistake, this has become Matthieu Methot and goalie Riley Whitlock's team. Methot is capable of becoming one of the OUA East's best snipers, while Whitlock responded to heavy workload last season (2.92 GAA, .912 save percentage in 24 games), when he was in net for all 12 of Ottawa's wins.

    The big question is how well Ottawa's roster of rookies and young guys will come together after New Year's. It has to skate an 11-game gauntlet vs. Carleton, Concordia, McGill and UQTR, their old Far East rivals. They see those teams only four times in the first 17 games.

  • Projected finish: 7th
  • Last season: 12-13-3, 7th place (26th in RPI), missed playoffs
  • Power play: 8th (12.7%); penalty killing: 4th (81.3%); goals for: 9th (57); goals against: 4th (82)
  • '08-09 recap: Queen's managed to squeeze out 12 wins (half of which were in 4-on-4 overtime or shootouts) despite a dearth of scoring. As their RPI shows, they were not a terribly strong team, but their deny-deny-deny game and a soft strength-of-schedule helped them stay in the playoff hunt until the final weekend.
  • Key losses: G Brady Morrison (transferred to Windsor), C Billy Burke, F Pat Doyle, D Grant Horvath, D Ben Heersink
  • Newcomers: F Payton Liske (Saint John), F Joey Derochie (Cornwall, CJHL), D Rob Stellick (Belleville), D Brian Molloy (Wellington, OJHL) D Stephane Chabot (Kingston, OJHL), G Steele De Fazio (St. Catharines, Ontario Junior B)

  • Coach: Brett Gibson (4th season). The former Saint Mary's star hails from Gananoque, the waterfront town east of Kingston. This will be the first season where Gibson is working mostly with his own recruits.

  • Cross-over opponents: York (a), UOIT (a), Windsor (home series)
  • '09-10 outlook: The Gaels have gone as their goalies go for the past couple seasons, but, but have lost two good ones in as many seasons. All-everything Ryan Gibb turned pro after '07-08 and Morrison transferring closer to his southwestern Ontario home. Mackenzie Ball doesn't have the OHL pedigree like his predecessors.

    Queen's is said to have a much faster team. Liske and sophomores David Chubb, Scott Kenway and Jon Lawrance expected to take on significant roles.

    Defensively, the Gaels added Robert Stellick (nephew of FAN 590 personality Gord Stellick), who was in the OHL but is also just 18 years old. Gibson, who once played for the Kingston Voyageurs, tapped his old team for another OHL grad, Chabot, helped the Vees reach the RBC Cup after being let go by the city's nominal major junior team.
  • Projected finish: 6th
  • Last season: 8-18-2, 8th place (31st in RPI), missed playoffs
  • Power play: 6th (16.4%); penalty killing: 9th (77.6%); goals for: 7th (81); goals against: 9th (140).

  • '08-09 recap: Say this much, the Paladins did not go down playing the neutral-zone trap, which some would snipe stood in stark relief to their neighbours on the other side of the Cataraqui River. They scored at least six goals in five of their eight wins, which attests to how hard they work and how they 'think hockey' despite not having the most top-end talent. Their most impressive wins were probably over Carleton and Concordia.
  • Key losses: F Paul Bradley (transfer, Laurier), F Logan Oversby
  • Newcomers: D Andrew Beuman (Pembroke, CJHL), F Mitchell Smith (Quesnel, BCHL), F Andrew Hawkins (Assiniboia, Saskatchewan Jr. B)

  • Coach: Adam Shell (third season). Hiring a former McGill Redmen to lead the former Redmen (as RMC was once known) worked so well the first time with Kelly Nobes, RMC did it again when it hired Shell in 2007. Shell, 28, is a self-defined "older brother" who by role has to recruit very carefully. He's made RMC a team which endears itself to fans, even ones who attended Queen's (or am I projecting?).

  • Cross-over opponents: Ontario Tech (a), York (a), Lakehead (home series)

  • '09-10 outlook: Not only does RMC have to cut down its goals-against, but it has to deal with Bradley transferring to Laurier in the OUA West. Those double whammies might make it hard to crack the playoffs, even with the two extra spots. They have four seasoned defencemen, but after allowing five goals per game, that might not be such a strong statement.

  • Projected finish: 9th
  • Last season: 5-22-1, 9th place (last in RPI), missed playoffs

  • Power play: 9th (12.4%); penalty killing: 7th (78.5%); goals for: 8th (65); goals against: 8th (128)

  • '08-09 recap: It is easy to forget now, but Ryerson came into last season with fairly high hopes. They showed flashes throughout the season, whether it was competing with Miami (Ohio) in an exhibition game (losing only 4-3 to a RedHawks team which went to the NCAA Frozen Four), or shutting out McGill 3-0. At the same time, the Rams were donuted an OUA-worst seven times, exactly one-quarter of the schedule. That had to be a little discouraging.

  • Key losses: F Alex Sharpe, F Josh McNair

  • Newcomers: D Myles Barbieri (Kitchener), C Alexei Dostoinov (Saint John), C Andrew Buck (Newmarket, OJHL), F Matt Schmermund (Portland, WHL), F Brandon Walker (Stouffville, OJHL), D Scott Madden (Newmarket, OJHL)

  • Coach: Graham Wise (fourth season). Wise has said and done all the right things since taking over at what has been one of the toughest places in CIS to build a winning hockey program. Ryerson doesn't have a campus rink (not yet, anyways) and is in the middle of a market where university sports rate little attention.

    Ryerson turned the corner a bit in 2007-08, when it beat Western during the regular season. Wise has raised the bar a little, seeing as this was a team which not long ago had a one-win OUA season. It's a few years off at least, but if Ryerson gets an arena ...

  • Cross-over opponents: Windsor (away series), Brock (h), Guelph (h).

  • '09-10 outlook: The expanded playoffs (eight spots available in the East instead of six) should be one hell of a motivator for the Rams, who had only one win (in a shootout, no less) after coming back from the Christmas holidays. They return much of the same group, including last season's captain and No. 1 goalie, respectively, Kevin Krasnowski and Paul Gibson.

    Wise's recruiting class includes some players from the CHL ranks, including Barbieri and Schmermund on the blueline and Dostoinov, a Russian who played in the OHL and QMJHL. The Rams went hard after Thomas Kiriakou, who ended up scoring four goals in his first game for Guelph on Thursday (ouch).

    Right now, Ryerson is in the selling hope business. They should at least vie with RMC and Nipissing for that last playoff berth. The East is definitely two-tier, with Queen's and possibly rebuilding Ottawa sort of being the divider.

  • Projected finish: 10th
  • Last season: 14-11-3, 4th place (24th in RPI), lost 2-0 to McGill in East semi-final
  • Power play: 2nd (20.4%); penalty killing: 4th (84.8%); goals for: 6th (82); goals against: 3rd (77)

  • '08-09 recap: The Varsity Blues were not the flashiest group around, but they got the job done by virtue of cashing on the power play, staying healthy and getting solid goaltending most nights. They scored half their goals (41 of 82) with the odd man and used just 24 players. Russ Brownell (2.20 GAA, .928 save percentage) was among the OUA's leading netminders while platooning with Andrew Martin.

  • Key losses: D Steve Duffy, D Kyle Martiniuk, F Craig McDonald

  • Newcomers: D Tyler Turcotte (Orangeville/Lindsay, OJHL), D Zack Fenwick (Mercyhurst, NCAA; Kingston, OHL), D Matt Walters (Salmon Arm, BCHL), F Brent McGrail (Hamilton, OJHL), F Kyle Paige (Utah, ECHL)

  • Coach: Darren Lowe (15th season). Lowe is among the longest-tenured CIS coaches. U of T has finished first in the Mid-East 8-of-9 seasons coming into this new OUA landscape, although that somewhat reflects the quality of that division (Guelph was automatic to finish first before it changed sides in 2000-01).

  • Cross-over opponents: Lakehead (away series), Guelph (h), Brock (h)

  • '09-10 outlook: A big question is whether U of T will be better at even-strength, where they were outscored last season. Almost all of their big guns, such as Kyle Ventura (eight of 16 goals on the PP), Joe Rand (10-of-15), Byron Elliott (9-of-14) and offensive defenceman Ed Snetsinger (8-of-10) did most of their sniping with the extra man. U of T has four centres who are actually centres, including the rookie, McGrail.

    That being said, U of T has a solid set of defencemen with veterans Snetsinger and Brendan Sherrard and Andrew Kizito and Sean Kliewer in the 3-4 slots. Fenwick — who had a NCAA D-1 stint at Mercyhurst before going to the OHL — Turcotte and Walters add depth on the back end.

    Ultimately, U of T seems pretty settled. It should fare the best of the teams which were in the so-called Mid-Least.

  • Projected finish: 4th
  • Last season: 21-4-3, 1st place (14th in RPI), lost 2-0 to McGill in East final

  • Power play: 1st (27.1%); penalty killing: 1st (86.5%); goals for: 1st (121); goals against: 1st (64)

  • '08-09 recap: UQTR is pretty automatic to be a Top 5 team, score a lot of goals and have a sickeningly high power-play percentage. They followed the template all season and bear in mind this is being written from the outside looking in, they didn't seem to have the same old zazz. The scoring was dominated by two players, now departed Jonathan Boutin (51 points) and Alexandre Demers (43), which can be a slippery slope. They had to empty their tank to get by Carleton in their first playoff series, which meant they were teetering when it came time to face McGill. The Redmen were only too happy to push 'em off the cliff.

  • Key losses: F Jonathan Boutin, F Tommy Lafontaine, F Mathieu Gravel, F Samuel Beland, F J.S. Breton
  • Newcomers: D Alex Lamontagne (Muskegon/Flint, IHL), D Marc-Andre Nadeau (Notre Dame, SJHL), F Pierre-Alexandre Joncas (Rimouski), D David Chabot-Maltais (Quesnel, BCHL), RW Alex Boivin (Baie-Comeau)
  • Coach: Jacques Laporte (11th season). Laporte has had an impressive run at Trois-Rivières, including a national title and five consecutive Queen's Cups at one point. The Patriotes have a rep as perhaps the toughest team to get a point off at home, although some have wondered if the re-emergence of senior hockey in Quebec has eroded their recruiting advantage.
  • Cross-over opponents: Western (a), Laurier (a), York (h), UOIT (h)
  • '09-10 outlook: At the end of the day, the Patriotes are still going to be poking around the top of the OUA East. Demers is one of the East's premier offensive talents, while Etienne Bellavance-Martin and Francis Charland (who were held out of the lineup in that clunker vs. McGill) had decent second-line numbers.

    UQTR has kind of fit the Quebec hockey archetype of the small, swift skating team (although they haven't made a fetish of small forwards like their province's NHL team, hi-ho!). Laporte has a couple barracudas on the blue line such as André Joanisse, listed at 220 pounds, and Lamontagne, a former Gatineau Olympique who comes in at 6-foot-4, 230. They also have a big goalie in 6-4 Jean-Christophe Blanchard.

    Ultimately, 21-4-3 might be hard to duplicate. That record last season was partly due to the schedule.

  • Projected finish: 2nd

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