Abandoning the unbalanced schedule and shifting to a two-division format should lead to a more accurate reflection of the strengths and weaknesses of the league. Among the four heavyweights formerly of the Far West division, last season's CIS runner-up Western seems to have the fewest holes to fill. Among the former Mid-East teams, the Guelph Gryphons, in their third full season under coach Shawn Camp, might be ready to push for a top-three or -four spot.
The team capsules are below the jump. Take the projections of each team's finish with a huge tablespoon of salt, please.
(Newcomers' most recent or relevant teams are listed.)
- Last season: 9-14-5, 8th place (28th out of 33 nationwide in RPI), missed playoffs
- Power play: 8th (12.3%); penalty killing: 2nd (87.9%); goals for: 9th (67); goals against: 4th (84).
- '08-09 recap: Brock came back to earth after a semi-surprising run to the University Cup in 2008. They struggled to generate offence, finishing third-last in the country with only 2.32 goals per game, ahead of only UBC and Queen's. The paucity of production up front led to a 14-point drop in the standings.
- Key losses: F Brennen Giroux, F Mike MacIntyre, F Nathan Hooper, F Tyler Leggo
- Newcomers: G Mark Yetman (Halifax Mooseheads), G Jordan Bent (Woodstock, MJAHL), F Kirk Pearce (Fort McMurray, AJHL), F Kyle Neufeld (three-year OHL veteran), F Vince Scott (transfer, UPEI), F Josh Schram (Saint John Sea Dogs), D Greg Brown (Cowichan Valley, BCHL).
- Coach: Murray Nystrom (12th season). Nystrom, a former standout at UNB who was in the OHL as a coach with Sudbury in the 1990s, is the winningest coach in Brock's hockey history (117 conference victories) and one of the OUA West's longest-serving bench bosses. He was CIS coach of the year in 2008, when the Badgers won their division.
- Cross-over opponents: Nipissing (h), Ottawa (h), Ryerson (a), U of T (a)
- '09-10 outlook: Forwards and goalies were Brock's recruiting focus, not surprisingly. It may be inferred they will try to win a lot of 3-2 games behind rookie goalie Mark Yetman and a blueline corps with seven returnees, including veterans George Bradley and Steve Miller. Yetman was a workhorse last season with a mediocre Halifax Mooseheads team this season.
Nystrom told Sun Media recently that the Badgers will likely have to "manufacture goals." Hooper was the lone player to crack the 10-goal plateau goal. Derek Brochu, who had a team-high 17 points (8G-9A), is likely going to have to be a top-end forward (he did score twice vs. UOIT last weekend).
Newcomers such as Vince Scott, Kyle Neufeld and Kirk Pearce, are going to have to pick up some of the slack. Neufeld, a former National Lacrosse League player, is returning to hockey after several seasons' absence (hello, human interest story!), while Pearce had 30 goals in the tough Alberta Junior Hockey League last season.
Brock, beginning this weekend, has a seven-game run vs. former Far West teams. That should be a good test of where it stands.
- Projected finish: 8th
- Last season: 14-12-2, 6th place (16th in RPI), lost 2-1 to Western in West quarter-final
- Power play: 6th (15.8%); penalty killing: 5th (83.1%); goals for: 6th (88); goals against: 7th (95).
- '08-09 recap: The ebb and flow of Guelph's season was somewhat reflective of the OUA's unbalanced schedule. They hung a few skins on their wall through the course of the season, beating OUA heavies such as McGill and Western. That Jan. 18 win over the Redmen started a six-game win streak — the other wins were over York, UOIT and Brock — that helped them wrest the final playoff berth from Windsor. Guelph ended up extending eventual CIS runner-up Western to three games in the first round.
- Key losses: G Andrew Arklie, G Adam Jennings, F Thomas Laplante, F Justin Gvora
- Newcomers: LW Thomas Kiriakou (Ottawa), C Matthew Lyall (Sault Ste. Marie), D-F Nathan Martine (Guelph Storm), D Timothy Priamo (Storm), F Cale Jefferies (Brandon), G Kevin Couture (Corpus Christi, CHL)
- Coach: Shawn Camp (third season). Camp, the former Guelph Storm coach, should have his first team largely made up of his guys. Along with football's Kyle Walters and Rachel Flanagan in women's hockey, he's one of several newish head coaches who might raise Guelph's sports profile.
- Cross-over opponents: Carleton (h), Nipissing (h), U of T (a), Ryerson (a)
- '09-10 outlook: There is a lot to like about the Gryphons, who return five of their top six scorers from last season, including team leaders such as Michael Nelson, Derek Knowles and David Volpe, each of whom averaged close to point per game last season. Another major factor is Camp, for the first time, will have a team mostly composed of his own recruits, which might make Guelph be more than the sum of its parts.
Nelson, the leading scorer, was only 36th in points in an 18-team league, so there's no superstar, but Guelph is believed to have one of the OUA's best recruiting classes, particularly with Kiriakou, who has good size and put up a 29-goal, 65-point season in the OHL, and Lyall, who was a 20-goal man with the Soo.
Martine and Priamo should both help stabilize a defence corps that has six holdovers. The goaltending got an upgrade with Kevin Couture, who returned from the pros.
- Projected finish: 4th
- Last season: 18-8-2, 4th place (6th in RPI), lost 2-1 to Laurier in West semi-final, hosted CIS University Cup, did not qualify for final
- Power play: 2nd (21.7%); penalty killing: 1st (88.1%); goals for: 4th (102); goals against: 1st (69).
- '08-09 recap: From the sounds of it, there was an endless debate around tactics with the Thunderwolves and the ultimate resolution was that a new coach was needed. Lakehead made like the NHL team in neighbouring Minnesota and played stifling defence, which paid off in the OUA's best goals-against record but put them behind the 8-ball a bit. It caught up to them in the second round vs. Laurier. Following a two-and-out showing as the University Cup host team where Lakehead looked sluggish on home ice, Don McKee was out as coach and Joel Scherban, half the age of his predecessor, took over behind the bench.
- Key losses: G Chris Whitley, F Andrew Brown, F Tobias Whelan, F Richard Molenaar, D Drew Kivell
- Newcomers: RW Andrew Wilkins (Owen Sound), F Victor Anilane (Sioux Falls, USHL), G Alex Dupuis (Summerside, MJAHL)
- Coach: It's not Joel Scherban, it's "Joel Scherban, 29." The first-year coach's age probably plays into the hands of doubters. Lakehead was said to been quiet on the recruiting front (although Anilane is an interesting recruit for the simple fact there aren't many Scandinavians in CIS hockey, plus some WCHA schools wanted him) and it also cancelled its holiday tournament. Each of those developments raised eyebrows about the state of the team. The rub is that the bar is set high and their schedule was among the country's toughest, as evidenced by their RPI.
- Cross-over opponents: U of T (home two-game series), RMC (away two-game series).
- '09-10 outlook: The bar is set high in Thunder Bay, but on the whole Lakehead should remain a solid team. Brock McPherson (18G-15A) is one of the OUA's best finishers and their top five scorers are back, including fifth-year winger Kris Hogg (29 points). Lakehead also has some ex-major junior guys playing on the second and third line with brothers Shandor and Arron Alphonso, along with centre Devin Welsh.
Defensively, both Mitch Maunu and Jordan Smith have played as high as the AHL and Kalvin Sagert is also a big body on the blue line. Pierre-Marc Guilbault's sophomore season was cut short by an injury; don't forget that he had 20 points as a frosh in '07-08.
Having Whitley leave would hurt many teams. However, Kyle Moir actually led the OUA with a 2.17 goals-against average, so it should hurt Lakehead. Dupuis also comes in tested, having helped the Summerside Western Capitals to a RBC Cup berth last season.
- Projected finish: 2nd
- Last season: 22-5-1, 1st place (tied for first in RPI with UNB), lost 2-0 to Western in West final
- Power play: 1st (23.6%); penalty killing: 3rd (86.7%); Goals for: 1st (139); goals against: 2nd (73).
- '08-09 recap: The Golden Hawks basically scored goals getting off the bus, leading the entire country with 4.96 per game, slightly more than UNB and Saint Mary's put up in the AUS. (This after pre-season talk they would try to play more a defensive game.) Jean-Michel Rizk won the OUA scoring title (54 points) and was runner-up nationally. Laurier, judging by its RPI, looked like a sure bet to go to the University Cup, but Western edged them in a pair of one-goal games (4-3 and 3-2) to end their season.
- Key losses: F Luke Girard, F Nick Vergeer, F Mark Voakes, D Adam Maccarone
- Newcomers: F Paul Bradley (transfer, RMC), F Jason Bergeron (Niagara), Brad Jackson (Woodstock, MJAHL) D Kyle van de Bospoort (Barrie), D Mike Gauthier (Alaska, ECHL), G Ryan Daniels (Peterborough), G Tyler Small (transfer, Mercyhurst)
- Coach: Kelly Nobes (fourth season). Nobes has followed a pretty straightforward progression, from player and assistant coach at a respected program (McGill), to raising a second-rung team (RMC) to respectability, to a top-end team in Laurier, which he guided to a University Cup berth in 2007.
- Cross-over opponents: McGill (h), UQTR (h), Carleton (a), Nipissing (a)
- '09-10 outlook: The hometown prognostication calls for Laurier to slide back into the pack after losing three of its top four scorers (granted, the same august broadsheet also said the Golden Hawks football team would be the class of the OUA, and that is not panning out). They still have the element of Rizk, plus Craig Voakes put up 24 points (13G-11A) in 16 games during an injury-shortened season. Basically, last season's secondary-scoring guys, players such as Nathan Peacock, Jeff Borrows, Colin Williams and Clinton Pettapiece, will have to be primary scorers. Getting former RMC standout Paul Bradley in is a boon.
Laurier's recruiting focus seems to have been on D, with van de Bospoort and Gauthier coming aboard. Phil Magistrale was among the OUA's top-scoring d-men last season.
Jeff MacDougald played 26-of-28 games in goal last season. That might be too heavy a workload.
Laurier's opener at Guelph on Friday should be a good early indicator, not that you can infer all that much from a single game.
- Projected finish: 3rd
- Last season: 7-16-5, 9th place (32nd in RPI), missed playoffs
- Power play: 4th (19.6%); penalty killing: 9th (76.6%); goals for: 7th (83); goals against: 9th (130).
- '08-09 recap: You could stir the spot a little and wonder if the eastern-most team in the West, would have made the playoffs if they were in the other conference. The 'Backs recorded four of their seven wins vs. East teams and the others were vs. Brock (twice) and York, so it's fair to say they have some growing to before they can skate with the big boys. UOIT did prove good for some occasional offensive fireworks, with Josh Vatri (15G-17A-32PT) factoring into almost 40% of their goals and Mike Noyes finishing second in team scoring, a rarity for a defenceman.
- Key losses: F Jason Fransky
- Newcomers: G Jason Guy (London Knights), F Scott Baker (Belleville), D Mike Ball (Hamilton, OJHL), D Jeff Barletta (Newmarket, OJHL), D John McCullough (Couchiching, OJHL), F Kyle Wetering (Toronto, OJHL), F Dustin Curran (Bowmanville, OJHL)
- Coach: Marlin Muylaert (third season). You might remember Muylaert for winning a Queen's Cup and CIAU championship with the Guelph Gryphons in 1997. Muylaert, by most accounts, is your basic patient, low-key teacher-coach, which is a good fit for an expansion team such as UOIT.
(What you might not know is Guelph won the University Cup in Maple Leaf Gardens. Might we see CIS hockey at the Gardens again?)
- Cross-over opponents: RMC (h), Queen's (h), McGill (a), UQTR (a)
- '09-10 outlook: UOIT won the season series last winter vs. Brock, its likely competition to avoid being the odd team out of the West playoff picture. This time around, Ridgebacks have a tougher cross-over schedule than the Badgers, which will be a huge factor in that dogfight (sorry).
The big question is whether UOIT can shut down teams enough to give scorers such as Vatri, former Kingston Voyageur Tony Rizzi, Nathan Spaling and Derrick Bagshaw a chance to win some 5-4 and 5-3 games. Only four experienced defencemen return and there is no name recruit out of the OHL, with most of the new forwards and d-men hailing from the OJHL.
New goalie Jason Guy had his moments during an itinerant OHL career. This author is obliged to cheer for him, since he is a former Kingston Frontenac (and the player the Fronts traded away for him, Luke Pither, is tearing up the league).
- Projected finish: 9th
- Last season: 18-7-3, 3rd place (7th in RPI), lost 2-0 to Lakehead in West quarter-final
- Power play: 7th (15.1%); penalty killing: 7th (81.5%); goals for: 2nd (112); goals against: 5th (85).
- '08-09 recap: Waterloo's season peaked on the final weekend of January, when it swept Lakehead in Thunder Bay. From that point forward, they went 3-2-1 for the rest of the regular season before being swept by the T-Wolves in the first round of the playoffs. It was a disappointing way to finish, since they were clearly the country's best team which finished third in its division.
- Key losses: D Brandon Mulholland, F David Philpott, F David Edgeworth, F Sean Roche, G Pier-Olivier Pelletier (Bakersfield, ECHL), D Sean Moir
- Newcomers: LW Kirt Hill (Lincoln, USHL), D Collin Carwardine (Windsor Spitfires), F Mike Veysey (Truro, MJAHL), D Greg Steffes (Bridgewater, MJAHL), G John Zelenbaba
- Coach: Bourque is a native Maritimer and perhaps not surprisingly, the Warriors have more than their share of players from the East Coast.
Along with having the same name as a Hall of Fame defenceman, Bourque is also from Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia, like another semi-famous hockey player associated with a NHL team which wears black and gold.
- Cross-over opponents: Concordia (h), McGill (h), Nipissing (a), Ottawa (a)
- '09-10 outlook: Waterloo gets tested in the first 10 games, playing Western and Lakehead twice apiece in that stretch. They lost a bit from last season, especially in goal with Pelletier gone, but leading scorers Chris Ray (36 points) and Shane Hart (34) return and so do five defencemen, including Kyle Sonnenburg (21 points) and Steve Whitely (whose five power-play goals tied for the team high). Hill, based on the numbers he had in Lincoln, could have an impact up front.
Waterloo has been a strong team for a number of seasons. Outside of the tough start, it has a good schedule and should be a top-half team again.
As for the netminding, Keaton Hartigan played only eight games last season after transferring from Windsor, but had respectable numbers, albeit in a small sample size.
- Projected finish: 5th
- Last season: 19-7-2, 2nd place (4th in RPI), won Queen's Cup, lost to New Brunswick in University Cup championship game
- Power play: 3rd (19.9%); penalty killing: 8th (81%); goals for: 3rd (109); goals against: 6th (86).
- '08-09 recap: It's hard to think of a team which better epitomized how much CIS hockey changes once the stakes get higher in the playoffs. Western was middle of the pack defensively, but their preparation paid off in the post-season, as they did not allow more tha three goals in any OUA playoff tilt. With their offence, that was a devastating combo.
- Key losses: D Chris Petrow, D Sean De Muynck, LW Jason Ertl, RW Sal Peralta, LW Jeffrey Martens (ECHL), F Matt Raymond, G Brad Topping
- Newcomers: C Ryan McDonough (Salzburg, Austria), RW Patrick Lee (Niagara), D Scott Aarsen (London), D Trevor Koverko (transfer, Calgary), LW Kevin Mole (Kingston), G Anthony Grieco (Victoria, BCHL).
- Coach: Clarke Singer (11th season). Singer guided Western to second in CIS last season, pulled off a University Cup in 2002 and produces teams which always come across as very well-coached and well-organized. (There is memory burn of watching how well Western's spotters communicated with the bench when the OUA frozen four was held in Kingston one year.) He also says "not in my lifetime" when asked if the Toronto Maple Leafs will ever win a Stanley Cup. That's from a 2006 interview, but it's not clear what would cause him to change his answer.
- Cross-over opponents: UQTR (h), Concordia (h), Carleton (a), Ottawa (a)
- '09-10 outlook: Eighteen players return from the crew which went all the way to the national championship game and they have added a former 40-goal man in the OHL, McDonough, who had seasons of 88, 70 and 89 points with the Saginaw Spirit.
Western will be hard-pressed to replace Topping in goal as well as players who filled certain niches, such as Ertl the checker and Petrow the power-play specialist. However, the 'Stangs seem to have reloaded well, especially on the back end. Aarsen, a former London Knights captain and fellow former OHLer Koverko joining a defence corps which includes returnees such as Geoff Killing, Brock Turner, Jason Swit and towering 6-foot-5 Ryan Martinelli, son of former Mustangs coach Barry Martinelli.
Up front, leading scorer Kevin Baker is back and Keaton Turkiewicz is also a top-end guy. Yasher Farmanara also had a solid rookie season.
Anthony Grieco had a brief turn in the NCAA at a big-time hockey school, North Dakota. We'll see how he pans out in goal.
- Projected finish: 1st
- Last season: 13-13-2, 7th place (20th in RPI), missed playoffs
- Power play: 9th (11.9%); Penalty killing: 4th (84.9%); goals for: 8th (76); goals against: 3rd (80).
- '08-09 recap: Rookie coach Kevin Hamlin returned the Lancers to the land of living, delivering
- Key losses: D Tyler McKinley, F Evan Weber, F Brock Zinken
- Newcomers: F Ryan Federman (Thorold, Ontario Jr. B), F Anthony Tapper (Mississauga-St. Michael's), D Steve Ferry (Sarnia), D Christian Steingraber (Plymouth)
- Coach: Kevin Hamlin (second season). Hamlin is a Windsor guy through-and-through, a native of the area who had success at the Junior C, Junior B and college leagues. There is still relatively decent lower-tier (i.e., below the OHL and Junior A) hockey in southwestern Ontario, so presumably Hamlin has the contacts to find the hidden gems and late bloomers who staff a team's third and fourth lines.
Hamlin was a goalie on U of T's 1984 CIAU championship team, which means he played goal under Mike Keenan and came out the better. You probably should bow down in respect.
- Cross-over schedule: Ryerson (home two-game series), Queen's (away two-game series)
- '09-10 outlook: Typically, teams regress a bit after making a big one-season leap. Windsor might not. Hamlin's club will have the benefit of a more balanced schedule, with 16 games vs. teams formerly of the Mid-East and Mid-West divisions. The Lancers won only 3-of-9 one-goal contests last season, which means a goal here or a missed chance there from pushing that point total into the 30s.
Goalie Jim Watt (.932 save percentage, 2.64 GAA) will have to maintain his high standard of performance and Windsor will have to find a way to score more goals. The power play should get better for the simple fact it is hard to convert only 12 per cent of the time two seasons in a row.
- Projected finish: 6th
- Last season: 14-11-3, 5th place (15th in RPI), lost 2-0 to Western in West semi-final
- Power play: 5th (17.5%); Penalty killing: 6th (82.1%); goals for: 5th (93); goals against: 8th (101)
- '08-09 recap: York earned the adjective "roller-coaster" after turning it on following a coaching change (3-5-0 before, 11-6-3 afterward) to take first place in the Mid-West division. Almost all of the losses after Jim Wells took over were against Far West teams York is not expected to beat. Jesse Grespan averaged a point per game or better for the second time in his three seasons.
The Lions edged Guelph by a point for the No. 2 seed, but went out quickly to Western in the second round.
- Key losses: G Carlo Di Rienzo, F Jesse Cook, F Daniel Torres, F Jake Van Allen, D Vitaly Lanochkin
- Newcomers: F Jesse Messier (Missisauga-St. Michael's), F Mike Martello (Vaughan Vipers, OJHL), C Matt Bahen, F Michael Kosziwka (transfer, Clarkson), D Brad Ouskun (Rouyn-Noranda, QMJHL), D Michael Pain (transfer, Ryerson), G David Blair (Aurora, OJHL), G J.J. Gargour
- Coach: Jim Wells (second season). Wells is a veteran coach in the GTA, having coaching provincial Junior A with the Newmarket Hurricanes before taking over as the Lion tamer.
- Cross-over schedule: Queen's (h), RMC (h), UQTR (a), Concordia (a)
- '09-10 outlook: York is a potential darkhorse in the West if it finds a way to keep its goals-against in the 80s while playing a relatively young goalie, David Davenport, who was a regular for three seasons with the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles.
Grespan, Tyler Harrison, Nathan Brooks and Matt Restoule give Wells four returning forwards who had at least 24 points last season. Messier, a former Mississauga-St. Michael's Majors captain, as well as Cassidy Preston should supply some jam up front. Kyle Searle is their best puck-moving defenceman, at least going by the numbers. Brad Ouskun, the new d-man, helped the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies reach the QMJHL final in 2008, which means it can be inferred that he brings experience to the table.
York got a good draw in the cross-over scheduling and could potentially win three of the four.
- Projected finish: 7th