It's McGill, UQTR and everyone else. Carleton has its No. 3 perch and there are two other packs of runners. The old Mid-East teams, Queen's, Toronto and Ryerson are fighting it out for fourth, followed by the stragglers.
The Redmen should take over the OUA East lead before UQTR even takes the ice for the second half.
The Redmen (12-2-0), this site's choice to finish first, play three games against struggling teams before welcoming in the Patriotes in for a Jan. 15 first-place battle. They meet again Jan. 20 and Feb. 8, so it's essentially a best-of-3 series within the second half for home ice in the playoffs.
The breakdown is Bundesliga-style, with points and games played in brackets:
- UQTR Patriotes (29/17) — In the spirit of NFL commentators who use a small size to hammer home a half-baked point, let us start calling UQTR a suspect second-half team.
Last season, the Patriotes were 3-5-0 (two OT losses) in division games after the break. Now they have a schedule of nothing but teams from the former Far East. The sample sizes are small, but they split with last-place Concordia (the win was only by a 2-1 count) and lost in overtime to Carleton. Slipping behind McGill would not be a shock, notwithstanding whatever reinforcements they've added for the second half.
- McGill Redmen (24/14) — Forward Francis Verrault-Paul (28 points in 13 games) would be the OUA's leading scorer if it went on a per-game basis. The Redmen have an easier second-half sked than UQTR, so that first-place pick is looking decent.
McGill has improved its power play from 14% last season to 21%, although that might have been skewed by a few of the blowouts.
- Carleton Ravens (20/17) — The third-year Ravens have a can-beat-anybody, can-lose-to-anybody vibe. They will play anybody, as evidenced by Fred Parker taking his team to Lakehead, Manitoba and St. FX over the past couple seasons. (The Ravens lost just 3-2 to the X-Men in the back end of a two-game visit last week.) They even skated with the Swedish U20 team for two periods of an exhibition game; the Swedes ended up winning the bronze medal at the World Junior.
Rookie Mike Byrd (17 points in as many games) has been the biggest revelation, giving Carleton four forwards averaging at least a point per game. Key forwards such as Justin Caruana and Derek Wells each missed four first-half games.
Carleton left some points on the table in the first half. They have a loaded schedule, playing three apiece vs. McGill and UQTR. Second place is out of reach and the sked might make it hard to hold on to third, but their attitude should be just to be ready for another playoff series vs. the Redmen or Patriotes.
- Queen's Golden Gaels (17/16) — Find a happy medium, would you please? The Gaels have scored more goals (58) than they did all of last season (57), while allowing almost as many (77 vs. 82).
Snark aside, the Gaels are younger and improved, something which has eluded a certain team which used to play at the Kingston Memorial Centre. They already have as many regulation-time wins (6) as all of last season, no mean feat for a team whose top three scorers are rookies, including co-scoring leaders Joey Derochie and Jordan Mirwaldt, who played provincial Junior A last season.
Queen's plays seven of their last 12 games at home, so there's a decent mathematical chance to make a run at third, especially with NCAA transfer-goalie Steele DeFazio now eligible. The team's youth and lack of D might catch up to them. The three games with the Varsity Blues are a make-or-break.
- U of T Varsity Blues (15/16) — They would seem to have issues which are correctable.
Two of their three scorers from last season, defenceman Ed Snetsinger (only 12 games played) and forward Joe Rand (limited to four games), missed a significant portion of the first half. The Russ Brownell-Andrew Martin goaltending platoon hasn't produced the same numbers it did last season, but that could be linked to U of T's less effective penalty killing (down 5% from last season). Most people now separate save percentage into penalty-killing and even-strength situations.
U of T has three games left against the team immediately ahead of it, Queen's and also still has four games left vs. RMC. That gives them a chance to nose out the Gaels and perhaps knock Carleton off its perch.
- Ryerson Rams (16/18) — Coach Graham Wise's team had a feel-good first half, what with the Maple Leaf Gardens announcement and being two wins off the school's single-season record.
The question is how have they done it? You have to tunnel pretty far down before finding Cory Konecny, whose 13 points are good for 66th in the OUA. The Rams penalty killing and power play are each ranked fourth-last in the entire league.
Every season, the luck of the scheduling draw leaves one team running out of the road when play resumes in January. Ryerson, with only 10 gams left, is that team in the East. They have three left vs. Nipissing (a half-game back), Queen's and Toronto, and a single meeting with RMC.
Fun fact: The Rams scored five goals in a game only twice in the first half, but did it against McGill, the OUA's best defensive team.
- Nipissing Lakers (13/16) — Eight losses in a row have taken Nip U from being world-beaters to just hoping they can beat RMC this weekend. Losing eight regulars, most particularly Matt Lahey, to injuries has also been part of the Lakers' rude awakening.
In baseball terms, though, Nipissing is only two games behind fourth-place Queen's and the schedule is easier. Save for a game vs. McGill on Jan. 24, all of their games are against formerly Mid-East teams who are between fourth and eighth place, so it's in their hands. Not unlike Ryerson, their special teams (14th power play, 15th penalty killing) have been poor at best. It is hard to see how they don't finish higher than seventh.
- RMC Paladins (11/15) — The post-Paul Bradley Paladins are a live-on-margins team, by necessity.
Adam Shell's squad went to overtime an OUA-high five times in the first half, eking out a couple vital extra points, including a what-was-that win over Lakehead. They're basically a low-rent version of Queen's last season: decent goaltending led by Andrew Flemming, dedication to defence, with offensive spark remaining in absentia. RMC is averaging an OUA-low 2.2 goals per game and is dead last in power play and penalty killing.
The upshot might be that the Paladins are playing teams who are more their level, with 12-of-13 against Nipissing, Ryerson, Queen's and Toronto (four times!). Not having a home game for three weekends in a row, starting the Jan. 22 weekend, could sink them.
- Ottawa Gee-Gees (9/17) — Still have to play McGill and UQTR six times in their 11 remaining games, so it is likely not going to get any easier for coach Dave Leger's team.
The Gee-Gees (4-12-1) have wrung some positives over what's becoming a lost season. Corey Thibaudeau is having his best season. The collapse has been on the back end; Riley Whitlock's GAA is up a full goal (3.93 compared to 2.92) over last season and he might have done well to keep it to that.
- Concordia Stingers (8/16) — Same as the previous verse: The Stingers have fallen way off the pace and now are entering the killer portion of their schedule (save for one game left vs. RMC). There is a possibility one team out of the Gee-Gees or Stingers regroups and salvages the No. 8 seed.