Hockey: 2010-11 AUS Preview

With all eight AUS men's hockey teams starting the regular season Friday night, it is probably time to get the AUS capsules posted.

You go 27-1 last season, and you are 8-0 in this preseason, playoff upset or not, I think you have to make the University of New Brunswick favourites for the AUS title, if not the CIS championship this season. After maybe conceding UNB first place, then you have the unusual situation of reigning champion Saint Mary's not even being a shoo-in for second place, with Acadia looking to repeat at second in the standings, and StFX coming on strong. The middle of the pack in the AUS is always difficult to sort out and predict, but this may be the season where Saint Thomas and Dalhousie get back to the playoffs, which means UPEI and UdeM might be on the outside looking in come February. Or not.

The good news for everyone in the AUS is that with UNB hosting the University Cup in March another team from the conference will be also advancing to the championship tournament.

  • Preseason: 4-4-0
  • Last season: 19-6-3. Regular season finish: 2nd
  • Vital stats: Power play – 20.9%, 3rd; penalty killing – 80.8%, 5th; goals for – 101, 4th; goals against – 83, 2nd
  • '09-'10 Recap: After a shaky start, the Axemen had a nine game win streak going into Christmas, and were 8-3-3 in the second half to hold onto second place. After their first round bye in the AUS playoffs, Acadia won the first game against SMU, but dropped the next three games in their best-of-five semi-finals.
  • Key losses: F David Lomas, F Paul McFarland, F Scott Giles, F Tyler Whitehead
  • Newcomers: D Michael Ward (Cape Breton, QMJHL), D Cullen Morin (Red Deer, WHL), D Leo Jenner (Plymouth, OHL), D Christopher Owens (Miramichi, MHL), F Dustin Ekelman (Mississauga, OHL), F Joe Gaynor (Plymouth, OHL), F Nathan Green (Red Deer, WHL), Jacob Dietrich (Portland, WHL / Victoria & Cincinnati, ECHL), F Jay Fehr (Brandon, WHL).
  • Coach: Darren Burns (10th 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.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: Acadia retains their top five point guys from last season, and added eight new bodies. They are a sound defensive team, and recent recruiting has made them a faster team on the only Olympic-sized ice surface in the AUS. They need more scoring to compete with UNB; they were in a lot of close games last season including nine that went to overtime. Nathan Green, who notched 59 points (and 14 in the playoffs) two seasons ago for Brandon, is the only new forward with a scoring touch. Defencemen Cullen Morin and Chris Owens had big offensive numbers in Junior, so look for an improved Acadia power play. Defencemen Beau Prokopetz is still out of the line-up after suffering a concussion in the playoffs last spring.
  • Projected finish: 2nd place.
  • Preseason: 4-2-0
  • Last season: 8-16-4, Regular season finish: 7th
  • Vital stats: Power play – 11.5%, 7th; penalty killing – 75.0%, 8th; goals for – 84, 7th; goals against – 127, 7th
  • '09-'10 Recap: Dal doubled their wins last year, but it was still only eight. But they did move up one place in the standings -- but still out of the playoffs. Too many losing streaks hurt the Tigers last year, like four games to start the season and five games to finish the regular season.
  • Key losses: F Patrick Sweeney, F Jeff Larsh, D Kyle Raftis, D Devrin Stonehouse, F Jeff MacGregor
  • Newcomers: F Pierre-Alexandre Vandall (Shawinigan, QMJHL), F Patrick Daley (Peterborough, OHL), F Brett Theberge (Peterborough, OHL), F Dan Joyce (Pictou County, MHL), F Brad McConnell (Camrose, AJHL), D Brett Plouffe (Tri-City, WHL), D Ben MacAskill (Halifax, QMJHL), D Nick Croft (Miramichi, MHL), D Justin Javorek (Ujpesti TE, Hungary pro), F Jordan Skellett (Saginaw, OHL)
  • Coach: Pete Belliveau (3rd season). Dal must be happy with his rebuilding efforts, because they gave Belliveau a five year contract extension over the summer. Belliveau is a proven winner -- 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 to take over the reins at Dal.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: For the second year in a row Belliveau added ten recruits to the Tigers, and P.-A. Vandall may make the biggest impact on the score sheet. Or it may be former Petes Patrick Daley and Brett Theberge. Whoever does it, Dal needs more goals scored, and less pucks aimed at their net. There are lots of new bodies to watch, plus tough Slovak Justin Javorek is eligible in November while Jordan Skellett had big points in the OHL and will join Dal in January. The Tigers bring back all of their goalies and looked improved on the back end, although one trusted pundit says that is a work in progress.
  • Projected finish: 6th place.
  • Preseason: 1-3-0
  • Last season: 9-16-3, Regular season finish: 6th
  • Vital stats: Power play – 11.3%, 8th; penalty killing – 83.3%, 3rd; goals for – 76, 8th; goals against – 108, 4th
  • '09-'10 Recap: Moncton lost nine of their first 11 games, and barely managed to make the playoffs, losing four of their last five games in the regular season. UdeM was swept in two games by Saint Mary’s in the first round of the playoffs.
  • Key losses: G Kevin Lachance, F Pierre-André Bureau, F Mathieu Bétournay, F/D Alexandre Soucy, D Carl MacLean
  • * Newcomers: G André-Michel Guay (Woodstock, MHL), F Keven Guérette-Charland (Val-d’Or & Gatineau, QMJHL), F Alexandre Leduc (Saint John & Gatineau, QMJHL), D Simon Lacroix (Val-d’Or, QMJHL), D Christopher Guay (PEI, QMJHL), F Jasmin Rochon, G Daniel Larocque.
  • Coach: Serge Bourgeois (2nd season). Stepping up to head coach was a trial by fire for young Bourgeois in his first season at the reins. He didn’t have a super recruiting class last season, and the team had their share of injuries. Bourgeois’ previous head coach experience was with Moncton (now Dieppe) of the MJAHL.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: For what it is worth, three of Moncton’s “Q” recruits finished last season in Quebec Junior A (Charland, Leduc and Christopher Guay). There doesn’t appear yet to be many studs in Bourgeois’ recruits, and Moncton needs to find a way to score a lot more goals while graduating two of their top-three scorers. Bourgeois is already telling local media that UdeM may not be the most skilled team, but fast and tough to play against. Hmm, that may be hockey code for not good enough to make the AUS playoffs.
  • Projected finish: 8th place.
  • Preseason: 4-2-0
  • Last season: 16-8-4, Regular season finish: 3rd (AUS & CIS Champions)
  • Vital stats: Power play – 24.2%, 2nd; penalty killing – 85.5%, 2nd; goals for – 120, 2nd; goals against – 88, 3rd
  • '09-'10 Recap: After a decent start, the Huskies stumbled a bit into Christmas. Then came the unprecedented media frenzy around former NHLer Mike Danton in the new year. The veteran players like captain Marc Rancourt stepped up and rallied the team, and SMU won their last four games leading into the playoffs. They swept UdeM in two games, and then dropped their first game to Acadia in the next round. However they won the next three to win that series, and then swept StFX in three games to win the AUS championship. So for the second year in a row, the Huskies were off to Thunder Bay. In their first game against McGill, they rallied from a two-goal deficit; scoring three goals in less than five minutes in the second period for the 4-2 win. The next day everything was clicking for SMU as they defeated Manitoba 5-0, with Neil Conway getting the shutout. The championship final against favourite Alberta was as exciting as they come. The Golden Bears had a big advantage in shots on net, but the Huskies were equal in scoring chances in the back and forth game, and Alberta’s Derek Ryan scored with less than five minutes left to force overtime. Moments after Mark Ashton hit the post to almost win it for Alberta, SMU’s Marc Rancourt circled behind the net and forced Travis Yonkman to give up a juicy rebound that Brad Smith backhanded in for the dramatic 3-2 Saint Mary’s victory.
  • Key losses: G Brandon Verge, F Marc Rancourt, F Cody Thorton, F Scott Brophy, F Kyle Doucet
  • Newcomers: F Michael Stickland (Swift Current, WHL), F Chris MacKinnon (Kitchener, OHL), F Lucas Bloodoff (Kelowna, WHL), F Joshua Domingues (Gatineau, QMJHL), D Kyle Wharton (Johnstown, ECHL & Syracuse, AHL), D Ryan Gottschalk (Barrie, OHL), F Jeff Marchand (Bridgewater, MHL), G Curtis Black (Woodstock, MHL)
  • Coach: Trevor Steinburg (14th season). His resume is impressive and now includes 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), 2007 Team Canada Head Coach - World University Games (Gold Medal). Bottom line, the former pro player is a good coach and players play for him.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: Will this be the hangover year after winning the school’s first ever championship last season? So far the Huskies haven’t looked that great in exhibition games, and as a result Stienburg has been calling out the team through the media. Graduating your two best power play forwards hasn’t helped, but winning Nationals certainly looks to have helped recruiting. SMU might have the best incoming class in the CIS, led by OHL 90 point guy MacKinnon and Stickland who put up big numbers in the ‘Dub. Plus, who knows the limit for Mike Danton, looking forward to his first full season after a summer to prepare properly. Former pro Wharton should certainly help the defence. That being said, there is a lot of changes on the SMU roster compared to UNB and Acadia.
  • Projected finish: 3rd place.
  • Preseason: 2-6-0
  • Last season: 7-19-2, Regular season finish: 8th
  • Vital stats: Power play – 17.0%, 5th; penalty killing – 77.2%, 7th; goals for – 92, 6th; goals against – 128, 8th
  • '09-'10 Recap: The young Tommies simply weren’t competitive in the AUS last year. Not enough wins, hampered by a five-game losing streak going into the Christmas Break, and then worse, an eight-game losing streak to end their season. While it may be easy to blame goaltending, team defence might have been STU’s Achilles’ heel.
  • Key losses: F Tyler Dietrich, F Maxim Chamberland, D Derek Lehr, F Wes Welcher, F Kenton Dulle
  • Newcomers: F Mathieu Melanson (Mississippi, ECHL), F Randy Cameron (Moncton, QMJHL), F Yuri Cheremetiev (Halifax & Acadie-Bathurst, QMJHL / Truro, MHL), D Christian Morin (Saint John, QMJHL), D/F Brad Tesink (Cape Breton, QMJHL / Woodstock, MHL), D/F Kyell Henegan (Victoriaville & Moncton, QMJHL)
  • Coach: Mike Eagles (9th season). The former long-time NHLer who worked too hard to be cut each year tries to instil 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 recently has a hard time recruiting the calibre of recruits of its next door competition.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: STU has an enigmatic crop of recruits this season. After a stellar career in the “Q”, Melanson played nine games for Dal back in 2006 before bailing for minor pro hockey, and then redshirted last season to try CIS hockey again. Cameron was at UPEI over the summer, but appeared at STU in September. Cheremetiev was labelled “underachieving Russian” in Junior. Henegan apparently didn’t play hockey last year. Overager Morin was crowded out in Saint John, but he is not the power play quarterback the Tommies lack. So the Tommies look like they will score some goals, but how many will they keep out of their own net? There looks to be a lot of questions for this team to answer. [Update: Today's Daily Gleaner has the news that team MVP Kenton Dulle has left St. Thomas and gone back home to Saskatchewan.]
  • Projected finish: 7th place.
  • Preseason: 4-3-1
  • Last season: 11-12-5, Regular season finish: 5th
  • Vital stats: Power – 14.5%, 6th; penalty killing – 78.0%, 6th; goals for – 94, 5th; goals against – 112, Tied-5th
  • '09-'10 Recap: The relatively young X-Men got off to a good start last season, but were only 4-7-2 in the second half. But they gained everyone’s attention when they stole a 4-3 win from UNB on the last weekend of the season to halt the V-Reds win streak at 26 games. In the first round of playoffs they swept UPEI with two 3-2 wins, and then became giant killers when they swept UNB in three games in the semis, all games again with 3-2 scores. Against the V-Reds X relied on stellar goaltending from Bryan Gillis (they were outshot 95-55 in the series) and an extremely tight defensive shell that forced UNB to carry the play while StFX patiently waited for their scoring opportunities from turnovers in the neutral zone. After giving everything they had for the upset over UNB, the X-Men were easily dispatched in three straight games by Saint Mary’s in the AUS championship.
  • Key losses: F Ryan Sparling, F Ryan Desrosiers, Tyson Aitcheson
  • Newcomers: F Jason Bast (Moose Jaw, WHL), F Scott Brannon (Moncton, QMJHL), D Derek Claffey (Swift Current, WHL), D R.D. Chisholm (Bridgewater, MHL), G Matthew Gregor
  • Coach: Brad Peddle (5th 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: The majority of last season’s giant killers are back at StFX this year, and Peddle has added stud captains from the WHL in Bast and Claffey, plus former Moncton Wildcats captain Brannon. They look to have all the tools, so if the X-Men can develop some consistency this season they might even finish as high as second place in the AUS. Or maybe we will have to wait until next season.
  • Projected finish: 4th place.
  • Preseason: 8-0-0
  • Last season: 27-1-0 (CIS record for wins & ties record for points), Regular season finish: 1st
  • Vital stats: Power play – 26.6%, 1st; penalty killing – 91.5%, 1st; goals for – 143, 1st; goals against – 56, 1st
  • '09-'10 Recap: UNB’s fairy tale season had a nightmare ending. Unbeaten until the last weekend of the regular season, a plucky StFX squad beat them 4-3 for their only loss, and then upset the V-Reds with three straight 3-2 victories in the AUS semi-finals. X allowed UNB to carry the play in all of their games, counting on a hot goalie and solid defensive zone team play to thwart and frustrate the V-Reds' offence, while cashing in on their rare opportunities at the other end.
  • Key losses: F John Scott Dickson, F/D Alex Aldred
  • Newcomers: F Nick MacNeil (Cape Breton, QMJHL), D/Asst. Coach Steve Pearce (McGill, OUA), Matias Keränen (HC Salamat & Keikko-Vantaa, Finnish Div.2 pro)
  • Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (11th season). The reigning CIS Coach of the Year, MacDougall has a 180-79-21 regular season record in the AUS, and he is the all-time wins leader among UNB coaches. He is a three-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. Quite simply, UNB is a CIS hockey power thanks to Gardiner MacDougall.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: Even though as host UNB has a free ticket to the dance at the University Cup, there is no question the Varsity Reds will want to go in the front door, and redeem for their shocking early exit last season. This team is only two or three players different from last season’s record setting squad. However, preseason injuries are testing the V-Reds depth: CIS All-Rookie defenceman Ben Shutron is gone for the season with a broken femur; d-man Ben Wright could be out until Christmas with a knee injury; forward Taylor Prosychen continues to have concussion related issues; hulking Josh Kidd is day to day. But any team with CIS MVP Hunter Tremblay and All-Canadian defenceman Luke Gallant, scoring on all four lines, and arguably the best team conditioning in the country, has to be a heavy favourite for the AUS and CIS titles.
  • Projected finish: 1st place.
  • Preseason: 2-3-0
  • Last season: 15-11-2, Regular season finish: 4th
  • Vital stats: Power play – 17.8%, 4th; penalty killing – 82.1%, 4th; goals for – 104, 3rd; goals against – 112, Tied-5th
  • '09-'10 Recap: Despite a so-so start, a player revolt/mutiny led to the ouster/resignation of fifth year head coach Dylan Taylor and his two assistants in mid November. The Panthers split wins and losses until the end of January, when they then went on a seven-game win streak to close out the regular season. However their season came to a screeching halt when they were swept in two games in the first round of the playoffs in a minor upset by StFX.
  • Key Losses: G Wayne Savage, F Howie Martin, D Brett Nasby, D Aaron Dawson, D James Cooley, F Greg Paynter
  • Newcomers: G Mark Guggenberger (Kelowna, WHL), D Matthew Maione (Guelph, OHL), D Matt Boyle (Lewiston, QMJHL), F Dana Fraser (Truro, MHL), F Jamie MacInnis (Charlottetown, MHL)
  • Coach: Forbes “Forbie” MacPherson (2nd season). MacPherson had the unenviable task of taking over as the interim Panthers head coach when Taylor and his assistants left, and this season he has shed the “interim” label. An Island native, he played for both UNB and UPEI before embarking on a minor pro hockey career. MacPherson was both an assistant coach and player with Bossier-Shreveport (under head coach and former UNB player Scott Muscutt) and later an assistant coach and director of hockey operations for the CHL’s Texas Brahmas.
  • '10-'11 Outlook: One wonders if the effects of last season’s player revolt still ripple through the UPEI program. Losing recruit Randy Cameron to STU has got to sting. Forward Jordan Knox is back in the Panthers fold after sitting out last season. UPEI had a number of good rookies last season who should only be better this year. This is a hard team to get a good read on, as they haven’t been that great in the preseason. However, if they can find that magic from late last season they could be a factor this season.
  • Projected finish: 5th place.
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