Carrying on from yesterday, here’s the second post in our series on lower-ranked teams to watch for in the playoffs and the national championships (if they make it that far). The last post looked at potential dark-horse candidates in men’s and women’s volleyball. Remember, the only criterion is that teams have to be ranked below #4 in the most recent Top 10 poll. Today, we move on to men’s and women’s hockey.
Men’s hockey: St. Francis Xavier X-Men: The X-Men were ranked sixth in the last Top-10 poll, and they’re playing the #4 Saint Mary’s Huskies in the best-of-five AUS semifinals. Only the winner has a chance at making the nationals (UNB has a host berth and then there’s one other AUS berth, so if the Varsity Reds knock off Acadia, either X or SMU is in, but if the Axemen upset UNB, only the AUS champion and UNB would make it), so it’s quite possible that the X-Men won’t even make it that far. Don’t write off their chances of pulling an upset, though; our David Kilfoil wrote earlier that St. FX’s physical style matches up very well with Saint Mary’s. The X-Men won all four of their games against the Huskies this season, and they’ve also got revenge on their mind after losing to Saint Mary’s last year in the playoffs. It’s quite possible to envision them knocking off the Huskies and moving on to the nationals.
If the X-Men manage to make it to the big dance, I could see them making a little noise. Their 17-10-1 regular-season record wasn’t incredibly notable, but they’ve got some impressive players. Chief among them is Bryce Swan, who finished the year with 19 goals (fifth nationally) and 10 assists in 28 games. They also have one of the best goalies in the country, Joey Perricone, who put up a .925 save percentage (sixth nationally) and a 2.37 GAA (seventh) in the 19 games he played. If things work out for X and Perricone gets hot at the right time, the top-ranked Varsity Reds might not be the only AUS team to make a splash on the national stage.
Women’s hockey: Brock Badgers: The Badgers aren’t exactly off the national radar. They checked in at #5 in the most recent Top-10 poll, and thus would be expected to take the second OUA spot (after Laurier’s host berth) at the nationals. In reality, the path there isn’t quite that easy, as they still have to get past Guelph in the semifinals; the Gryphons were ranked eighth in the last poll and are a dangerous opponent.
However, you’d have to imagine that Brock should be able to make it to the OUA finals. The Badgers put up an impressive 22-5 mark this season (a .815 winning percentage). That tied them for the second-highest number of wins nationally with St. FX (although the X-Women went 22-0 and McGill went 20-0), behind only Laurier. Their 85 goals for and 52 against are nothing to sneeze at, either, and forward Kelly Walker finished second in the country with 41 points. It’s the goaltending that may prove their biggest advantage, though; Beth Clause started 23 of their games, putting up a .943 save percentage (third nationally) and a 1.64 goals-against-average (eighth nationally). Making the nationals isn’t a guarantee for Brock, but if they get there, they could surprise a few teams.
Tune in tomorrow for my picks on basketball teams that could surprise.