In this week's post: Carleton cracks the CIS Top 10, a recap of the week that was in the OUA East, and a look ahead to the game of the week. But first, a closer look at Nipissing's challenges.
Building a university hockey program in North Bay, Ontario, comes with its own unique set of challenges. Like providing impromptu geography lessons, for example.
“I’ve talked to kids who have no idea where Nipissing is,” said Lakers Head Coach Mike McParland. “I have to draw them a map.”
One can’t imagine the same thing happening to coaches from McGill or the University of Toronto very often.
With that recruiting challenge in mind, the success of the Nipissing Lakers men's hockey team is all the more impressive. In the second season of the program’s existence, McParland has guided the Lakers to a 16-8-3 record and a guaranteed top-four finish in the OUA East.
McParland, a Nipissing graduate who returned to North Bay after 20 years coaching in Europe, admitted that it hasn’t been easy to recruit top-level players to a town in Northern Ontario with a population barely over 60,000.
“I’ve had players tell me flat-out: ‘I don’t want to play hockey in a town like North Bay,’” McParland said.
Recruiting players, therefore, requires an expert sales pitch — one that McParland has become quite adept at delivering. Everyone who comes to North Bay, he said, loves it after they arrive. He often tells potential recruits an anecdote about having dinner with former Nipissing University President Dennis Mock, to illustrate his point.
“During dinner, I told [Mock] that what amazed me was how every student I talked to, male or female, all said: ‘I love it here,’” McParland said. “Soon after, [Mock] got talking to our waitress, who turned out to be a Nipissing student. He asked her what she thought of North Bay, and right on cue, she said: ‘I love it here.’”
It also helps that North Bay loves its hockey. Nipissing has the third-highest attendance in the CIS, averaging 1,731 fans per game this year — which creates an enticing alternative to the apathy surrounding many other CIS hockey programs.
“The Lakers have become the ‘big game’ in town,” said Ken Pagan, sports editor of the North Bay Nugget. “North Bay lost the Centennials [of the OHL] in 2002, and since then people have been searching for a good brand of hockey. They’re starting to realize they have that with the Lakers.”
Indeed, the Lakers have played surprisingly well in their first two years of existence. After a relatively successful first year — in which they notched 25 points and finished in seventh — Nipissing has rocketed into the OUA East top four, and could finish as high as second.
That success is partly due to playing the easiest schedule in the CIS. Nipissing hasn’t faced a team with a winning record since they were outscored 14-4 in two games against Lakehead back in mid-November. As Pagan points out, however, the Lakers have an impressive 4-0 record against Carleton and UQTR this year, which proves they can match some of the best teams in the conference.
Reporters from across Canada seem to agree, as Nipissing was ranked in the CIS Top 10 (at #10) one week ago, and received an honourable mention this week.
“That ranking is helping people notice our program, and generating some interest from potential players all over the country,” McParland said. “It’s a gratifying accomplishment for our team.”
It’s also a testament to McParland’s talents as a coach. Nipissing has only one player (Andrew Marcoux) in the top 50 in OUA scoring this season, and has only two players in their third or fourth year of eligibility — yet they still sit in fourth place in the conference. With all due respect to McGill’s Kelly Nobes and Carleton’s Marty Johnston, McParland should be the odds-on favourite for OUA East Coach of the Year.
Let’s just hope the recognition helps put Nipissing on the map.
Carleton cracks CIS Top 10
Welcome to the national spotlight, Carleton.
The Ravens captured a well-deserved place in the CIS Top 10 this week, after dominating the Gee-Gees 6-2 on Friday, and then defeating the second-ranked McGill Redmen 3-0 on Saturday — the second time in seven days that Carleton had shutout the Redmen.
Backup netminder Ryan Dube made 26 saves for the Ravens, and has not allowed a goal in 168 minutes and 48 seconds against the Redmen this season. The only goaltender in the OUA East with a better save percentage than Dube (.912) is his teammate Matthew Dopud (who’s currently out of the lineup with a concussion).
Carleton now sits 3rd in the RPI and will have Brandon MacLean and Ryan Berard back in the lineup this week, fresh off a bronze medal at the World University Games. MacLean had an incredible tournament, leading all players with 13 points in six games. In his absence, Joey Manley’s been almost as hot — registering seven goals in his last five games.
As I wrote last week, it’s Carleton’s defence that deserves more recognition though. While they may not be flashy, they’ve limited opponents to only 61 goals this season — the lowest total in the OUA.
For McGill, much has been written about the various players absent from their lineup, but perhaps the most-telling sign that the Redmen were undermanned was the presence of rookie Ryan McKiernan at right wing on the top line. McKiernan played the first 18 games of the season (and his entire major junior career) as a defenceman. And while he’s got a great shot, he’s definitely no Francis Verreault-Paul (who's missed five games with a leg injury).
Excuses aside, the truth is that (with the exception of a 4-0 victory against UQTR) McGill has cooled-off considerably since the Christmas break. In 18 games before the break, McGill outscored their opponents 107-44. In the seven games since, that margin is only 23-21. The return of their best two-way forwards (Evan Vossen and Maxime Langalier-Parent) and the best defenceman in the country (Marc-Andre Dorion) should set them back on the right track, though.
Meanwhile, with the loss to Carleton on Friday, Ottawa has dropped nine of their last eleven games. It’s been a brutal stretch of the schedule for the young Gee-Gees, as they haven’t played a team with a losing record since November 20. With their final two games on the road against McGill and UQTR, Ottawa is likely to finish in the eighth (and final) playoff spot, and have a first-round date with the Redmen.
AROUND THE LEAGUE
FEB 9 – UQTR 3, Concordia 2: The Patriotes returned to action after a 10-day layoff with a narrow victory over the Stingers last night. Dynamic defenceman Pierre-Luc Lessard picked-up an assist in the win, and has now registered points in 16 of his last 19 games (a total of 25 points in that stretch).
Concordia, who have lost four of their last five games, currently sits in sixth place and their schedule doesn’t get any easier, as they finish the season by hosting Carleton and McGill. Interesting to note that Raffaele D’Orso has started two out of the last three games for the Stingers, in the place of struggling fourth-year starter Maxime Joyal — who has an ugly .867 save percentage.
FEB 5 — Queen’s 5, RMC 2: The Golden Gaels jumped ahead of Concordia and into fifth place with a victory over RMC on Saturday. Jordan Mirwaldt is finally showing signs of life, as he’s notched five points in his last two games, and is trying to break out of a disappointing sophomore slump. After posting 40 points last year, he’s only on pace for 28 this season. Queen’s also defeated Ryerson 3-1 the previous night (Friday, Feb 4).
FEB 5 — Toronto 3, Nipissing 0: The Varsity Blues have had Nipissing’s number all year long. Rookie Garrett Sheehan made 23 saves to register his first career shutout, while winger Paul Dupont notched his first goal in 18 games for Toronto. Only two points separate fifth from eighth in the playoffs standings, so the Varsity Blues (currently 7th) still have a lot to play for.
ONE TO WATCH
Friday, February 11 @ 7 p.m. — UQTR vs. Carleton
Available on SSN Canada
The Ravens play host to the Patriotes with the victor gaining the inside-edge for the #2 seed. Currently Carleton sits one point ahead of UQTR and Nipissing, who are tied for third place. Playoff seeding shouldn’t matter too much in the first round (as there’s a large drop-off in quality between the top four and bottom four playoff teams), but it could be crucial in the second round. Carleton holds a 2-1 edge in the season series, and won the last meeting 6-3.*
*Correction — This article incorrectly stated that UQTR held a 2-1 edge in the season series versus Carleton. In fact, Carleton has won 2 out of the 3 games.