Hockey: 2011-12 AUS Season Preview

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

The UNB Varsity Reds won it all last season, their third University Cup in five years and their first hockey championship at home. This will be their second and last year to play host to the CIS championship, and the V-Reds will be trying to be the first team to win back-to-back championships since the Alberta Golden Bears pulled it off, at home, in 2005 and 2006. StFX came oh-so-close to beating UNB in the AUS championship, and were one goal away from beating McGill and meeting UNB for the University Cup. Saint Mary’s is two years removed from their first University Cup, and Acadia wants to get back there. Those four teams seem to be consensus “top-4” in the AUS, with UPEI and Dal jockeying for the middle, and UdeM and STU trying to get past those two teams and back in the playoffs.

Should be another great season in the most competitive conference in the CIS.

  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 14-11-3 (4th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 3-2-1. Swept UPEI in 1st round; lost to UNB in 4 games in semi-finals.
  • Power play: 21.8% (1st in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 80.6% (5th in AUS)
  • Last Season: Acadia had a comparatively young defence last season, and it showed, as the team gave up 8 more goals than they scored and Acadia was fairly inconsistent to the point of perhaps underperforming. They were streaky – win 3, lose 3, win 2 towards the end of first half and then win 4, lose 1, win 2, lose 3 to close out the second half. They rediscovered their defensive game in the playoffs, blanking UPEI 1-0 twice, and then they did their best to thwart UNB’s attack and speed with physical defensive systems, including that CIS-record quadruple-overtime game, a 3-2 loss, on February 27.
  • Key departures: G Kristofer Westblom, G Michael Chiasson, F Chris Bruton, F Philippe Bertrand, F Scott Tregunna, D Zach Firlotte.
  • Key arrivals: G Evan Mosher, G Peter DiSalvo, G Christopher Holden, F Nicolas Chouinard, F Joel Ridgeway, F Liam Heelis, F Alex Beaton, F John Girman, D Travis Gibbons.
  • Coach: Darren Burns (11th season)
  • Key Player: Andrew Clark was certainly Acadia’s offensive leader last season. He led the team in goals (16) and assists (16), with 8 of his goals and 7 assists coming on the AUS’s best power play. He had 31 more shots on goal than his next closest teammate, Jacob Dietrich. He added 2 goals and 2 assists in six playoff games. Along with veteran Axemen forwards Dietrich and Jonathan Laberge, Clark will be expected to carry the mail again this season.
  • 2011-12 Outlook:Rookie d-men Cullen Morin and Chris Owens were both named to the AUS All-Rookie team, with Owens also named to the CIS All-Rookie team last year so one could expect the Axemen to be more consistent this season with a more mature defence. The big question will be which of their three rookie goalies will become the go-to guy to replace Westblom, who played UNB so tough in the playoffs. Acadia has graduated a lot of upfront grit in captain Bruton and Tregunna, and that is not really the game of Clark, Laberge and Dietrich, so they’ll probably be looking to get physical play from their rookies and depth players. Acadia finished second in the AUS two seasons ago, but they were passed last season by SMU and StFX. If their new players can come through, especially in nets, they could threaten for a first round playoff bye.
  • Projected conference finish: 4th place.

  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 13-15-0 (6th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 0-2-0. Swept by StFX in 1st round.
  • Power play: 15.6% (6th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 76.6% (7th in AUS)
  • Last Season: Dalhousie continued their rebuilding and improved last season. They won some close games, but they also had many games get away from them (they lost 10 games by 3 goals or more), and only St. Thomas gave up more goals in conference play. They battled down the stretch and on the last weekend made the playoffs for the first time since 2004. However they were no match for StFX in the postseason.
  • Key departures: F Jordan Skellet, F Ryan Jenner, G Josh Disher
  • Key arrivals: F Kyle Decoste, D Pascal Amyot, D David MacDonald, D Zach Firlotte, D Tomas Stryncl, G Wendell Vye
  • Coach: Pete Belliveau (4th season).
  • Key Player: While forward Ben Breault was third in AUS scoring and a first-team AUS All-Star, the Tigers’ season may depend on how well Bobby Nadeau plays in nets. Dal doesn’t have the firepower to match the top teams in the AUS, so they need to win the close games and Nadeau is probably going to have to steal a few for them.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: Dal has been steadily improving under Belliveau, and squeaked into the playoffs last season, but they may not be able to repeat that feat this season. Moncton looks much improved and has enjoyed a decidedly better preseason than the Tigers. However Dal are returning 20 players from last season and they have added three veteran AUS d-men in transfer students MacDonald, Firlotte and Stryncl. MacDonald in particular could make a huge improvement to Dal’s power play so maybe one shouldn’t read too much into exhibition losses. This is a team with a lot of potential that could finish anywhere between 5th and 7th, and maybe even 4th if Acadia stutters, but they will have to keep games low scoring, and stay out of the penalty box.
  • Projected conference finish: 7th place.
  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 10-15-3 (7th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: N/A
  • Power play: 14.2% (7th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 79.7% (6th in AUS)
  • Last Season: It was not a fun time for Moncton. They missed the playoffs for the first time since 2003-04. They struggled to score goals, which is very uncharacteristic of les Aigles Bleus teams. They were a very streaky team, and a not in a good way: a 5-game losing streak early in the season, an 8-game losing streak that stretched over the Christmas break and 4-game losing streak to end the regular season. They were also the most penalized team in the AUS.
  • Key departures: F Alexandre Leduc, F Ian Mathieu-Girard, D Jean-Phillipe Pacquet
  • Key arrivals: F Christian Gaudet, D Simon Jodoin, D Samuel Groulx, D RĂ©mi Blanchard
  • Coach: Serge Bourgeois (3rd season).
  • Key Player: There are huge expectations in Moncton for former pro Gaudet, who has already been given an “A”, but captain Dean Ouellet was Moncton’s offence last season. Almost all of it. He led the team with 30 points while the next closest were Charles Bergeron with 17 points and Leduc with 15.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: The good news is that Moncton has 17 returning players who will want to get last season’s bad taste out of their mouths. The rookies have all been earning points in the preseason. Coach Bourgeois has told local media that they want to make it to the University Cup this season. That’s probably a stretch. They really, really need to stay out of the penalty box this season. Maybe some early wins will help ease frustration penalties, or perhaps they prefer being the team no one likes to play. If this team does put some wins together and regains their old swagger, and Gaudet meets expectations, they will be a team to reckon with. Traditionally Moncton has always been a team that plays with a ton of emotion, good and bad, but when they do have a lead they are hard to come back against, especially at home. They should be improved this season, and get back to the playoffs, but they probably won’t crack the top-four.
  • Projected conference finish: 6th place.
  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 18-9-1 (2nd place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 2-2-1. Lost to StFX in 5 games in semi-finals.
  • Power play: 21.3% (3rd in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 87.6% (2nd in AUS)
  • Last Season: The then-defending CIS champs had a so-so start to the season and then got really streaky from November on (there seemed to be a lot of that in the AUS). A 7-game win streak was followed by a 5-game losing streak, which was in turn followed by a 5-game winning streak. They earned a first-round playoff bye, and then had the dubious reward of playing StFX in the semifinals. The same X-Men who were UNB giant-killers the year before. The teams traded wins in their best-of-five series, with SMU outshooting StFX every game except the last. That deciding game went to double-overtime, but the Huskies visibly sagged in extra time and it appeared inevitable that the X-Men would win it.
  • Key departures: D Andrew Hotham, D David MacDonald, F Cam Fergus, F Justin Munden, F Mike Danton
  • Key arrivals: D Michael D’Orazio, D Jamie Doorsbosch, G Anthony Peters, F Stephen Johnston, F Matt Tipoff, F Trevor Carmichael, G Curtis Black
  • Coach: Trevor Steinburg (15th season).
  • Key Player: Rookie Chris MacKinnon had a great season, and will probably be expected to carry even more of the offensive load, but All-Canadian goalie Neil Conway played all 28 regular season games last season and got the nod as the AUS’s top ‘tender. He of course backstopped the Huskies to their University Cup win the previous season. With their defensive changes, and two new goalies pushing him, there will be a ton of pressure on Conway this season.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: The Huskies probably can’t replace Hotham, the CIS Defenceman of the Year and their top point man. His defensive partner MacDonald, another All-Canadian, is now at Dal. Fergus was their top forward. All three were key parts of their CIS championship two years ago. But they’ve still got goalie Conway, a lot of good young players from last season, and they’ve added a good looking recruiting class. They should be fine. The team is banged up right now with only four healthy d-men, and with all the newbies they might get off to a slow start, especially on the power play which used to be their bread and butter for victories. Have they lost too much of that University Cup winning experience? Do they have elite-level offensive depth? And again, how will this team adjust to losing Hotham’s dominant minutes? Lots of questions, which might have SMU behind reloaded UNB or hungry StFX at the end of the season.
  • Projected conference finish: 3rd place.

  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 3-21-4 (Last place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: N/A.
  • Power play: 14.2% (8th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 74.7% (8th in AUS)
  • Last Season: What can you say. Worst season in memory that cost STU’s AD/Hockey coach Mike Eagles one of his two hats. Goalie Charles Lavigne had a 3-game carry-over suspension from the previous season and the Tommies dropped all three games. Lavigne gets back in and they win, but he picks up another suspension in a post-victory scrum. Tommies lose those two games without him and then they never seem to recover and the nightmare lasts until February.
  • Key departures: F Jason Cassidy, F Kenton Dulle, F Corey Banfield, F Devan Praught, D Keith Wynn, G Ben MacFarlane
  • Key arrivals: F Stephen Sanza, F Jonathan Bonneau, G Justin Collier, D Chris Van Laren, D Felix-Antoine Poulin
  • Coach: Troy Ryan (1st season).
  • Key Player: It seems pretty simple. The Tommies will go as far as goalie Charles Lavigne takes them, and he needs to stay on form, and stay in the games and avoid further hot-headed suspensions. Lavigne has the ability to steal games and give his team a chance to win.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: New coach Troy Ryan has a successful history of rebuilding Junior “A” teams and turning them into contenders. As a player he played for both UNB and Saint Mary’s, so he brings that experience to the table as well. After last year’s miserable season the Tommies can only be better this year. Good enough to make the playoffs? Probably not. But that doesn’t really matter. STU is in official rebuild mode now, and Ryan should have the freedom to take a couple of seasons to find the right players to rebuild team pride, turn them into contenders again, and recapture their fans. Plus, one season from now they move into a brand new city-built rink. So right now there is cautious optimism for the Tommies, but it could still end up being another long cold winter.
  • Projected conference finish: 8th place.

  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 17-10-1 (3rd place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 8-4-2. Swept Dal in 2 games in quarter-finals; Beat SMU in 5 games in semi-finals; Lost to UNB in 5 games in AUS finals; 1-1 at University Cup for 3rd place.
  • Power play: 21.6% (2nd in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 83.0% (3rd in AUS)
  • Last Season: After a streaky start (4 wins followed by 6 losses) the X-Men found their form in mid-November and pushed Saint Mary’s hard for second place and the coveted first round playoff bye. In the process they beat the Huskies in all four regular season meetings, but lost all four of their games against UNB. Come playoffs, they made short work of Dal but came out flat in their first game against Saint Mary’s in the semis. They rebounded, and wore down the Huskies as they dragged out the series to five games, winning eventually in double-overtime. Against UNB in the AUS finals they lost the first game in OT, squeaked out a win in game 2 in double-OT, dropped game 3, came back from a 2-goal deficit in a must-win game 4, forced overtime in game 5, and then fell short in extra time. The first game at the University Cup they looked a little flat against McGill, but Hubert Morin had to make an incredible third-period save to preserve the 2-1 win for the Redmen. The next day they had a decisive 3-1 win over Alberta, and then had to hope for a big Bears win over McGill, which didn’t happen, to advance to the championship game.
  • Key departures: F Chris Hulit, D Sean Donovan, G Bryan Gillis, F Phil Mangan, F Matthew Bragg
  • Key arrivals: F Michael Kirkpatrick, D Garbriel O’Conner, F Ted Stephens, F Jarrad Struthers, G Morgan Clark
  • Coach: Brad Peddle (6th season).
  • Key Player:Without doubt, All-Star goalie Joey Perricone was StFX’s most valuable player last season, and he will probably have to be again this season if they hope to win the AUS and CIS championships. His strong play in nets allows his team to win games even when significantly outshot, such as the four SMU games in the regular season. When Perricone is on his game, the skaters in front of him can play patient defensive hockey and simply wait for scoring opportunities against their frustrated opponent.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: This is a hungry, hungry hockey team that is still bitter about how close they came to the AUS banner, and then how close they came to playing for the University Cup. 15 players are back from that team. CIS Rookie-of-the-year Jason Bast got better and better as the season went along, and led all AUS playoff scorers with 17 points in 12 games. Most of their defence is back. Perricone is Perricone. Peddle managed to steer Memorial Cup winning power forward Michael Kirkpatrick away from UNB. The X-Men play pragmatic hockey – whatever it takes to win. Defensive systems, smash-mouth hockey, endless shot blocking, rope-a-dope, and the trap are all part of their repertoire that they can throw at teams. Only rarely can the X-Men be drawn into run-and-gun hockey, and not for the whole game. They don’t play for style points. They have what it takes to win, and could just as likely be the next CIS champions as UNB.
  • Projected conference finish: 2nd place.
  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 23-5-0 (1st place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 9-2-1. Beat Acadia in 4 games in semi-finals; Outlasted StFX in 5 games in AUS finals; 3-0 at University Cup for 1st place.
  • Power play: 18.7% (4th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 90.5% (1st in AUS)
  • Last Season: While they didn’t have another 26 game winning streak, UNB was undefeated at home in the regular season and only lost 5 games on the road. They boasted the best team defence in the CIS – they only allowed 46 goals against and goalie Travis Fullerton had a UNB-record 5 shutouts in the regular season. They had the best offence in the AUS. Still, Acadia pushed them to four games in the semis in the playoffs, including that record quadruple overtime game on February 27, and StFX made them go the 5-game limit in the AUS championship. Like StFX they had a bit of a flat start to the University Cup, but they got by Calgary thanks to Josh Kidd’s last second goal, and then cruised to 4-0 wins over Western and McGill to win their fourth University Cup.
  • Key departures: F Hunter Tremblay, F Lachlan MacIntosh, F/D Josh Hepditch, F Taylor Procyshen, F Ryan Seymour, G Derek Yeomans
  • Key arrivals: G Daniel LaCosta, F Tyler Carroll, F Thomas Nesbitt, F Robbie Drummond, F Stefan Salituro, F Antoine Houde-Caron, F Taylor MacDougall, D Chad Denny
  • Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (12th season).
  • Key Player:While Travis Fullerton may be the most underrated goalie in the AUS and CIS, and has two rings already, the key player for UNB this season may be Chris Culligan. For his first two seasons with the V-Reds Culligan centred starry Hunter Tremblay, putting up great numbers while staying out of the spotlight. Now he’s the top dog on the top line, and the attention will be on him.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: Sure, Hunter Tremblay is gone, and Daine Todd isn’t back in the line-up yet, and rookie Carroll hasn’t played since being blindsided by Calgary’s Walker Wintoneak early in September, but let’s see what’s left. All six of UNB’s top defencemen are back, if a bit banged up. Fullerton is back. Captain Kyle Bailey decided to come back for his fifth season after the AHL didn’t work out. LaCosta won two games for Columbus in the NHL a couple of years ago. Former pro Drummond should be healthy to play in November, and former pro Denny with the heavy shot will be eligible in November. Nesbitt might be the next Tremblay. How do you bet against the defending champs? Seriously.
  • Projected conference finish: 1st place.
  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 14-11-3 (5th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 0-2-0. Swept by Acadia in quarter-finals.
  • Power play: 17.8% (5th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 81.7% (4th in AUS)
  • Last Season: After an okay start, towards the end of the first half UPEI was 3 and 4 games above .500 and threatening to crack the AUS top-4. The second half wasn’t as kind to the Panthers, and they slipped back to .500 while almost passing slumping Acadia at the end of the season. However Acadia sorted themselves out and shut down the Panthers potent offence as they swept UPEI in two 1-0 games in the playoff quarter-finals.
  • Key departures: F Corey Vitarelli, F Thomas Waugh, D Tomas Stryncl
  • Key arrivals: F Chris Desousa, F Travis MacIsaac, F Harrison McIver, D Spencer Metcalfe, G Travis Parks, F Devan Praught
  • Coach: Forbes “Forbie” MacPherson (3rd season).
  • Key Player:All-Star forward Matt Carter had his best season ever at UPEI with 44 points last year to tie Hunter Tremblay for the AUS points lead. His 20 goals was second only to Tremblay’s 22. His 8 power play goals was tied for the AUS lead. He could be the favourite to win the AUS scoring title this season.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: UPEI needs to find consistency and avoid second half fades which have been their curse the last few years. They’ve got a star forward in Carter and balanced scoring, good and sometimes spectacular goaltending with Jhase Sniderman and a decent defence. The recruits look to be pretty good but don’t scream “stud” (but there are rumours of further higher-end pick-ups). Coach MacPherson now has more of “his” players on the team which should be a plus. This is a hard team to project – they could crack the top-4 or maybe slide right out of the playoffs. It could all come down to their second half.
  • Projected conference finish: 5th place.
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