The other shoe has fallen. After UPEI men's hockey rookie Mason Wilgosh was assessed a match penalty for a dangerous hit on Acadia's star defenceman Christopher Owens back on November 30th, AUS followers have waited to see if the conference would follow up on their talk this season about putting a focus on head injuries. They have. It was announced yesterday that Wilgosh received an automatic four-game suspension for the match penalty under CIS rules and that AUS executive director Phil Currie added an additional eight-game suspension in supplemental discipline.

This season the AUS men's hockey conference moved two games from the second half to the first half, meaning that there is only 12 games remaining in the schedule for each team after Christmas. As Wilgosh has already served one game of his suspension, and he won't be permitted to "serve" any of his suspension during UPEI holiday exhibition games, the first-year player won't be allowed to play again until the last regular season game of the second half -- February 8th at home versus St. Thomas.

For that second period half hit on Owens, Wilgosh was assessed a major penalty, a match penalty for intent to injure and an automatic game misconduct -- 25 minutes in penalties on the game sheet. That is more PIMs in one game than Wilgosh accumulated in 59 games played with the WHL's Tri-City Americans last season.

As for the victim, Owens was interviewed the following day shortly before the UNB-Acadia game on Annapolis Valley Radio by play-by-play man Len Hawley. Owens said then that he was doing pretty good and didn't remember anything just before the hit, only that he woke up on the stretcher and saw head coach Darren Burns (by my estimation that was probably half way through the approximately 20 minutes between the hit and when Owens was finally taken by ambulance to hospital).

There's more on Owens current condition in today's Halifax Herald. “It could have been very bad, but fortunately it wasn’t,” Currie said of the hit. “It’s a concussion. He had to defer the writing of his exams to next semester, which is really unfortunate. But we have a duty, especially in university sport, of protecting the student aspect of student-athletes. That’s a position we were public about taking and that’s where we’ll be moving forward.”

So there you go -- a dangerous blindside hit and the perpetrator is assessed almost a half-season in suspensions under the AUS's new focus. Maybe this will get players to think twice before going for that big hit. Cross your fingers.

UPDATE: UPEI has filed a formal appeal on the Wilgosh suspension for "unfairness in the process, and in the severity of the suspension.”
For the third year in a row, McMaster's Kyle Quinlan tops our list of the best passing performances in CIS football. And once again it's not particularly close.

Last year, we found Quinlan to be worth approximately five wins more than a replacement-level quarterback, based on his adjusted passing yardage (including sacks, touchdowns, and interceptions), for both the season and the playoffs. His lead over the second-place QB, Windsor's Austin Kennedy was one win, 4.8 to 3.8, and slightly behind Kennedy was that year's Hec Crighton winner, Billy Greene of UBC.

This year's Hec, of course, went to the Mac pivot, and as mentioned, his lead in our QB rankings was again quite large. He was worth 5.5 wins by our calculation, one and a half ahead of Calgary's Eric Dzwilewski, who has the distinction of being the best non-Quinlan QB in two years by this figuring.

Quinlan's per-attempt numbers were lower (read: human) this year, so in some ways his 2011, especially the playoff run, was more impressive. However, since he did not have a run-in with any undercover police officers this year, Quinlan actually led the country in passing attempts ... and still in adjusted net yards per attempt as well, basically tied with Dzwilewski. Leading in both is remarkable, a Justin Verlander-in-2011 type performance. (Way to use another baseball analogy in a football post, Rob.)

Rounding out this year's top five are Dzwilewski, the Canada West MVP and Hec nominee (4.0 WAR, 5th last year); Laval's Tristan Grenon (3.8 WAR), whose team bettered Quinlan's this time at the end of the season, and who only made 11 pass attempts last year as a backup; Sherbrooke's Jérémi Doyon-Roch (3.5 WAR, 8th last year), who in an only-in-CIS moment, appears in this year's stats as Roch-Doyon, and then again merely as "Roch" on the Sherbrooke roster page; and Regina's Marc Mueller (2.8 WAR), who needs no introduction.

Full rankings:

On the other side of the list, the passing leaders for Alberta and SMU were each barely above replacement—which is to be expected from the 0-8 Bears, but maybe not the 3-5 Huskies (who were a win away from playing in a bowl game, in case anyone needs the reminder). Though again, it is a good reminder that when we say "Quinlan leads the rankings" we really mean "McMaster's passing offence, when led by Quinlan." Team factors and player ability get mixed up in basic football statistics all the time, and not all the blame for Alberta falls on the quarterback, but those basic numbers are all we have for CIS.

The players near the top of this list who are not Kyle Quinlan can take solace in the fact that he has run out of eligibility, so we will have a new leader in 2013. Taking bets now on who that could be ...
There's not a ton of games being webcast to choose from this weekend, the last weekend of CIS men's hockey before the Christmas exam break.


AUS: A couple of good choices. UPEI will have their hands full in Wolfville with #4 ranked Acadia, while short-staffed St. Thomas are the proverbial underdog versus visiting 8th ranked Saint Mary's.
The Acadia game became VERY edgy after star Axemen defenceman Chris Owens was laid out by UPEI's Mason Wilgosh in the 2nd period. Owens went to the hospital on a stretcher while Wilgosh earned a match penalty. Acadia won 3-1. In Fredericton STU twice had the lead, but the Huskies tied it up and won it 3-2 after an overtime shootout. 

OUA: Not a marquee match-up, but 5th ranked UQTR is playing gritty RMC.
This one also went to an overtime shootout, with UQTR winning 4-3. Not a bad pick, huh?  :-)

Canada West: No webcasts, which is a shame, because Alberta @ Manitoba looks promising.


AUS: It was the biggest match-up in the CIS a few weeks ago, and they're back at for their third meeting of the first team. Each has won 4-2 at home.  #2 UNB at #4 Acadia in a probable battle for 1st place in the AUS (depending on what happens Friday night).
UNB may have out-shot and out-chanced Acadia, but the Axemen got strong goaltending and took better advantage of their opportunities for the big 3-2 win on home ice. 

OUA: Again, not a lot of choice in the OUA but I would lean towards the RMC-McGill match, as the Paladins can play the Redmen tough (the reigning CIS champs who only got one 10th place vote this week ...).
No Cinderella story Saturday. McGill was ahead 5-0 midway through second period and finished with 7-2 win.

Canada West: Nothing to see here.
Continuing our look at the top 10 teams in men's basketball. Our team rankings are here.

There is not quite a sea change, but at least a pond change in the OUA so far this year. Ryerson's appearance in the top 10 is the first time a second OUA East team has been ranked since January 2011, and the first time in two years we've had more teams from the East than the West. (And when was the last time Laurentian topped Lakehead in SRS?) OUA East teams are 31-11 so far this year, or 26-10 (.722) without Carleton; last year it was almost exactly the reverse: 12-32 (.272), ignoring both Carleton and RMC games.

Meanwhile, in Canada West play, UBC, Alberta, and UFV all are national contenders again, a year after they were only eliminated once they lost to the eventual CIS gold or silver medallists. Yet each has some imperfections that may keep them from repeating that success.

  1. Carleton (11-1, 4th in RPI, +25.2 SRS) — Remember how they were shooting just 38% on two-pointers after their first two games? They're at 57% now. Best in the country. It's almost like outlier performances in small samples are unsustainable. Someone just needs to tell TSN now.

    The Carletons have won games by 40, 49, 41, and 50 in their six-game conference schedule so far, the exceptions being their opening loss to Windsor, and merely a 12-point win over McMaster. The 41-point game was a 94-53 takedown of the Slightly Depressed Group of Dudes, who are 1-4 in conference play but remain top-10 in RPI due to the third-highest strength of schedule in CIS and an 8-3 record in non-conference games.

  2. Acadia (9-0, 6th in RPI, +5.3 SRS) — Like McGill, are probably ranked high because they are undefeated; unlike McGill, they have not won as convincingly as a No. 2-ranked team does and should (like a nine-point win over UPEI that was a two-possession game with a minute left). What's happened so far for the Axemen is a midpack offence boosted by a killer defence ... but as we learned with Carleton, just two paragraphs above, these things have a way of not lasting very long. Acadia's defensive percentages are very low (effective field-goal percentage at 34.1%, for example) and their defensive rating of 69.7, best in CIS, will likely go up another 5 or 10 points by the time the season is over.

  3. McGill (10-0, 1st in RPI, +11.0 SRS) — Vincent Dufort. That's it. That's all I got. Just "Vincent Dufort."

  4. UBC (12-2, 3rd in RPI, +13.1 SRS) — Losing to Alberta by two points (in Edmonton, the day after playing in Saskatoon) dropped them one spot in the top 10, but RPI-wise they remained unchanged at third after this weekend. They missed "five straight shots in the final minute, including three attempts from three-point range", any one of which would have (obviously) at least tied it up.

    Our estimates show San Jose State transfer Brylle Kamen has grabbed 28% of available defensive rebounds for the T-Birds, accomplishing two things: (1) replacing Kamar Burke and (2) providing an example of how individual statistics, rebounds especially, can be affected by usage and role. Not to take anything away from Kamen, but you could probably drop any above-average big man into the UBC defence and he would have 20% or 25% just by virtue of standing there.

  5. Cape Breton (9-4, 5th in RPI, +12.2 SRS) — After years of waiting for them to play St. F-X, we're now waiting for them to play Acadia.

    Side note: only seven players saw the floor for SMU when CBU beat them 90-86, and only six played more than five minutes.

  6. UFV (8-3, 11th in RPI, +12.0 SRS) — Beat Manitoba by a lot, Winnipeg by less. The Wesmen's results are actually respectable this year, unlike say three years ago when they finished behind RMC in RPI. Kyle Grewal, one of the most fun players to watch at the 2012 Final 8, has hardly left the court but also is shooting quite poorly by his standards. A 2-for-13 night against Winnipeg (and 0/7 vs. Manitoba) is more palatable for the Cascades given that they won, but it's not encouraging regardless.

  7. Alberta (9-3, 2nd in RPI, +12.9 SRS) — A sweep of UVic and UBC at home pushed them up nine spots in RPI, and three in the coaches' poll. Presumably if they keep doing this, they might be considered on-par with teams who did not make last year's national championship final and are not top-3 in both RPI and SRS.

    Jordan Baker shot an effective 50% on the weekend, improving his numbers—he was at a 40% clip previously—which is good news for Alberta if he is going to continue to use nearly a third of their possessions, approaching what is now known as the Pasquale Line.

  8. Windsor (6-3, 14th in RPI, +10.6 SRS) — The RPI rank will take some time to stabilize: they went from 33rd to 4th to 14th in just three weeks. If they finish the crossover portion of the schedule as the only team above .500 (and since 2-3 Laurier has Carleton and Ottawa coming up, they will be), by how much are they going to win the OUA West? They're shooting an effective 45%, so how much better are they going to be against Guelph and Western and Waterloo and Laurier and Brock and ... you get the idea.

  9. Saskatchewan (9-4, 15th in RPI, +8.8 SRS) — Owners of the best non-Carleton offensive rating in the country, the Huskies couldn't do what Alberta did the next night and knock off UBC in a close game. In that game, Stephon Lamar went 5 of 20 overall and 2 of 11 on threes. Probably not what he intended. Had he merely shot to his season averages so far, he would have scored 27 points, not 16—more than enough to win.

  10. Ryerson (8-2, 5th in RPI, +12.5 SRS) — Finally in the top 10. Have played much the same schedule as Carleton, with the same number of points allowed, but the Ravens' slow pace factor (no, slower than that) means the Rams are ahead on defensive efficiency: 80.6 points allowed per 100 possessions compared to Carleton's 86.9. (The 24-point spread offensively is what keeps the Carletons in a different tier.) Bjorn Michaelsen is having an excellent start to the year on both sides of the court.
So we’ve reached the midway point of the AUS men’s hockey season, 14 games, and there’s still one more weekend of games to go. This year the AUS coaches elected to play a 16-12 schedule split so that they could finish the second half and playoffs one week earlier — a response to the 2013 PotashCorp University Cup starting a week earlier in March than usual.

UNB is now solely in first place in the standing, but just one narrow point ahead of Acadia, and three points ahead of Saint Mary’s. Quote of the week goes to Winnipeg’s ‘Hollywood3’ on HFBoards discussing his ‘Official Hollywood Top 35’, a counter to the CIS Top 10, “I am concerned about the skew in the AUS. They now have 5 teams in A level, 1 team in B level, and 2 teams in C level. But the teams take turns beating each other and although Moncton is now borderline, that can change week to week. Just last week SMU and SFX were on the outside looking in.” The Varsity Reds close out the first “half” against the Axemen next Saturday in Wolville in a game that will probably decide who gets to sit at the top of the board over the holidays.

Penalties do matter. Especially 5-on-3 situations.

There’s a lot going well for the Varsity Reds in the first half. While veteran goalie Travis Fullerton has been pretty average in nets (and came down sick before this past weekend), a healthy Dan LaCosta has been very sharp and is 8-0-0. The three rookies have all made an impact and former Saint Mary’s captain Colby Pridham is second on the team in points (15). After a bit of a slow start, team captain Chris Culligan has been on a tear since missing two games when he was sick. Culligan leads the team in points (16) and linemate Tyler Carroll has the team lead in goals (8). Several players have played on that line’s right wing; the last four games it has been former X-Men Bryce Swan’s turn and he’s scored four of his six goals this season. The team graduated their top three defencemen from last season, but have hardly missed a step, except on the penalty kill.

Yes, the UNB penalty kill. Sixth worst in the AUS at 79.3%. The V-Reds have given up more goals (19) shorthanded than they’ve scored on the power play (17) so far this season. In UNB’s three losses this half (yes, I know it is only three, but I’ll get to that) special teams were the difference – their opponents had multiple goals on the power play while the Varsity Reds came up blank with the man advantage. Even-strength UNB is a notch better than everyone else in the AUS, but they keep taking penalties (second most in the conference) to allow teams to get ahead or back into games. Two weekends ago the Varsity Reds interrupted their bad habit of seemingly at least once a game taking a penalty while on the penalty kill. But they were back at it this weekend.

Midway through Friday’s game against UPEI the V-Reds had a 2-0 lead. Then a d-man took a hooking penalty on a Panthers rush (that seems to happen a lot) and Culligan took a slashing penalty on the penalty kill. UPEI scored on the 5-on-3 and again 23 seconds later to tie it up with Culligan still in the box. The Panthers were back in the game energy and momentum-wise, and after they traded goals in the third period it took a last-minute Swan goal for UNB to win. Saturday in Moncton the V-Reds had a comfortable 4-0 lead going into the second period. Then they got into penalty trouble. Aigles Blues defenceman Remi Blanchard scored twice on 5-on-3 power plays to get UdeM back into the game. But Moncton frittered that away in the third period with penalties of their own and UNB scored twice on the power play, including a 5-on-3 of their own, to put the game away.

Finally, back to the UNB goaltenders. It has been well documented soap opera how the V-Reds dressed six goalies last season when injuries and/or illnesses had Fullerton and LaCosta out of the line-up. Former St. Thomas goalie and UNB MBA student Matt Davis ended up starting four games for them last season. Well late this past week Fullerton was sick in bed, so the team scrambled Friday and made eligible another former-Tommie now-UNB-grad-student, Charles Lavigne. Lavigne has been playing senior hockey on weekends in Newfoundland this season while he waits for Fullerton and LaCosta to each finish up their fifth year of eligibility. While he burns/uses one year of eligibility for sitting on the UNB bench this past weekend, Lavigne has two years of eligibility left and was only planning on playing next year in the red ‘n black, so all is good there. Luck for the V-Reds was that Lavigne’s team on the Rock had a bye weekend and he was still in town and available.

Friday – UPEI 3 @ UNB 4 
Saturday – UNB 6 @ UdeM 2 

Overtime loss slides Axemen into second place 

Acadia has gradually been reeled in by UNB. The Axemen’s five-game win streak ended in Fredericton two weekends ago. That game also ended goaltender Peter DiSalvo’s nine-game unbeaten streak. Friday Acadia dominated Dalhousie, winning 4-1 while outshooting the Tigers 41-24. Defenceman Chris Owens continued his torrid points pace by being involved in all of the scoring with a goal and three assists. Saturday was a different affair, a back and forth game with the visiting Huskies. Still tied 2-2 after the ten-minute overtime, Alex Beaton and Brett Thompson couldn’t repeat their highlight reel shootout goal moves from October 20 against Moncton and Acadia had to settle for the one point.

Friday – Dal 1 @ Acadia 4 
Saturday – SMU 3 @ Acadia 2 OT-SO

Huskies nipping at leaders’ heels

Over the last ten games UNB had won eight times and both Acadia and Saint Mary’s have seven wins. They are the three hottest teams in the AUS. Everyone else is .500 or worse over the same period. Huskies power forward Lucas Bloodoff is enjoying a breakout year and leads the AUS with 10 goals (with 5 on the power play) and 21 points. Stephen Johnston (8 G, 8A) is tied for 3rd with UNB’s Culligan and Acadia’s Andrew Clark with 16 points. I guess Saint Mary’s head coach Trevor Stienburg didn’t have to worry about where his scoring was going to come this season from after all. Goalie Anthony Peters has nine wins (tied for 1st), a 2.65 goals against average (4th best), and a .900 save percentage (3rd best). SMU had a decisive 5-2 win over StFX on Friday (shots were 43-23) and they came out on the winning side of a close fought game with Acadia on Saturday when Matt Tipoff and Johnston both scored in the shootout.

Friday – StFX 2 @ SMU 5 
Saturday – SMU 3 @ Acadia 2 OT-SO

StFX splits 

After the X-Men got chewed up by the Huskies on Friday they rebounded the next night, again in the Halifax Forum, with a 5-2 win over the Tigers in a game that was apparently closer than the score. Rookie defenceman Bronson Mashmeyer continues to impress as he led all skaters in the game with two goals and an assist.

Friday – StFX 2 @ SMU 5 
Saturday – StFX 5 @ Dal 2

Les Aigles grounded 

After a great start to the season, Moncton is 7-5-2 at the midpoint and riding a three-game losing streak. Friday they had furious first period against the Tommies, outshooting STU 22-6 but were still down 1-0. While UdeM tied it up in the second period the Tommies went ahead late in the period and added two more goals in the final period, including an empty netter. Final shots 47-21 for Moncton in the loss. Saturday back home against UNB Moncton’s rookie goalie Adrien Lemay had a rough start, surrendering three goals in the first half of the period. That got him a respite on the bench, but he was back for the second and third periods. As mentioned earlier, Moncton’s only goals against UNB came on 5-on-3 power plays in the second period. The game got a bit nasty late, when after UdeM defenceman Simon Lacroix high-sticked Cam Critchlow in the face when they were all tied up, a line brawl developed nearby in front of the Moncton bench. Lots of roughing and 10-minute misconducts, but no major penalties.

Friday – UdeM 1 @ STU 4 
Saturday – UNB 6 @ UdeM 2

Panthers scratching for 6th place

It is bit interesting, numerically, to look at the AUS standings win column and see 11-10-9-8-7 counting down to UPEI with 6 wins and in sixth place. The Panthers had their losing streak stretched to four games with the loss to UNB Friday in Fredericton, but they bounced back just a couple of kilometres south (and uphill) at the Grant•Harvey Centre, the new home for the Tommies. This was a back and forth game that was tied up three times, but veteran Jordan Knox got the winner in the third period.

Friday – UPEI 3 @ UNB 4 
Saturday – UPEI 4 @ STU 3 

Tough times for Tigers 

While they are only three points back of UPEI for the last playoff spot, Dalhousie has struggled since goaltender Bobby Nadeau left their game against UPEI with an injury back on October 26. They are 2-6-1 with Wendell Vye or Russ Brownell (formerly of UofT) in nets since then and the wins were against UPEI and STU. This weekend they were no match for Acadia, and while they kept the shots even versus StFX they still lost.

Friday – Dal 1 @ Acadia 4 
Saturday – StFX 5 @ Dal 2

Tommies WIN! Tommies WIN! 

Lots of excitement in Fredericton Friday night as news tweeted out that the Tommies had a lead against arch-rival UdeM, in Moncton, and held on for the win, their first after 12 straight losses to start the season. There was even a loud cheer at the Aitken University Centre when they announced the STU score during the UNB game (or maybe they were just trying to jinx them …). Rookie Tommies netminder Jonathan Groenheyde reportedly stood on his head in the first period, making 22 saves, and was solid the rest of the game as he made 47 saves in total. The deciding goal was a Felix Poulin power play marker with four seconds to go in the second period. Saturday, back home at the GHC, the Tommies came back to earth in a close loss to the Panthers, snarly after their loss to UNB the night before.

Friday – UdeM 1 @ STU 4 
Saturday – UPEI 4 @ STU 3

Next weekend

Games 15 and 16 in the AUS will be ahead of the Christmas break for the first time ever. UNB and travel partner UPEI are on the road to play Dalhousie and Acadia, while Saint Mary’s and StFX will be at Moncton and St. Thomas. Key games for the top of the standings look to be the UNB-Acadia and Saint Mary’s-Moncton meetings on Saturday, while the UPEI-Dal game, also on Saturday, could end up being a factor if the Tigers hope to make the playoffs.
It's hard to cover an 11.5 point spread when you give away the equivalent of 12 points on special teams.

Okay, so maybe the spread we had published here was way off, with Laval's 37-14 Vanier Cup win decidedly not a Mac-covers-the-spread result. Actually, no "maybe" about it. It was wrong, and I was wrong. There's a very good reason for my being wrong: our crude point-spread method looks only at this year's games to evaluate relative strength, and there were no real games between OUA and RSEQ teams this year. (We couldn't even build a chain with an OUA-AUS bowl game and AUS-RSEQ interlock, as we could last year, when Mac was a 6-point favourite and won by 3.)

But aside from that, what's all this about giving away 12 points, you ask?

On punts and kickoffs tonight, Laval netted 44.5 yards on average, counting the returns (about 48 net yards on four kicks, and 43 on eight punts). McMaster was at just 29.7 (33 on three kicks, 29 on 10 punts). Each team had at least 12 kicking plays, and the 14.8-yard average difference in field position on each one corresponds to almost exactly one point. Therefore, even ignoring the plays that happened after the good field position for Laval (or the worse position for Mac), the winners tonight spotted themselves almost a two-touchdown lead just on special teams alone.

We can't discuss this topic any further without some credit to Rouge et Or botteur Boris Bede (previously with D-2 Tiffin three years ago). He had himself quite the night, averaging almost 45 yards per punt (which would have led CIS this year), 72 yards per kickoff, and almost as many points himself on field goals alone (12) as the entire Mac team. His name came up in CFL discussions during the game, and while there are probably a few kickers in this league who could outperform some from the CFL lower tier, Bede's big night on a big stage will not hurt his chances by any means.

Special-teams play was one of three obvious trends in this game that went Laval's way. The second was simply the existence of Maxime Boutin, whose 253 yards on the ground (275 overall) while replacing Pascal Lochard were not just part of one of the best running performances in any Vanier Cup, but also more than half of his season total of 434. Our Kevin Garbuio watched Acadia fail to stop Boutin a week ago at the Uteck in Quebec, and during the Vanier he didn't seem so surprised at Boutin's dominance. (This is more than can be said for Rod Black.) Boutin's 84-yard touchdown run was obviously not representative of his day, in the strict sense of the term (as he averaged 10.5 on 24 carries), but it had a slight air of symbolism to it nonetheless.

And then we have trend number three, which for close RSEQ followers is no surprise: Laval's tendency to, magically, develop cramps and other mysterious minor injuries that seem to go away once the player leaves the field—yet nonetheless slow the game down as much as the Rouge et Or can possibly manage. I said near the end of our live blog that the third and fourth quarters felt like Game 7 of the 2004 ALCS, and if you don't remember that, then two words will suffice: anticlimactic and torpid.

(This is to take nothing away from Laval, who are still clearly the class of CIS football, and who now have a 13-4 record on the national stage in 10 years, losing just once by more than a field goal.)

Put these three things all together and you get what it felt like to watch this game: Laval outplayed and outcoached McMaster on specials; Mac gave up 15 yards per rush to Boutin before the garbage-time fourth quarter, and that's not counting his big TD run, either; and the Rouge et Or's sportsmanship sometimes gave way to their gamesmanship.


Postscript: a rejected headline for this piece was "Jim Mullin Come Again" after he became the only one to get all seven games right in our playoff picks, making him our competition expert winner.
It's almost time for Laval-McMaster II, otherwise known as the 2012 Vanier Cup, tonight from Toronto! After reading our preview from this morning, join us in our joint live-blog with 55 Yard Line below at 7:30pm ET.

With the Vanier Cup only hours away, starting at 7:30pm and shown on TSN, The CIS Blog offers a scatter-shot preview discussion of the Big Game featuring Fraser Caldwell and Kevin Garbuio.

Our fearless leader and resident statistical wizard Rob Pettapiece has set the spread for tonight's game:

Laval vs. McMaster (-11.5)

With that bit of business out of the way, let's get down to it...


FC: It may sound like somewhat of a cop-out for those who listened to the podcast before the bowl games and heard me give essentially the same answer then, but I think this game is decided in the trenches.

Both offences will face the best defensive lines that they’ve seen all season. Arnaud Gascon-Nadon is the best single lineman in the country, and absolutely had his way with the Acadia Axemen a week ago. He works exceptionally well with partner Samuel Hebert on the strong side—as TSN’s Duane Forde noted on several occasions during the Uteck Bowl.

Holding Gascon-Nadon back is a task that falls to Marauder tackle Matt Sewell, McMaster’s hulking 6’8”, 340 pound behemoth who is believed to be the most CFL-ready offensive lineman in the country. If you need a “Match-up to Watch” for a television graphic, this would be it. It will truly be a case of unstoppable force versus immovable object.

Laval’s offensive line doesn’t get the same sort of attention—apart perhaps from centre Pierre Lavertu who was honoured as a First-Team All-Canadian on Wednesday—but they routinely beat Acadia’s defenders a week ago. The group’s success in clearing-out in front of (third string!) running back Maxim Boutin is evident in his eventual total of 213 rushing yards while averaging eight and a half per carry.

Whether it’s Boutin handling the rushing duties, or the apparently healthy Pascal Lochard and Guillaume Bourassa, I don’t foresee the Rouge et Or having the same success along the ground in the Vanier Cup. McMaster’s front seven is an entirely different beast from Acadia’s, and has been suffocating rushers throughout the playoffs.

Just ask Steven Lumbala.

KG: I guess filling the role of the AUS guy puts me in the position to say, "Well, they beat us worse than they did," so I am going to play with the hand I'm dealt with.

I think offensively I like McMaster more than I like Laval. Boutin is probably the only skill player Laval has that I would take over a Mac starter if we go 1 RB v 1 RB, 3 WR v 3 WR. The star power on Mac's offence is well known. Kyle Quinlan winning the Hec now puts him in the argument for greatest CIS QB of all time. If he beats Laval in back to back seasons for the Vanier he'd have my vote. His numbers speak for themselves and Laval knows what he can do. 

I was at the Uteck Bowl last weekend in Quebec City and what stood out to me most was Laval's depth. Fraser, you mentioned Gascon-Nadon's performance last week and seeing him bend down the line of scrimmage was stunning. It is hard to believe he wasn't nominated for his third straight J.P Metras Award. I mean, he could have submitted 10 clips of him just bending down the line and wrecking any zone run the opposition attempted (I'm talking about the outside zone Thomas Troop ran in the second quarter and was tackled for about a three yard loss on the opposite side of the field).

But here's the thing about Laval and everyone in the CIS knows it: when Gascon-Nadon was listed as questionable this past week no one was thinking 'oh wow, that's a huge loss for the Rouge et Or.' The depth Laval has at all positions is remarkable and injuries do not affect them like they affect most teams in the league.

Now Fraser, I know you being a Mac guy may argue that the Marauders lost their starting running back, Chris Pezzetta, for the season in training camp and at one point were down to their fourth stringer and still found success, or that they did not feel the loss of Michael DiCroce. I'd argue that Quinlan and that massive offensive line have more to do with that than the players they are plugging in. Quinlan makes everything tick. In Laval, it does not rely one person or one coach; they have talent. Their system? It's simple. They have athletes who do not make mistakes. They ran literally two run plays on offence—that's it, two. Inside and outside zone. From different formations obviously but you get the simplicity of what they do.

On defence, it's the same thing. They keep it simple and essentially their philosophy is, “Our athletes are greater than your athletes, our football players are going to do what we ask them to. Beat us.” They play the players they trust and their recruiting is so strong that they can rotate players in when needed. At what other school could a coordinator get fired, after winning two games and the team not miss a beat? (That firing was not performance based. At least I'm sure it wasn't.)

FC: I agree with your assessment of Laval here, Kevin. The Rouge et Or play with simple confidence—a confidence born of success. It makes for a fluid system on both sides of the ball, and as you point out, the ability to mix and match personnel when needed.

It’s a hyper-efficient system, and it sees the Rouge et Or past the vast majority of their opponents who are too accident-prone or unskilled to match them. But it’s also a system that masks individual deficiencies. That’s where I think things deteriorate for Laval against McMaster.

The quarterback position is where this is most clearly evident for me. Tristan Grenon has done an admirable job under centre this season, but nothing that I see from him demonstrates that he’s more than a “game manager” or, as I prefer, a “system quarterback”. He was very effective against the Axemen because he was consistently operating within his system and the most favourable conditions.

Acadia could do nothing to stop Boutin, which not only gave Grenon plenty of short-yardage situations on second down, but also allowed him to pass on first against a defence that was flooding the box and gambling to halt the ground game.

The Marauders will allow the Rouge et Or no such luxuries tonight. Their run-stopping credentials against top opposition have already been proven, and that same team speed and mixture of blitzes that kept Calgary off-balance throughout the Mitchell Bowl can do the same to Laval.

It will take a much more adventurous night from Grenon to make up the difference. Is he capable of that against this secondary? I’m not convinced.

On the other side, Kyle Quinlan, this year’s Hec Crighton winner, has the tools and the responsive offence to identify and adapt to meet challenges on the field.

That’s the real beauty of what the Marauder offence did against Calgary. The Dinos’ pass-rush did its job in the Mitchell Bowl by keeping Quinlan inside the pocket. The problem: Quinlan decided to stand in and sling where he’s typically pulled the ball down this season. Not only did he throw, he kept the dizzying assortment of head-fakes, ball-fakes and jukes on shuffle and effectively froze the Dinos whenever they thought they were getting a bead on him.

Calgary’s blowout loss has caused many commentators outside Canada West to suggest that the Dinos were overrated this season.

I think the scariest thing is: they weren’t.

KG: Prediction time: I know Mac is favored to win and they have buses full of students coming and all but how can anyone ever count out Laval?

I said last week during the podcast that I liked Calgary's depth over Mac and looked like a putz. But in this battle of titans, I really like what Laval is bringing to the table. It is hard for me to bet against them and their history. But not only that, they have an uncanny sense of rising to the occasion. I think if the game is close at the half Laval takes it.

The Marauders really need to get a big lead at the half because as we saw last year, no team adjusts like the Rouge et Or. But this year, I don't think they slip up at the end.

FC: I think this will be McMaster’s sternest test—and while I don’t envision anything like the 45-6 beating that the Marauders laid on the Dinos last week, I see very few scenarios in which this game falls in Laval’s favour. I think the spread of 11.5 points is fair, and I will pick McMaster to cover it.
You may remember (and given my predictions, you hopefully do not) that we gave our picks for the four conference champions, bowl game winners, and Vanier Cup winner here in August.

Pure random guessing would yield, on average, just under one correct answer out of seven, and if you assume the RSEQ winner takes the Uteck, and only one of five OUA teams has a chance at winning the Yates (which is probably being generous), then the expected number of correct answers is two.

So 3/7 is kind of the bare minimum for anyone wanting to show more knowledge than can be obtained through glorified coin-flipping.

Of course you can see where this is going.

If McMaster wins today, none of us will have guessed all seven correctly, and we will have averaged 4.4 correct winners. Myself, Perry King, Evan Daum, and Neate Sager will all have gotten just three correct. (UBC over McMaster in the Mitchell Bowl is all the evidence you need to tell me I shouldn't do any CIS football predicting anymore.) Three of our panellists would be tied for first with 6/7 correct: Brian Decker, Andrew Bucholtz, and Jim Mullin.

Should Laval win, that would make us look slightly smarter on average: five of us picked them as Vanier champs, compared to three for Mac.

And a Rouge et Or victory would also bring us to the headline above: Mr. Mullin is, so far, a perfect six for six on his playoff picks, the only one whose bracket hadn't fallen apart weeks ago. His strategy, whether intentional or not, was to pick every winner to be exactly the same as last year, which of course happened for the first time this year.

Those of us who chose two teams that finished a combined 6-12 to not only make the bowl games but win one of them stand humbled by Jim Mullin and his superior guessing.
Shocking nobody at all, McMaster quarterback Kyle Quinlan won the Hec Crighton Trophy Thursday night.

Our quarterback rankings will be complete and ready after the Vanier Cup is over, but it's safe to say Quinlan will be the leader again. Through the bowl games, he's in first place, and will stay there unless Tristan Grenon throws for 1,000 yards or something. Actually, it's even less likely than that: he would have to throw for 1,000 yards more than Quinlan. (Let's just go ahead and say that won't happen.)

Quinlan's now the sixth quarterback in a row to win the Hec Crighton, and at the risk of sounding pessimistic, when all is said and done he will probably end up being the fifth of those five (Erik Glavic won twice) to finish his quarterbacking career at the CIS level, unless they change the rule that needs to be changed, or unless Brad Sinopoli ever gets a real shot.

On a personal note, the first time I ever saw Quinlan play in person was Mac's 2010 season opener against Queen's. Two things were immediately obvious: (1) he was very talented, and (2) he apparently had no intention of ever learning how to hook slide. The ensuing three seasons—with one (or two?) Vanier Cup victories and, now, a Hec Crighton Trophy—have only reinforced both those first impressions.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Mounties get on the board

It would figure that on the Mounties' busiest weekend of the year that they finally break their goose egg in the win column. Not only did the Mounties pick up wins against Dalhousie and UPEI but they went undefeated in regulation, dropping a Sunday evening shootout in Charlottetown to the Panthers. Earning five out of a possible six points, the Mounties climbed out of the basement and made ample room for the Tigers whose loss in Sackville Friday night was their only game of the weekend. With the AUS women's hockey schedule entering the second-to-last weekend of play in 2012, the Mounties will have just a single contest to worry about: facing a 4-5-1 Saint Mary's team that has lost three straight, the Mounties (2-5-3) will be able to draw even on points with the Huskies heading toward the stretch run.

Year of the Back-up

With all credit to each respective starting goaltender around the league, many teams are having the the enviable issue of having two good options in net. When X-Women goaltender Kristy Garrow isn't in net maintaining her 5-0-0 record, .949 save percentage and 0.80 GAA, she hands duty between the pipes to Katie Greenway who has impressive stats of her own (3-1 record, .925 SV% and a 1.41 GAA). One province over, the Tommies' backup Kristin Wolfe is doing her best to put some pressure on starter Julia Sharun. Sporting a 3-1 record, 1.20 GAA and .945 Save %, Wolfe's perfect season came to an end with Wednesday night's 3-2 loss in a shootout to the Panthers on the road. Even though both teams are already in a class of their own this season, having their backup goaltenders play well consistently gives both teams a trump card for the AUS and potentially CIS championships.

Statistical Domination

The AUS is home to absolute domination in the plus-minus category. In fact, it doesn't happen anywhere else in the country for women's hockey. Eight of the top ten plus/minus leaders in the conference, and all of the top seven, represent the blue and white out of Antigonish. In addition to that, the X-Women, who have allowed only six even-strength goals in 10 games, control the top five in plus/minus for forwards and top three in the same category on the blue line. St. Thomas teammates Danielle Miller (+9) and Amanda Burns (+8) are the only top-10 representatives from another team in the AUS.

If any team comes close to equalling that task, it's the defending CIS champion Calgary Dinos. The Dinos control the top four plus/minus spots in Canada West (and the country), and one of those four is someone with the last name Wickenheiser.

AUS Power Rankings, with a tweet to describe each team's play (our ranking as of Nov. 7 in parentheses):

  1. St. Francis Xavier (3) —An offensive juggernaut at one end of the ice and a brick wall in net. It's full steam ahead to the top of the AUS #goalieparadise #watchout

  2. St. Thomas  (1) — The X-Women game the Tommies only their first loss at home, and the Tommies still hold the second best home record in the AUS #theresnoplacelikehome

  3. UPEI (5) — Beating the Tommies should allow them to regain their form for 2013. Next? A trip to Halifax to face 2/3rds of the AUS basement. #mustwins

  4. Moncton (4) — Moncton is the second-least penalized team in the AUS (behind Mt. A). Doesn't hurt that they possess a 94% penalty kill. #sinbinredemption

  5. Mount Allison (7) — The first two wins of the season are always the best. To get them at home is even better. Mt. A is still fighting an uphill battle #justwin

  6. Saint Mary's (2) and 7. Dalhousie (6) — Both Halifax teams sit in the bottom three of the AUS with no rest in sight. #Dalhousielosesfourinarow #SMUlosesthreeinarow
There are a few constants in the CIS:

  1. Never bet against Laval, and;
  2. Acadia struggles on the national stage.

Both of these were proven true as Laval won its 58th straight at home, while the Axemen lost their 7th straight national semifinal dating back to 1981, in a convincing 42-7 Uteck Bowl result on Saturday.

The story of the game was simple: Highly-favoured Laval dominated in all aspects vs. a much weaker underdog opponent. The Axemen were confident entering this game because of their experiences at Laval earlier in the season, down by just six at the half. Unfortunately this bowl game only went on to prove the belief that the Rouge et Or have a history of toying with opponents. By the end of the first half this game was put to bed.

Laval's run game was nearly unstoppable racking up 321 yards with game MVP Maxime Boutin accounting for 213 of them. What particularly stood out is that Laval only ran two different run plays for most of their success: inside and outside zone.

There were only a few bright spots on the day for Acadia. Drew Morris forced a fumble in the second quarter giving the Axemen a chance to get back in the game, but it only resulted in a two and out. The other was Andrew Healy's 73-yard  catch and run, which put them on the board immediately after Mathew Norzil's 63-yard TD reception made it 25-0 Laval.

The Rouge et Or defence was particularly impressive shutting down an Acadia offence that has been powerful at times. The speed and discipline proved to be too much for the Axemen, who had no response. Two-time reigning J.P. Metras Trophy winner Arnaud Gascon-Nadon was especially impressive on defence, particularly, when bending down the line of scrimmage. He finished the game with two tackles for a loss.


Opinion: As a former Acadia Axeman and current AUS blogger/watcher/reporter I do see myself having to defend the conference at times. Despite the blowout loss, I do think Acadia was properly ranked all year (mostly ninth and tenth). I also think it is laughable to use this game as a reason to bash the AUS. The only team in the entire CIS that could go into Laval and make a game of it is McMaster. Simple as that. Regina? They got blown out by Calgary and how did the Dinos fare? Guelph? Not a chance. Any of the other RSEQ teams? They had their chance, and they could not unseat the king and haven't for the last 10 seasons. I get that the AUS is in a down time—on the podcast last week I took Laval at -27.5—but to use this loss as a reason to bash the AUS is weak.

While many people single out lack of talent in the AUS as a reason for the recent power outage I'd say that the problem goes a lot deeper than that. Here are some figures to think about: Acadia's entire athletic budget was around $1 million, which makes sense for a school of Acadia's size. Laval's football program alone spent $3 million last season, and generated $5M for a profit of $2M. It's a different game for some.
HAMILTON — McMaster took advantage of Calgary's early inefficiency—and serious lack of discipline—and never looked back en route to a 45-6 demolition of the Canada West champions in the Mitchell Bowl.

The Marauders' offence started slowly once again, being held off the scoreboard through its first four drives on Saturday.

But if the hosts were slow out of the blocks, the visitors never truly left them. Calgary mustered only one first down in the first quarter as they salvaged a field goal from a drive that began on McMaster's 41-yard line.

The signs were always ominous for Calgary, as an offence that relies on a consistent running game found nothing along the ground. I suggested on the podcast last week that for the Dinos to succeed, Steven Lumbala would have to make constant contributions on first down. To say that he didn't would be an understatement.

Here's a look at Lumbala's touches in the first quarter:

  • 1ST DRIVE: 1st and 10 - CAL 34: rush for no gain

  • 3RD DRIVE: 1st and 10 - CAL 34: rush for 2 yards

  • 4TH DRIVE: 1st and 10 - MAC 41: rush for 2 yards

  • 5TH DRIVE: 1st and 10 - MAC 52: rush for 2 yards

So, over the course of Calgary's five offensive possessions in the quarter, Lumbala—who averaged 8.1 yards per carry during the regular season—rushed four times for a grand total of... six yards. Notice as well the placement of these touches, first down runs with no success that forced Eric Dzwilewski into long-yardage situations on second down.

The trend continued long past the first—Lumbala finished the game with only 39 yards on 14 carries—and Dzwilewski never proved able to overcome it. Too often, he checked down and banked on yards after the catch, yards that McMaster's alert secondary rarely gave.

On the other side, the Marauders completed their first scoring drive of the game at the end of the first quarter and were generously assisted by Calgary lineman Jordan Verdone, who was hardly alone in his knuckleheaded approach on Saturday. The Dinos amassed 127 penalty yards on 17 infractions, four of which were called for unnecessary roughness.

Calgary's defence held on for much of the first half, but were hobbled by the aforementioned penalties and the absolute absence of movement from their offensive partners.

And then, Kyle Quinlan decided to flash his Hec Crighton credentials.

Leading 17-4 with just over two minutes remaining in the half, Quinlan unleashed a perfect pass—and I mean perfect—to find Brad Fochesato for a 61-yard touchdown that essentially iced the game. (See 0:31 of the TSN highlight video for the pass.)

McMaster has frequently taken its collective foot off of the gas pedal this season when spotted a large lead, but would not do the same at the national semifinal stage. If anything, Quinlan looked more comfortable in the pocket in the second half, easing his offence to three more touchdowns before Saturday's contest was said and done.

Most notably, Quinlan engineered his offence largely from within the confines of the pocket. Calgary succeeded in taking his legs out of the equation—he rushed for only 50 yards—but the quarterback proved composed and precise in the pocket. His 412 yards and three touchdowns through the air came without an interception.

But this win must rest on the shoulders of McMaster's defence, which gave up only 200 total yards to the Dinos, half their previous season low of 394, and chased a man once considered strong competition for the Hec Crighton from the football game in the third quarter.

In the absence of the Dinos' running game, the Marauders produced a team-wide effort to stymie and batter Dzwilewski, who could do nothing to lift himself and his offence out of the hole dug for them in the first half. A battle billed as a classic size-versus-speed encounter fell entirely in the favour of the speedy, as the Marauders' front seven out-manoeuvred the Dinos' much-hyped offensive line led by Carson Rockhill and Kirby Fabian, resulting in five sacks and a bevy of quarterback hurries.

McMaster's secondary operated with typical efficiency behind that front, and was particularly successful in robbing Dzwilewski of gains on the field side, where Mike Daly and Steven Ventresca were constant thorns in the Dinos' side. Even Joey Cupido—who was rarely tested on the boundary—got into the action late, grabbing a fourth-quarter interception.

It was the most complete effort that McMaster could have hoped for, and a signal of grand intent heading into Friday's Vanier Cup rematch against Laval.

For the Dinos and their coach Blake Nill, the comprehensive beating will bring a lengthy look in the mirror. Where exactly this Calgary team is lacking—carefully crafted as it was to beat the nation's best—is a question that will haunt Nill throughout the long offseason.
I'm not sure if it is because of the CIS football playoffs this weekend, or maybe because the court sports are in full swing, but there's a paucity of hockey webcasts in the OUA and Canada West this weekend. Here's some suggestions for games to watch on your computer, since there's no NHL on TV.


AUS: A couple of nationally ranked teams get at 'er as #6 Moncton visits #10 Saint Mary's in Halifax.
The game was close thanks to Moncton goaltender Adrien Lemay's 49 saves. In overtime UdeM's Mathieu Bolduc scored the winner, shorthanded, for 3-2 road win.

OUA: The reigning national champ McGill Redmen are in in Trois-Rivières to play #5 ranked UQTR.
Les Patriotes cruised to a 3-1 win.

CanadaWest: No games online, but Saskatchewan at Calgary looks interesting.
The Huskies were missing 2/3 of their top line, and the rest of the team must have had bus legs as the Dinos pumped them 8-0.


AUS: Battle for first place between #2 ranked Acadia and #4 ranked UNB in Fredericton. THE game of the week in CIS men's hockey.
This game delivered in very much a playoff feel on the ice. Acadia tied it up in the third, but Tyler Carroll scored the game winner and insurance goal for 4-2 win for the Varsity Reds.

OUA: Only game online has RMC at Toronto, while Lakehead at Laurier is probably a better tilt.
The Varsity Blues had an easy time with the Paladins, outshooting them 49-25 in 7-0 win. The Lancers upset the No. 8 ranked Thunderwolves 4-2 despite being outshot 44-28.

CanadaWest: Still no games online, and Manitoba at UBC would have made for fun late night viewing.
Turns out the Lethbridge at Mount Royal game was webcast, but there was no play-by-play audio. Jesse Tresierra scored in double-overtime to win it 3-2 for the Cougars. The Bison and the Thunderbirds also went to 2OT, with Scott Wasden getting the 2-1 winner for UBC.
In the third episode of The CIS Blog Podcast, Andrew Bucholtz, Rob Pettapiece, Kevin Garbuio, and Fraser Caldwell set up this Saturday's bowl games, and make their picks against our site's point spreads for those games (see below).

Mitchell Bowl
Calgary at McMaster (-4)

Uteck Bowl
Acadia at Laval (-27.5)

HAMILTON, Ont. — McMaster punished Guelph's mistakes early and let a scorched-earth defence burn the clock—and the Gryphons' chances—late, en route to a 30-13 Yates Cup win Saturday and a berth in the Mitchell Bowl.

Here's how:

Controlling the line of scrimmage

This game was won and lost in the first 20 minutes of play. How exactly the Marauders made that period so profitable for them, and so costly for the Gryphons, has a lot to do with the work of their defensive front seven.

That group endured a shaky start when Guelph rusher Rob Farquharson bruised the Mac defence for 28 yards on his first two touches of the afternoon. But it was their effort in denying him in first-and-ten situations in the opening quarter that proved to be pivotal, because Jazz Lindsey—like most quarterbacks in the Canadian game—quickly became a liability when forced to throw on second-and-long.

The Marauders' second offensive possession was hardly a thing of beauty. But it was enough to pin the Gryphons at their 11, where the combination of right end Tanvir Bhangoo and strong-side linebacker Shane Beaton dropped Farquharson for no gain. The next play? A five-yard check-down that forced a safety and trimmed Guelph's lead to 3-2.

The Marauders answered that stop with their first well-orchestrated scoring drive to make it a 9-3 ball game, before the defence repeated the trick. Guelph attempted to run with Farquharson on first-and-ten and he was once again foiled by a crashing Beaton for a loss of two. Next play? An interception.

That interception became three more points after a stalled McMaster drive deep in Guelph territory. The Marauders entered the second quarter with a healthy 12-3 advantage, having only engineered one complete offensive drive.

The credit for that falls to the defence and the front seven in particular.

Yards for yards' sake

McMaster's offence made the most of its opportunities on Saturday without being in top gear for much of the game.

Shortly after the aforementioned first quarter, Kyle Quinlan put together a scoring drive on a short field (McMaster began on Guelph's 39-yard line) that ended in a 21-yard touchdown to Tyler Loveday. That would be the offence's last contribution to the scoreboard until the third quarter.

But for much of the game, the unit's greatest contribution came in the form of field position, an area McMaster consistently dominated on Saturday. The Marauders 449 yards of total offence were accompanied by only three touchdowns. That might seem like inefficiency. But in the war of attrition that the hosts waged in the second half, yardage itself was the greatest weapon.

A telling stat: only one Guelph drive in the second half began beyond their 40-yard line (their first possession of the third quarter began at their 41).

A lesson in scorched-earth defence

With a healthy 11-point lead to begin the second half—that only got healthier when Kasean Davis-Reynolds scored McMaster's third touchdown early in the third—the Marauders' secondary sagged back.

It fell to that familiar front seven to chase Lindsey from the pocket in an increasingly one-dimensional Guelph offence. Chase they did, and it was to the Gryphon quarterback's credit that he continued to find receivers and amass yards in the face of consistent pressure.

But those yards were gained in short and intermediate doses, with Mac's secondary nestled in comfortable deep zones and content to use their field position and point cushion to burn away the game clock.

The result was movement without impact. The Gryphons amassed 209 yards of offence in the second half but only three points, as their comeback effort fell well short.
The men's basketball season has started, or at least it's started for everyone who has been able to find referees who show up when they're supposed to, and we'll look at the top 10 teams here. Our team rankings are here.

  1. Carleton (7-1, 7th in RPI, +23.6 SRS) — Here is a list of games they have lost to CIS opponents in the Phil Scrubb Era: 71-67 at Windsor this weekend, and 77-62 vs. Lakehead in Hamilton in the 2011 OUA final. The list of games they have won is much, much longer.

    After shooting 58% on two-point attempts last year (best in the country) their first two games have them at 4th-worst nationwide, with a 38% mark that only RMC "achieved" in '11-12. This won't continue. Will they get up to 58% again? Maybe. Maybe not. But there's no way their inside game is this poor in their next 18.

  2. UBC (10-0, 3rd in RPI, +16.0 SRS) — Will probably be number 1 this week after Carleton's loss. It's close enough at this point that either team "deserves" the top spot.

  3. Acadia (6-0, 8th in RPI, +7.2 SRS) — They should not be third. Yes, they were one of four (now three) undefeated teams, but once again our good friend, name of S.O. Schedule, is making an appearance: the Axemen have faced the 2nd-easiest schedule in CIS and not one of their opponents—not one!—is in the top half of the RPI. Nor was any of them in the top half last year except Calgary.

    And it's not like they've dominated those opponents. Against UNB this weekend, they managed an ORtg of only 88.2.

  4. UFV (5-2, 15th in RPI, +12.2 SRS) — Please, nobody draft Kevon Parchment in the MUBL, okay guys? He wasn't on my list of CCAA players, for reasons I cannot figure out now, but if he has used just one year of eligibility then he really should have been. His line from last year at Lakeland College projects to a 23.4 PER in CIS, and so far he's doing even better than that. His Cascades got swept by UVic, however.

  5. Lakehead (9-4, 5th in RPI, +12.2 SRS) — Are probably tired of Ryerson at this point.

  6. McGill (8-0, 4th in RPI, +14.9 SRS) — This is a very good Redmen team, the best for as long as I've been pretending to know anything about CIS basketball. It's early, but here are the teams whose SRS was, like McGill's, +14 or better at this point in November of the last two years: Carleton (+23.3), Lakehead (+18.1), St. F-X (+16.3), and Alberta (+15.4) in 2011; and Carleton (+27.3), UBC (+18.4), St. F-X (+14.9), and Dalhousie (+14.1) in 2010. The only one who didn't make the Final 8 were the X-Men in '10-11.

  7. Saskatchewan (6-3, 14th in RPI, +3.8 SRS) — With the focus (understandably) on the Huskies' next American transfer, Stephon Lamar, who so far has a 21.2 PER and 56% true shooting percentage (and 40 points in one game vs. Regina last week), how about a hand for Matthew Forbes' first four games? He's at 33.8 and 71.4%. If the season ended today, he'd lead our PER-based player rankings. (Also, if the season ended today, we wouldn't have to go to Scotiabank Place. Think about it.) Their loss to Lethbridge yesterday featured the Pronghorns going a ridiculous 13/26 on threes, so it may not be as bad of a sign as a typical loss.

  8. Cape Breton (6-1, 8th in RPI, +7.2 SRS) — Sean McCormick, who transferred from Lethbridge College, was quietly effective in a pair of laughers over Memorial. And eight steals for Jimmy Dorsey on Saturday? Mercy. That'll help his MUBL owner. Apropos of nothing, there have been 14 games so far where a player has recorded five or more steals. Eight of them are against Memorial or UBC Okanagan. Might be a long year for those two schools.

  9. Windsor (4-1, 6th in RPI, +19.0 SRS) — No joke: they went from 33rd in last week's RPI to 6th in this one. That's what happens when you play just three preseason games against CIS opponents. And when you beat Carleton, the only team they now trail in SRS.

  10. Alberta (5-3, 10th in RPI, +1.4 SRS) — Fair to say they're struggling. Will need more efficient play from Jordan Baker if they want to be the pursuing instead of the pursued. All due respect to Brandon and Calgary (whom they split with this week), but it's not going to get easier in Canada West.
The Calgary Dinos' dominance of Canada West has become historic. In perhaps the best game of Saturday's conference finals (despite the 38-14 final score, this was close for most of the contest), the Dinos were able to pull away from the Regina Rams and claim their fifth-straight Hardy Cup as Canada West champions. Before this, the previous record was four straight championships, shared by Calgary (2008-11) and Saskatchewan (1934-1937). This was far from their best game of the season, but they still came up with a 24-point win against a top opponent, which says a lot about the dynasty Blake Nill has built. The question's now if they'll be able to take the next step.

Despite the way the Dinos have owned Canada West over the last five season, they've only won two national semifinals (Uteck and Mitchell Bowls against Saint Mary's in 2009 and 2010 respectively) and lost those Vanier Cups thanks to a remarkable 18-point comeback from Queen's that saw the Gaels win the 2009 game 33-31 and a 29-2 never-in-doubt thumping from Laval in 2010. Their two other national semifinals over that stretch were 59-10 and 41-10 losses to Laval in 2008 and 2011. Of course, there's more to it than just the dominance of the Rouge et Or, as age limits, the rise of junior football and even the NCAA's recruiting tendrils have also made life difficult for Canada West teams, but the moral of the story may be that while the Dinos have been great over that stretch, they perhaps haven't been quite great enough to win it all. (Four playoff losses are still a relatively small sample size, but it's noteworthy that the Dinos have lost three of them by 27 points or more, suggesting there's more going on here than just bad luck.)

Can these Dinos reverse the trend? Well, Saturday's results don't necessarily suggest so. The Dinos won by 24 in the end, but they made plenty of critical mistakes, including the three picks Eric Dzwilewski threw. Next week, they'll have to face the top-ranked McMaster Marauders, the only perfect CIS team this year and the defending Vanier Cup champions, and they'll have to do so on the road. McMaster was also arguably more impressive Saturday, despite only beating Guelph 30-13; that was an outcome that was never really in doubt, unlike the Calgary game, and only looked marginally close thanks to the Marauders taking their foot off the gas. If both teams play the way they did this week when McMaster hosts Calgary in next Saturday's Mitchell Bowl, that's likely going to produce a Marauders' victory and kill the Dinos' Vanier Cup hopes for another year.

However, the season-long results are more auspicious. It's notable that while the Marauders were 8-0 in the regular season and the Dinos were 7-1, Calgary was ahead in total yards per game (592.1 to 582.5), points per game (47.5 to 45.6), yards allowed per game (272.1 to 340.2) and points allowed per game (14.6 to 15.6). There's no real way to compare strength of schedule thanks to the lack of Canada West - OUA crossover games, but from this corner, while the OUA might have a slight edge in other conference contenders (Guelph, Queen's and Western versus Regina, Saskatchewan and Manitoba), Canada West's bottom teams (UBC in particular, but even Alberta to a degree) are more dangerous than say, Waterloo, York and Toronto. Regardless of your opinions on conference strength, though, the Dinos have a remarkable offence regardless of conference (even with Dzwilewski's three picks, Calgary put up 381 passing yards and 291 rushing yards Saturday) and a pretty solid defence (the Rams' own potentially-explosive offence only managed 335 net yards and got nowhere on the ground, picking up just 27 rushing yards on 13 attempts). It's going to take a more consistent effort with less mistakes than the one they turned in Saturday if the Dinos want to beat McMaster and go from "Canada West powerhouse" to "bona fide national contender," but they might just be capable of it. Either way, it should make for a compelling Mitchell Bowl.
WOLFVILLE, N.S. — The Acadia Axemen are once again the Loney Bowl champs after defeating Saint Mary’s 17-9 in an ugly matchup Saturday in Wolfville.

As much as it would be easy to say this game was a battle of two great defences, it could also be said both teams struggled doing the basics on offence. Together they recorded only 418 yards of total offence. SMU only completed one pass. The lone bright spot offensively for either team was Acadia’s Thomas Troop who rushed for 184 yards on 28 carries.

The wind certainly played a large role in the way the game was played. Saint Mary’s, starting against the wind, tried to limit the effect quarterback Jean Legault had on the game early on by going 14 straight plays without passing.

The Huskies managed to dominate the time of possession early on but they could not capitalize largely due to an awful pass game. They were intentionally one-dimensional today. Legault finished the day 1 for 11 for -5 yards, and his only completion was a shovel pass that was fumbled behind the line of scrimmage, recovered by Acadia, and turned into a field goal.

The Saint Mary’s defence looked dominant early on and was led by Odane Finnegan, a converted offensive lineman, but once he went down Troop started to roll. Acadia QB Kyle Graves also struggled at times, fumbling once and throwing an interception which was deflected, but was still able to throw for one touchdown on a fantastic deep over the shoulder throw to Taylor Renaud.

The inability by SMU to make anything happen in the pass game allowed Acadia take over in the second half. Of the 17 times the Huskies dropped back to pass, they were sacked on four of them. Acadia defensive end Jesse St. James finished the game with two sacks and five and a half tackles for a loss.

The Axemen will now move on to face Laval next Saturday in the Uteck Bowl after the Rouge et Or took care of Sherbrooke 40-17.
Not the closest set of matchups, at least according to our simple methodology, but maybe we'll get lucky and have some back-and-forth games tomorrow.

Saint Mary's at Acadia (-5)

Guelph at McMaster (-24)

Sherbrooke at Laval (-15)

Canada West
Regina at Calgary (-21)

The favourite has now covered 55 times in the 109 games for which we have published point spreads.
OUA basketball fans perusing team rosters this fall may have noticed a Victor Raso-less McMaster Marauders team to start the year, and while there were rumours that lingering concussion issues or a possible transfer to Carleton were the cause, Raso has simply left the program that has borne his family's name for over 20 years.

Cable14's Steve Clark and the Hamilton Spectator's Scott Radley have the story that Raso informed coach Amos Connolly this September that he would not be suiting up for the Marauders this year. The reasons aren't specifically clear (the Spec's somewhat misleading headline notwithstanding), but it looks like Raso is gone due to some combination of lost communication with Connolly and of persisting friction over the school's controversial dismissal of Joe Raso, Victor's father and Mac coach for 18 seasons (the last one coaching his son).

The questions over whether Victor would stay after his father's dismissal were quietly pushed away at the time. But according to Clark's post, those issues continued to affect him:

"I put as much into the program as you could ask from any athlete physically, and from a mental standpoint, I put more into that program then anyone should ask of an athlete... Combine that with all the stress that I felt from my unique situation at Mac, I made a personal decision to transfer."

Radley's Spectator piece also brings up the possibility of a cooling relationship with Connolly, who has made an impact in his first two seasons as Mac's bench boss by recruiting a young core of players that includes CIS Rookie of the Year Adam Presutti. Connolly says he was trying to give Raso space to recover from his concussion issues and didn't want to pressure his standout guard into returning too quickly. (Raso played in Mac's OUA semi-final loss to Carleton, but reportedly suffered another concussion in the summer).

There's also the speculation that Raso didn't mesh with Connolly's developing young core of players, though it seems unlikely that a coach with a young team wouldn't want an All-Star player who by all accounts was a leader and valuable mentor to his younger teammates.

Raso will certainly leave a void with the Marauders. He was not only the team's co-captain and only OUA All-Star last year, but a top-40 player nationwide in our rankings with a 24.7 PER. They'll miss his playmaking, outside shooting and strong rebounding from the guard position, though Mac is certainly deep on the wings with sophomores Joe Rocca and Aaron Redpath, rookie Rohan Boney and senior lockdown defender Scott Laws.

Raso will be eligible to join a new team next year, and whoever does land him (he'd fit great at Carleton) will certainly benefit. But for the first time in over 20 years, a Raso will not be having an effect on the OUA season.
What's making news around the AUS

How the mighty have fallen

After an impressive end to last season, the Mount Allison Mounties haven't just gotten off on the wrong foot: they haven't even left the starting line. Last in the league standings, but also last in goals for and goals against. Losses over the weekend to Moncton and St. Thomas didn't help, although at least the Mounties didn't lose to the Tommies via a 5-0 shutout as they did last time. For those expecting things to get easier for the Mounties, think again: the Mounties travel to Antigonish on Sunday to face the perennial contender X-Women.

Who are these Huskies?

The two-time AUS Champion Saint Mary's Huskies (1997-98, 2002-03, 2003-04, 2009-10) are establishing themselves early on as the Cinderella team this year. Sitting in third place with 9 points, it took a late third period goal and an extra frame for the first-place Tommies to beat the Huskies two weekends ago. The second-place X-Women weren't as lucky as the Tommies as Sienna Cooke made 32 saves to down the X-Women in Halifax by a score of 2-1. The Huskies will travel to Prince Edward Island for a date with the Panthers on Sunday before renewing pleasantries with the Tommies in Fredericton on November 17.

Tommies a contender early

The Tommies' perfect season was ruined by the team right below them in the standings, the X-Women, but things remain the same for St. Thomas. In six victories this year, the Tommies have only allowed two or more goals once, and that was at the start of the season. With three shutouts already in the book this year, the STU goaltending is delivering for the Tommies and making Peter Murphy's job relatively easy these days when it comes to picking someone to guard the net. The Tommies were rewarded early for their efforts this season with the tenth place ranking in the CIS Top Ten, behind the X-Women who hold down the number 7 spot.

AUS Power Rankings (our ranking as of Oct. 25 in parentheses):

  1. St. Thomas (2): A CIS Top Ten ranking, great goaltending and the offence isn't too shabby either averaging three goals per game (2nd in the AUS). Kayla Blackmore has 5 goals and 9 points in just 7 games.
  2. Saint Mary's (4): Brianna Soper's two goals against the then-5th ranked X-Women were huge and the Huskies have received some hot goaltending on the road from Cooke, who has a ridiculous 0.91 GAA away from Saint Mary's along with three wins.
  3. St. Francis Xavier (1): Their high scoring offence and solid goaltending aside, the loss to the upstarts Huskies shows that the X-Women can be beat on any given day.
  4. Moncton (3): Goaltender Jenna Van Belois is 3-0 for the Aigles Bleues who sit at the middle of the AUS with not just their record (at 4-3) but also goals allowed (4th) and goals for (3rd).
  5. UPEI (7): Their second win of the season, a shutout over Moncton, may be the kick the Panthers need to get in the right direction. The Panthers have yet to score more than two goals in a game so one has to suspect an offensive outburst is coming soon.
  6. Dalhousie (5): The Tigers have had their last three games go into OT, losing two of them. Being shutout on two other occasions doesn't help either.
  7. Mount Allison (6): Granted the team is young, but the Mounties have to start winning some games sometime soon to have a good season.
[Full Disclosure: I've voluntarily written game summaries and helped out with some of the other UNB Varsity Reds sports information stuff for several years, but effective this morning that is no longer the case. I've decided that life would be a little easier and tidier if I was just a "media" person wearing a few less hats. There should be no confusion that what I write, say on the air, or post on social media is solely my opinion and does not represent UNB or the Varsity Reds.] 

Like many, and probably most, of the over 2000 fans who were at the Saint Mary's – UNB men's hockey game last night I'm still bothered about what happened on the ice. What started out as a pretty good hockey game turned into what we call a shit show back where I grew up. (I'm going to break a golden rule now, so forgive me. I'm going to openly discuss the officiating.) The referee called out an extraordinary number of penalties for a game that was being played at a high tempo by two skilled teams and was not chippy or overly physical. His calls effectively killed most of the flow on the ice and the entertainment value for the paying patrons, the same folks whose ticket revenue compensates the only paid people on the ice – the officials.

Incredibly, the last eight penalties in the game, from the middle of the second period to the end of the third, were all called against one team. Twice in the third period that team was down two men, and what was a tie game at the start of the third period turned into a 4-3 victory for SMU. So UNB lost. Boo hoo you might be thinking – when UNB loses there must be some conspiracy afoot. You might also be thinking my opinion on the game is biased because of my previous affiliation with the Varsity Reds. Fair comment. I will point out I was helping to broadcast the game last night for CHSR-FM, and anyone who has done any broadcasting or covered sports for print or other media will tell you that you tend to force yourself to be as objective as possible covering the game to do your job properly. But just bear with me.

I don't want to get into a long debate on judging the worthiness of each of the calls and non-calls last night. Hockey is a fast sport, with stuff happening all over the ice as the two teams compete for position and the puck, and if you called the game strictly by the book we'd probably never see any five-on-five play. And that's only the stuff you see. So officials tend to be subjective, and the ones we like (and don't notice) call an even game for both teams. Some referees might be stricter than others on calls like holding or interference, but as long as they're consistent the players, coaches and fans are all happy (or mostly happy). Just like umpires and the strike zone in baseball.

Last night, after a fairly even first period, and with all due respect to a tired Saint Mary's team, UNB dominated the second and third period. When even strength. Despite being shorthanded four times in the second period and four times in the third period the V-Reds outshot the Huskies 28-12 in the final forty minutes. SMU scored three times on six shots on those eight power plays. So you can see that the power plays were decisive in deciding the outcome of the game.

If UNB was clearly the much less disciplined team in the game, then you'd chalk it up as a important lesson. But they weren't. Not nine penalties less disciplined. There were some deserved penalty calls for sure, but there were some debatable calls as well against UNB that didn't look any different than similar infractions by Huskies players that weren't called. Thus the frustration.

The reaction by the fans at the Aitken University Centre was unprecedented. Fans in Fredericton are well known as being pretty mellow and laid back, as well as being the largest regular crowds for CIS hockey. However last night was the first time I've ever seen fans throw debris on the ice (and I've been going to games there since the early 1980's). Last night was also the first time I've ever heard fans at the AUC start a “we want a ref” chant. And it was loud. Maybe that's normal in other rinks, but not in the AUC.

So I've hopefully set the scene. Here's the crux of my frustration: no one involved in the game – players, coaches or athletics staff – is allowed to critique, evaluate or comment on the officiating in any game under threat of fines or suspensions from the AUS. Apparently this is supposed to be good sportsmanship, but we are all allowed to voice opinions about coaches or players without ramifications. We pay the officials, but cannot evaluate their work performance.

After the game the assembled media asked UNB's Colby Pridham, a former captain at Saint Mary's, about the Varsity Reds getting nine straight penalty calls. His answer? “No comment.” UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall was asked the same question. His quiet reply was, “When we’re not happy with our Premier, we can talk about him. If we’re not happy about our Prime Minister, we can talk about him. But I have no comment, unfortunately.”

This is not the first time there's been controversy between this particular referee and UNB. I'm not going to get into an itemized list of grievances going back several years. I've seen similarly inconsistent game management in recent years involving the same ref in games played in the St. Thomas' rink. Yet there is no apparent recourse, even for the AUS. As I understand it, officials come under the authority of the provincial hockey organizations so there is little the conference can do.

Bottom line, in my opinion the level of officiating in the AUS is not up to the calibre of the play on the ice. The games keep getting better, but the officiating doesn't. And how can you solve the problem if the stakeholders are not allowed to talk about it? And how fair is to the fans in the biggest hockey market in the CIS? And from what I hear, this is not a problem unique to Fredericton.

It wasn't always this way. When AHL hockey was still played in the Maritimes we'd see the up and coming young officials work many AUS games. As a fan and a broadcaster you loved them, and some of those guys are now working the NHL (well, not right now of course). I understand there's a shortage of young referees out there, but you would think that Hockey Canada would like to see potential pro refs working the top level of amateur hockey in the country?

I've said enough. I don't have a magic solution to offer, but I believe we could start by having on-ice officials subject to some sort of evaluation by the AUS coaches' association and the conference. Fans pay good money to watch the players on the ice, not the officials, and they shouldn't come away from a game feeling cheated.

GUELPH, Ont. — To think, some Guelph Gryphons fans left the stadium when they were down 22 points with five minutes left.

Like the music genre their sophomore quarterback Jazz Lindsey shares a name with, the Gryphons are tough to define and sometimes it looks and sounds all wrong, but then it fuses to produce whatever you care to call their 42-39 overtime win over the Queen's Golden Gaels in the OUA football semifinal in front of 3,550 fans, minus those who figured they should at least beat the traffic.

Lindsey and the Gryphons defence, who came up with two of their six takeaways in the final minutes, had the wind at their back and belief in their hearts in the fourth quarter and OT and well, that's why people keep coming back to university football, even Queen's fans who saw this movie back in 2003 (late lead gets away in a OUA semifinal) when it starred another stringbean sophomore QB from a southern Ontario school named Ryan Pyear at Laurier.

"It's maybe not good to say, but we're kind of used to this," said Lindsey, the 20-year-old who had a less than pretty passing line of 14-of-36 for 198 yards, but got Guelph truly off the deck with his sideline-skirting scamper for an 80-yard TD that made it a one-touchdown game with 3:53 left. "We've been down in a few games and even at halftime, our coach was sounding like a broken record, saying we have to execute better. There was a little bit of frustration but we all know the heart we have. There was 10 minutes left and I looked at the score [36-14 Queen's] and said, we were fine."

Stu Lang and assistant head coach Neil Lumsden, the two Edmonton Eskimos greats, have let the Gryphons tap into their old-pro wisdom. That probably doesn't account for how a team erases a three-TD deficit in barely four minutes. All it took was linebacker Jake Reinhart returning a blocked punt for a touchdown — the fifth TD of the day set up directly by a huge defensive or special teams play — to cut the Queen's lead to 15. Then Lindsey broke the 80-yarder and suddenly it was an AC/DC concert on one side of the stadium and a study hall on the Queen's sideline.

"We've been fortunate that we've had this happen before," said Lang, whose Gryphons have eight wins in a row, five by a total of 16 points, since getting hammered (heh) by 41 points at McMaster on Labour Day. "We've lost our lead, we've been been down and come back. Confidence is something you just can't magically create. They feel like they're always in the game. I don't think there was anyone on the sidelines who got discouraged. Obviously we got some breaks and that helped.

Lang nodded enthusiastically when someone suggested 98 per cent of university quarterbacks don't stay in bounds on the play Lindsey took to the house. His coaching resume might not be deep, but he knew what the 20-year-old Lindsey needed to hear.

"He calls me Cam Newton because he’s my favourite player and I wear 2 and I celebrate the same style as Cam Newton when I score a rushing touchdown," says Lindsey, 20, who's no 6-foot-6, 250-pound specimen like the Carolina Panthers quarterback and former Heisman Trophy winner. "He said, ‘go out there and be Cam Newton.’ After the game he came up to me and said, ‘you did it. You were Cam Newton.’"

The breaks included making two interceptions, including a pinball pick by Zach Androschuk a minute after the Lindsey that brought out the inner fatalist in the Queen's faithful. Carl Trivieri made two must-have catches, picking up a 13-yarder on third-and-7 and also making a double-clutch grab on a slightly underthrown ball for the conversion

That's how three-down football works. There's no end of ways a game can be taken or given away very quickly.

"They seemed to move the ball better when they had the wind at their back and it was a good move by their coaching staff to get it in the fourth quarter," said Queen's QB Billy McPhee, who was 22-of-33 for 226 yards and one TD, but three interceptions. "Hats off to them. They played well enough to win. It's kind of unfortunate right now. You got to play four quarters and we got caught playing three. Their defence was ferocious, they made some plays also.

Queen's easily could have been up by more than 22 points, too. Guelph's ballhawking defence came up with a fumble at the end of a first-down run by young running back Jesse Andrews, who had 100-yard efforts in both of their playoff games after replacing injured star Ryan Granberg.

For Queen's, the hell of it is they had played a good first three quarters before the Gryph Train began to roll. They ran off 26 consecutive points in the middle two frames as Guelph sputtered offensively and made the term special teams a misnomer, with Gaels DB T.J. Chase-Dunawa saying shank you very much after scooping up a bad punt and returning it for a touchdown to open a 24-14 halftime lead. They even stopped Guelph on downs three times in the fourth quarter, but couldn't make it four. Meantime, the Gryphons defence, leaders such as Reinhart, linebacker Jarryd Baines, cornerback Mark Durigon and end Mike Millar was everywhere.

"There were some explosion plays that happened that really changed the ballgame," Queen's coach Pat Sheahan said. "It's sports. Every psychologist that's ever attempted to explain it comes up short. What causes the momentum to change? Explosion plays like blocked punts and interceptions, they can change the character of the game. We had survived a couple explosion plays early in the game. But to tempt fate like that, I'm afraid, it came right down to overtime at the end. That kid [Trivieri] also made a terrific catch on the conversion. They made all the plays they had to make."

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