Today we welcome a guest post from Robert Murray, the national sports editor with Canadian University Press and sports editor at The Argosy, previewing the AUS women's hockey season and the road to the conference championship in Sackville in February.
As of this Saturday, October 13, when this AUS season opens, that's the number of days since the surprise championship game between the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers and Mount Allison Mounties took place in the Dalhousie Memorial Arena—a 3-0 victory for the Panthers.
Despite this unexpected matchup, regular-season success has shown time and time again—mostly—to be a precursor for a trip to the big dance, the CIS championships. The St. Francis Xavier X-Women have finished first in the conference six of the past eight years, and the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleues were in the top spot during the other two. This regular-season achievement has translated into six conference titles combined for the X-Women (2004-05, 2005-06, 2007-08 and 2010-11) and Aigles Bleues (2006-07 and 2008-09).
With the stage set to open on another AUS season, the first-place finisher is likely in good shape to grab the only AUS berth at this year's national tournament in Toronto. We'll find out who that will be in about 130 more days...
Here is how each team stacks up compared to each other as the 2012-2013 season approaches. Last year's rankings are found here (for the CIS Top 10 as of February 21, 2012) and here (our own RPI and SRS).
SAINT MARY'S HUSKIES
2011-2012 regular season record: 1-22-1 (7th in AUS)
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Nationwide rankings: Unranked (final CIS Top 10), 30th out of 30 (RPI), 30th (SRS)
Powerplay: 5.9% (7/119, 7th in AUS)
Penalty Kill: 76.0% (37/154, 6th in AUS)
Last season: In the roughest year for the Saint Mary's women's hockey program, they went from near non-existence to being slammed into the ice by every other AUS team.
Key departures: Kayla Oakley, who finished 5th in team scoring last year with just one goal and four assists, and Erin Doerrsam, whose GAA of 4.46 and save percentage of .868 were best on the team and will be missed despite a 0-5-0 record.
Key additions: Everywhere. With ten players (one at goalie, three at defence, and six at forward) coming in as rookies these players will get a chance to grow together as a team for four (maybe five) years, building some much-needed team chemistry.
Statistic they want you to see: Saves made. It's hard to take positives from a season in which a team only wins one game but the Huskies goaltenders were the story of the year. The team's goalie tandem made a total of 713 saves throughout the season, the most in the AUS.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Goal differential. Usually bringing up Wayne Gretzky's number brings joy and excitement. Not the case for the Huskies. Their goal differential last year was a rough minus-99.
Key tests: Every game will be a test for the Huskies but a battle on October 20 against UPEI in Charlottetown will gauge where the team is. The season opener at home, against the Tigers on October 13, will also give the team a chance to potentially secure a win early and gain some confidence on the ice.
Outlook: An exhibition win against the Mount Allison Mounties in a tournament in Moncton may be a glimmer of hope for the team but head coach Chris Larade knows his team will have it tough.
Predicted finish: 7th
2011-2012 regular season record: 9-12-3 (6th)
Playoffs: Lost in pool play to UPEI and St. FX
Nationwide rankings: Unranked (final CIS Top 10), 21st (RPI), 27th (SRS)
Powerplay: 20.4% (23-113, 3rd in AUS)
Penalty kill: 86.7% (17-128, 2nd in AUS)
Last season: The Tigers were the classic tale of two teams. Some nights they would be the team stealing a 2-1 win against the eventual AUS Champions from UPEI, the next night they'd be the team losing 6-1 to the X-Women or losing to the Huskies (the worst team in the league just a few blocks from their own arena).
Key departures: Jocelyn Leblanc, Jenna Currie.
Key addition: Mati Barrett. The goalie from Stittsville, Ont. last played for the Nepean Junior Wildcats of the Provincial Women's Hockey League sporting a 6-10-4 record in 21 games with the club. Despite a losing record, Barrett maintained a .914 save percentage and a 2.07 GAA. Her three pre-season starts have included a win against SMU and two respectable losses to the X-Women. Her adjustment period to CIS hockey will strongly determine how well Dalhousie does this year.
Statistic they want you to see: The Tigers last lost in regulation in a regular season game back on February 11, 2012 (a 7-4 loss to Mt. A). Since then, the Tigers lost a game in the extra frame to UPEI and recorded wins against SMU, Moncton and St. Thomas. They will look to carry their regular-season regulation unbeaten streak as deep as they can into the season.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Goals allowed per game in '11-12. 87 (3.6 per game), second-worst in the AUS.
Key tests: October 14 @ St. F-X, November 11 @ St. Thomas
Outlook: After the losses from last year, the highest returning scorer is 5th year defender Miranda McMillan with 18...
Predicted Finish: 6th
ST. THOMAS TOMMIES
2011-2012 regular season record: 11-12-1 (5th in AUS)
Playoffs: Eliminated in pool play
Nationwide rankings: Unranked (final CIS Top 10), 18th (RPI), 28th (SRS)
Powerplay: 18.4% (21/114, 6th in AUS)
Penalty kill: 74.7% (23/91, 7th in AUS)
Last season: Up until November 26, all but one of the Tommies' victories had come against the previously-mentioned last-place Huskies. The Tommies would eventually take two wins in OT from the dangerous Aigles Bleues squad before the season was over.
Key departures: Kathleen Boyle, the only fifth year on last year's squad contributed two assists in 24 games playing defence.
Key Additions: Eliza Snider. The defender who was previously captain of the St. Albert Slash Midget AAA (Alberta) team will take over for Boyle on the blue line.
Statistic they want you to see: Penalty minutes. The least-penalized team in the AUS, they only took 8-and-a-half PIM per game.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Second period goals. The middle frame haunted the Tommies last year, being outscored more 2:1. They only scored 12 goals in the middle twenty minutes all year while giving up 25 themselves. (In the other periods, they were even at 47 and 47.)
Key tests: October 13 vs. Moncton, January 13–20 with three home games against Mt. A, St. FX and SMU.
Outlook: The Tommies have plenty of upside, a solid core of veterans and rookies eager to make their presences felt. The team has the chemistry for not only a generic sports movie but to also make a solid challenge to the hierarchy of the AUS.
Predicted finish: 5th
MONCTON AIGLES BLEUES
2011-2012 regular season record: 16-5-3 (2nd in AUS)
Playoffs: Lost in semifinal to Mt. A
Nationwide rankings: 6th (final CIS Top 10), 19th (RPI), 22nd (SRS)
Powerplay: 20.2% (24/119, 4th in AUS)
Penalty kill: 86.9% (13/99, 1st in AUS)
Last season: Playing second fiddle to the X-Women, Moncton had a quietly successful season. Their sixth straight winning season since the horror show of 2005-06 (1-20-0) landed them another trip to the AUS playoffs, where it took the aforementioned hat trick from Katelyn Morton to keep them from reaching the championship game for a fourth straight year. Marie-Pier Arsenault finished third in team scoring with 28 points and claimed the AUS Rookie of the Year award.
Key Departures: Marie-Michelle Poirier, who lead the team with 36 points in 24 games, Johannie Thibeault, second with 31 points, and Kathy Desjardins, who went 13-5-0 between the pipes with six shutouts and a .935 save percentage.
Key additions: Samantha Belliveau from St-Antoine, N.B. will provide some much-needed size to the Aigles Bleues, at 5'10", a full two inches higher than any other forward on the team.
Statistic they want you to see: Shot percentage. Leading the AUS in shooting percentage at 13.6 per cent— the fourth year in a row they did so—the Aigles Bleues made use of what few shots they did put on net throughout the season, finishing second in goals scored with 86.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Shots. The converse of a high shooting percentage is, unsurprisingly, not controlling the puck enough to have more shots. Aigles Bleues players only put 632 shots on net, ahead of only the Huskies, and allowed 735.
Key tests: After January 20, they will only have two home games out of six.
Outlook: The Aigles Bleues have lost a lot of firepower in their offence and any scoring issues will be thrust upon the shoulders of the departed Poirier. Goaltender Jenna Van Belois, who went 3-3-0 last season, will see the bulk of the starts in net for Moncton as their most experienced goaltender.
Predicted finish: 4th
2011-2012 regular season record: 13-10-1 (4th)
Playoffs: Won AUS championship 3-0 over Mt. A, finished 6th at nationals
Nationwide rankings: Unranked (final CIS Top 10), 15th (RPI), 25th (SRS)
Powerplay: 19.0% (20/105, 5th)
Penalty kill: 80.0% (22/110, 5th)
Last season: The Panthers, simply put, had a mediocre regular season and then got hot in the playoffs. They went into the playoffs playing their final five games at home, earning some strong results against teams like X (4-3 OT loss) and Moncton (3-1 win).
Key departures: Kelsey O'Donnell, first on team with 20 points, and Amber Gaudette, fifth with 13.
Key addition: Marie Soleil Deschenes. The first-year is a third-string goaltender right now but it will be interesting to see what experience rubs off on her from the tandem of Kristy Dobson and Bailey Toupin, both entering their fourth year.
Statistic they want you to see: Saves per game. Panther goaltenders had a relatively light workload last year facing only 533 shots over 24 games, second-least in the AUS behind St. FX.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Shot percentage. Of the 733 shots taken by UPEI last year (2nd most in the league), only 65 went in (5th most in the league). They have been last or second-last in this category for three years running.
Key tests: October 14 @ Moncton, October 19 vs. St. FX. The Panthers' first two games are early challenges against the perennial contenders for the AUS title.
Outlook: With sustainable scoring, the Panthers may be able to overcome losing three of their top five scorers. Retaining their AUS title won't be a walk in the park but from the net out, the team has the means to succeed in the league this season.
Predicted finish: 3rd
MOUNT ALLISON MOUNTIES
2011-2012 regular season record: 14-6-4 (3rd in AUS)
Playoffs: Lost in final to UPEI
Nationwide rankings: Unranked (final CIS Top 10), 8th (RPI), 21st (SRS)
Powerplay: 23.6% (25/109, 1st in AUS)
Penalty kill: 81.0% (19/100, 4th in AUS)
Last season: The Mounties came to play last year. After years of building, the team finally rocketed into the playoffs with a nine-game winning streak lasting from February 4 to March 3 (including a 5-4 win over their geographic rival Moncton in the AUS semi-final).
Key departures: Katelyn Morton, Mt. A's leading scorer who had a hat trick in the semi-final to propel the Mounties to their first-ever AUS title game, and Lisa Riley (veteran presence, sixth in team scoring).
Key (re-)addition: Meghan Corley-Byrne. The goaltender shocked even those in the Mt. A community by announcing her return for a fifth and final year between the pipes. Her .937 save percentage and 1.85 GAA from last year will be welcomed back with open arms.
Statistic they want you to see: Goals allowed. With just 53 goals going through Mt. A goaltenders in 24 games it allowed the team to win the most games in the regular season in over eight years.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Past seasons' records. In 2009-2010, the Mounties went 2-21-1, 0-12 on the road, and in '10-11, they finished 10-12-2. Only time will tell if last season's success was an anomaly or if the team is for real.
Key tests: January 27–February 3rd. The Mounties play three road games in those eight days: UPEI on the Island, Saint Mary's in Halifax, and St. F-X in Antigonish.
Outlook: The big loss is Morton. However, double-sport standout Emily van Diepen (soccer and hockey) will look to play a larger role on the blue line this season. Ashlyn Somers, who tied Morton for the scoring lead last year will become one of Mt. A's offensive threats this season.
Predicted finish: 2nd
ST. FRANCIS XAVIER X-WOMEN
2011-2012 regular season record: 20-4-0
Playoffs: Lost in semifinal to UPEI
Nationwide rankings: 4th (final CIS Top 10), 4th (RPI), 12th (SRS)
Powerplay: 22.9% (25/109, 2nd in AUS)
Penalty kill: 86.4% (14/103, 3rd in AUS)
Last season: Their season came to an abrupt finish in the last game of pool play to UPEI, a result that surprised many, but the X-Women still led the way on the scoresheet with Alex Normore picking up the scoring title in the AUS as well as MVP honours. Kristy Garrow also led the league in both GAA (1.32) and save percentage (.938).
Key departures: Suzanne Fenerty, who was fifth in team scoring with 18 points last year, and fifth in the conference in plus/minus.
Key Additions: Kelsey Farrell (who played previously with Mount Allison) and Alyssa Hennigar (formerly with Dalhousie) will provide a leg up in familiarity for the X-Women when facing both teams.
Statistic they want you to see: Goals per game, on both sides of the ice. While scoring them, St. FX racked up 105 goals; when letting them in (or not), they allowed just 40. Both statistics led the AUS.
Statistic they don't want you to see: Games lost. Yes, focusing on four losses may be trivial, but after a perfect season in 2010-11, this past season showed that the supposedly-flawless team has some imperfections that can be exploited for victories by opposing teams.
Key tests: November 10 vs. UPEI, November 17 @ Moncton
Outlook: Returning the leading scorer? Check. Returning the top goalie in the AUS? Check again. The only question mark on the team is what type of impact the six different skaters in their first year of AUS eligibility will be able to provide.
Predicted finish: 1st