Hockey: 2012-13 AUS Men's Hockey Preview

AUS men's hockey teams finally start their regular season tonight, so time to get our team capsules posted.

The UNB Varsity Reds won the AUS championship for the 12th time last season, going undefeated in the playoffs. That is, until they were upset 3-2 by Western in the de facto semi-finals at the University Cup back in March, and McGill went on to win their first-ever men’s CIS hockey championship. Moncton had a great playoff run thanks to goaltender P.-A. Marion, but struggled against UNB and then lost their first game at Nationals to the Redmen, effectively taking them out of contention. There is a good chance that both teams will be at the 2013 PotashCorp University Cup in Saskatoon since it is the AUS’s turn to hold the rotating wildcard spot. But don’t count out Acadia, who for some reason struggled at the end of the season and then lost three one-goal games to UPEI in the playoffs, but continue their good recruiting run. Saint Mary’s and StFX are always in the mix, but one wonders if UPEI is the same team after losing some key players. Is this the year St. Thomas gets back into the playoffs and has Dalhousie improved enough?

Confession: My paying job and life in general has impacted on my research time this year (especially since the AUS has yet to post the hockey rosters online yet) so I have cribbed heavily from Bruce Hallihan's AUS preview bible in today's Daily Gleaner for player comings and goings. You can always trust what Bruce writes.

  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 16-10-2 (5th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 1-1-1. Lost to UPEI in 1st round.
  • Power play: 19.3% (3rd in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 84.4% (2nd in AUS)
  • Last Season: Acadia went with three rookie goaltenders last year and had a pretty good season, with a couple of winning streaks, but ended the season on a disappointing 1-4-1 pace and dropped into fifth place and lost the home ice advantage for the playoffs. All three games vs. UPEI in the first round were one-goal games, but the Axemen lost both road games.
  • Departures: F Nicholas Chouinard, F Chris Moulson, F Adam McIllwraith, F Ryan Graham, D Paul Kurceba, D Graham Bona.
  • Arrivals: F Brett Thompson, F Mike Cozzola, D Colin Archer, D Dylan Anderson, D/F Travis Randall.
  • Coach: Darren Burns (12th season)
  • Key Player: Andrew Clark was the CIS Player of the Year last season, and no surprise, he is expected to lead the team this year.
  • 2012-13 Outlook:Those three rookie goalies all have an AUS season under their belt now, with Evan Mosher getting most of the starts and Peter DiSalvo becoming the number two. None of the players gone from last year’s team were big point guys - Chouinard led that group with only ten points. I thought Acadia underachieved last year. Add in some good recruits and I’m going to go out on a limb and predict that they have the potential to secure one of the first round byes.
  • Projected conference finish: 2nd place.

  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 7-18-3 (7th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: N/A.
  • Power play: 17.5% (7th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 78.8% (7th in AUS)
  • Last Season: Turmoil. After squeaking into the postseason the previous year, the Tigers had a poor first half and rumblings surrounded the team. Over the Christmas Break head coach Pete Belliveau stepped away from behind the bench and moved upstairs to a new General Manager position he worked out with the AD, and Chris Donnelly was promoted to take over the coaching reins. The team was better in the second half with more wins and closer losses, but it wasn’t enough of an improvement to make the playoffs.
  • Departures: F Jordan Villeneuve-Gagne, F Trevor MacKenzie, F Ryan Stoddard, D David MacDonald, D Zach Firlotte, D Justin Javorek
  • Arrivals: F Andrew Langan, F Andrew Wigginton, F Kendall MacInnis, F Andrew Roski, F Chris Ivanko, F Dan Conacher, D Brad Yetman, D Matt English, D Rob McEwan, D Mathieu Boudreau, G Russ Brownell
  • Coach: Chris Donnelly (2nd season*).
  • Key Player: Slick forward Ben Breault has been expected to carry the team offensively and is the Tigers go-to guy, but they really need a goaltender to step forward and steal some games.
  • 2012-13 Outlook:Pessimistic view: grim. Optimistic: can only get better. Hopefully the drama surrounding Belliveau is over, especially as he was let go by the school this week (although there is apparently a CIS investigation of the Dal hockey program to be officially responded to within a few weeks). Former Huskie MacDonald was a horse on the back end last season, so someone will have to step up or divide his minutes. Upfront only the departed Villeneuve-Gagne was a really scoring threat. Dal has added a bunch of recruits, but they’re Junior A guys for the most part and the jump to the Major-Junior-rich AUS can sometimes be challenging, so is difficult to predict their potential impact. Bownell, a transfer from UofT, might thrive in the nets in the AUS, or wilt. The Tigers had their rink demolished in the offseason and will now share the venerable Halifax Forum with the Saint Mary’s Huskies. Not sure how that will go.
  • Projected conference finish: 8th place.
  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 18-9-1 (3rd place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 6-6-0. Won 2 of 3 from StFX and 3 of 4 vs. SMU before being swept in 3 games by UNB in AUS championships. Were 1-1 at University Cup.
  • Power play: 17.7% (5th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 80.0% (6th in AUS)
  • Last Season: The huge turnaround in Moncton earned head coach Serge Bourgeois AUS and CIS Coach of the Year honours.
  • Departures: G Pierre-Alexandre Marion, F Dean Ouellet, F Charles Bergeron, F P.-A. Poulin, F Chris Rodrigue, D Mathieu Labrie
  • Arrivals:G Adrien Lemay, F Alex Noel, F Alex Emond, F Raphael Pouliot, F Pierre-Antoine Dion, F Luc Williams, D Kevin Levesque
  • Coach: Serge Bourgeois (4th season).
  • Key Player: Former pro Christian Gaudet only played 10 games last season, but proved he was worth waiting for when he was in the line-up. In a healthy season he could win the AUS points title.
  • 2012-13 Outlook: While it would be easy to pencil in Moncton for second place this year due to their strong playoff play last spring, one shouldn’t underestimate how much of that was due to goaltender Marion. Just ask StFX and SMU. Well Marion’s gone now, and job goes to understudy Andre-Michel Guay and newbie Lemay, who does have some minor pro experience. UdeM has retained almost all of their solid defence and added several forwards form the Q. This is a very good team that beat UNB in the first exhibition game of this season, and may yet end up in Saskatoon.
  • Projected conference finish: 3rd place.

  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 18-7-3 (2nd place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 1-3-0. Lost to UdeM in 4 games in semi-finals.
  • Power play: 17.9% (4th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 86.6% (1st in AUS)
  • Last Season: The Huskies had another strong regular season last year to finish in second place, led by goaltenders Anthony Peters and Neil Conway who had the 3rd and 4th best goals against averages in the AUS (behind only the UNB tandem). They play smart hockey against their opponents, and get the results, and you just assume the Huskies are always going to be in the hunt for an AUS championship. After the first round bye, the wheels came off in the playoffs because they couldn’t solve Marion in Moncton’s net. Hot goalies can do that.
  • Departures: G Neil Conway, F Colby Pridham, F Cam Fergus, D Tyler Cuthbert, D Kyle Wharton
  • Arrivals: G Chris Perugini, F Ryan Hillier, F Brad Greene, D Dylan King, D Kyle Pereira
  • Coach: Trevor Steinburg (16th season).
  • Key Player: Could be “rookie” forward Ryan Hillier. The former Halifax Moosehead and minor pro redshirted with the Huskies last year and will no doubt get lots of first line ice time this season.
  • 2012-13 Outlook: Former captain and the team’s top score Pridham is now a grad student at UNB. He was the only Huskie in double-digits for goals. Fergus was the next most important offensive go-to guy. Cuthbert and Wharton were solid, defensive d-men. All hard to replace. Coach Steinburg has already said that they need to have someone step up and score goals. He seems to always get the most out of his players, but right now this doesn’t look like a team that can finish in second place again.
  • Projected conference finish: 5th place.
  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 5-18-5 (Last place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: N/A.
  • Power play: 13.9% (8th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 75.0% (8th in AUS)
  • Last Season: The Tommies were much improved last year, but they didn’t have a lot of wins to show for it. However, they came out on the short end of a number of close games. Still, while they owned StFX last year they never managed to beat 7th place Dal in their four meetings, and those were effectively must-wins.
  • Departures:G Charles Lavigne, F Brad Gallant, F Jordan Scott, F Matt Eagles, D Andrew Andricopoulos, D Bryan Mine, D Chris Van Laren, D Erick Tremblay
  • Arrivals: G Jon Groenheyde, F Colin Martin, F Alexandre Leduc, D Matthew Hobbs, D Marc-Andre Levesque, D Jordan Thomas, D Nick Brown
  • Coach: Troy Ryan (2nd season).
  • Key Player: Last season, the Tommies went as far as goalie Charles Lavigne could carry them. The mantle now falls to rookie Groenhyde who has a solid pedigree from the WHL and some time in the minor pros.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: The Tommies have moved into the spanking new city-built Grant•Harvey Centre where the school invested in top of the line dressing rooms and facilities for their men’s and women’s hockey programs. How much of a “bump” will the new digs give the team? Coach Ryan has brought in more of his guys, and time will tell if his new d-men outshine the underperformers who have left. Most of their scoring has been retained, including 20-point defenceman Felix Poulin who really should have been named to the AUS All-Rookie team last season. What the Tommies really have to solve is their dismal special teams’ performance -- last in the conference. The team should be better this year, but the playoffs look to be one year away yet.
  • Projected conference finish: 7th place.

  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 10-14-4 (6th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 1-2-0. Lost to Moncton in 3 games in quarter-finals.
  • Power play: 22.3% (1st in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 81.3% (5th in AUS)
  • Last Season: StFX really looked out of sorts last season, especially considering how hard they pushed UNB in the AUS finals the year before. Former hero goalie Joey Perricone looked very mortal with his 14 losses and 3.57 GAA. Goals, and especially non power play goals, were hard to come by. Not a good combination.
  • Departures:F Bryce Swan, F Brett Morrison, F Kevin Undershute, F Scott Brannon, F Brett Robertson, F Marco Desveaux, D Mark Louis, D/F Stephen Simms
  • Arrivals: G Drew Osley, F Cole Grbavac, F Steven Kuhn, F Zack MacQueen, F Cory MacIntosh, F Brad Cuzner, D Bronson Maschmeyer, D Mitch Taylor
  • Coach: Brad Peddle (7th season).
  • Key Player:Forward Jordan Bast was the CIS Rookie of the Year in 2010-11 and will probably be leading the X attack again this year.
  • 2012-13 Outlook: StFX really underachieved last year. Coach Peddle has brought in a ton of new gritty forwards and a stud defenceman to play with Bast and AUS rookie of the year Michael Kirkpatrick. Losing Swan to grad school at bitter rival UNB can’t make Peddle happy. Look for a rebound year by Perricone, especially if he is pushed by newcomer Osley who had big numbers in the WHL. It appears that StFX is returning to their hard-to-play-against style that has been successful for them in the recent past.
  • Projected conference finish: 4th place.
  • 2010-11 Regular season record: 20-5-3 (1st place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 7-1-0. Swept UPEI in 3 games in semi-finals; swept UdeM in 3 games in AUS finals; 1-1 at University Cup for 3rd place.
  • Power play: 17.6% (6th in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 82.9% (3rd in AUS)
  • Last Season: The only drama for UNB last season was goaltending. The V-Reds were loaded up front and on the back end. However, they started the year with two goalies and ended up dressing six (including one-time STU goalie Matt Davis), as first former-pro Dan LaCosta went down with a groin injury that bothered him most of the season and then veteran Travis Fullerton was out in November after an emergency appendicitis operation. Fullerton returned after Christmas, only to end up back on the shelf with a lower body injury. When he came back on January 27th he went 5-0-1, and then undefeated in the playoffs, until that upset loss to Western in UNB’s second game at the University Cup.
  • Departures: F Kyle Bailey, F Dion Campbell, F Jordan Clendenning, F Jeff Lee, F Shayne Wiebe, F/D Spencer Corcoran, D Luke Gallant, D Jonathan Harty, D Bretton Stamler, G Matt Davis
  • Arrivals: F Cam Braes, F Cam Critchlow, F Colby Pridham, F Bryce Swan, D Adrian Robertson
  • Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (13th season).
  • Key Player:Chris Culligan is the new captain of the V-Reds and their best all-round forward. He could prove to be the best player in the AUS this season.
  • 2011-12 Outlook: Nine players are gone from last year’s AUS champs. Nine. Replaced by three rookies and two transfers. But what transfers in the form of 4-year veterans SMU’s Pridham (30 points last season) and StFX’s Swan (25 points), and they’ve been playing together much of the preseason. Braes has already worked his way onto Culligan’s right wing, Critchlow was a playoff powerhouse with Halifax last year and Robertson is highly touted. UNB no longer has their famously strong taxi squad and is now more susceptible to injuries (they only had 16 skaters for Sunday’s game against the Maine Black Bears of the NCAA). So maybe they’ve come back to the pack a bit, but they still have to be favoured to win the AUS until another team proves otherwise.
  • Projected conference finish: 1st place.
  • 2011-12 Regular season record: 18-10-0 (4th place in AUS)
  • Playoffs: 2-3-1. Scraped by Acadia in quarter-finals and were then swept by UNB in semis
  • Power play: 21.5% (2nd in AUS)
  • Penalty kill: 82.1% (4th in AUS)
  • Last Season: UPEI had a fine regular season last year, tending to win games in bunches, with a scary offence that was second only to UNB. Unfortunately for the Panthers, after squeaking by the Axemen in the first round of the AUS playoffs they had to face the V-Reds, and that didn’t go so well. One more win in the regular season and they would have finished in third place and avoided UNB until the AUS finals.
  • Departures: G Jhase Sniderman, F Matt Carter, F Jared Gomes, F Devan Praught, F Chad Locke, F Brandon Biggers, D Zach McCullough
  • Arrivals:G Wayne Savage, F Mason Wilgosh, F Jordan Mayer, F Cole MacMillan, F Tyler Brown, F Colin Beck, D Spencer Metcalfe
  • Coach: Forbes “Forbie” MacPherson (4th season).
  • Key Player:There may be a ton of scoring expectation put on AUS All-Rookie Chris Desousa, or it may be veteran Jordan Knox that takes this team on his back.
  • 2012-13 Outlook: UPEI has lost a ton of their offence in Carter and Gomes, plus the others added a lot of size on the forecheck. Getting Savage back after a pro stint should replace Sniderman, and Parks was solid with 14 wins in nets. Until we get a good luck at the recruits the Panthers may have taken a step or two backwards.
  • Projected conference finish: 6th place.
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