This past weekend ended up being pretty decisive in AUS men's hockey, as UNB clinched first place for the sixth year in a row and Moncton squelched Dalhousie's long shot to make the playoffs. With three games left in the regular season, second place (the other first-round playoff bye) is still up for grabs with Acadia, Saint Mary's and UPEI all very much in the hunt. While StFX and UdeM don't have a shot at second place, they could still finish in fourth place and earn home ice for the first round of the conference playoffs.

300th win comes quickly for MacDougall

With Saturday's victory over StFX, UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall accomplished the major milestone of his 300th win in just his 13th season behind the V-Reds bench. crunches all the numbers (using Eric Drummie's RedSea database), but the facts that jump out at me are that UNB has won 71% of their non-exhibition games with MacDougall at the helm to get those 300 wins, that this is the sixth season in a row that UNB will win 20 or more games, and that CoachMac ranks fourth amongst active CIS coaches.

Friday was actually the bigger game, as the second place Huskies were visiting Fredericton in a "4-point game" that would make-or-break SMU's designs on first place. There was a huge crowd of 3470 (including just over 1200 invited local schoolkids and their teachers) and the teams delivered an exciting playoff-style game. After a careful first period, the game opened up in the second period as UNB scored twice, only to take two bad penalties in a row that SMU capitalized on to tie the game. The V-Reds had the edge in play in the third period and were finally rewarded when rookie Cam Critchlow knocked in the rebound of a wraparound attempt by captain Chris Culligan. MacDougall's son Taylor scored the last minute empty-netter to seal the victory.

Saturday's tilt against StFX was a different style of game. The X-Men seldom get in a track meet with the V-Reds, preferring to try to keep them to the outside, block shots like crazy, and attempt to take advantage of turnover opportunities with a strong transition game. UNB scored a shorty in the first period and StFX replied with a fine goal off a defensive turnover in the second period. The third period hero was V-Red Dion Campbell, who waited in the right circle with his stick cocked high for an agonizingly long time before finally getting the perfect pass from Antoine Houde-Caron to one-time into the net. Dan LaCosta was in nets for both wins on the weekend and now sports a 13-1-0 record and 2.05 GAA.

(Another achievement Saturday was that the CIS Blog's Robert Murray participated in his first live hockey broadcast as he helped out with the call on CHSR-FM).

Friday: SMU 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday: StFX 1 @ UNB 2

Weekend split isn't good enough for Acadia

The surprise of the weekend might have been the Axemen's loss at home to Moncton on Friday night. It was a tie game after the first period, but UdeM scored two goals in a span of less than a minute to take the lead and then held on and weathered the storm as Andre-Michel Guay made 45 saves in the game.

But that had nothing on Saturday's game, as Acadia fired 71 shots at STU's Jonathan Groenheyde. The Tommies netminder made 66 saves to keep the game from becoming a complete blowout, and was awarded first star honours in Acadia's rink. A classy move, especially since Axemen rookie forward Mike Cozzola netted a hat-trick in the match.

Friday: UdeM 3 @ Acadia 2
Saturday: STU 2 @ Acadia 5

Worse weekend for Huskies

After that loss to UNB, Saint Mary's had to travel to the Island and face red-hot UPEI on Saturday. The two teams traded goals until early in the third period, when the Panthers scored two in a row and were able to hold on for the win. Veteran Shawn O'Donnell had four goals in the loss. Lucas Bloodoff had two more power play goals on the weekend, and continues to lead the AUS scoring race with 20 goals (12 on the PP) and 35 points.

Friday: SMU 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday - SMU 5 @ UPEI 6
Be wary of the Panthers

Since the Christmas break, UPEI is the hottest team in the AUS. They've only lost once. To UNB. In overtime. Friday night the Panthers hammered the X-Men, out-shooting them 42-20 with Dana Fraser and Chris Desousa each netting a pair of goals and a pair of assists. Saturday night they were back to the more familiar territory of a one-goal game.

Friday - StFX 2 @ UPEI 8
Saturday - SMU 5 @ UPEI 6

Moncton on the rebound?

Les Aigles Bleus were 2-3-2 since the Break going into Friday's game and that huge win versus Acadia. Saturday they had the opportunity to squash 7th place Dal's dreams, but got caught up in a wild "last goal wins" game. Both teams scored three times on the power play, and by forcing overtime Moncton salvaged the one point they needed to eliminate the Tigers. UdeM d-man Samuel Groulx led les Aigles offence with 2 goals and 2 assists in the losing cause.

Friday: UdeM 3 @ Acadia 2
Saturday - UdeM 7 @ Dal 8  OT

Dal wins battle but loses war

Every game for the rest of the season was a must-win if the Tigers hoped to have a chance to catch Moncton for the final playoff spot. They managed to stay alive with a solid win over St. Thomas on Friday. On Saturday they threw everything at Moncton, but got let down by their goaltending. Both teams scored goals in bunches, but UdeM scored twice on only 4 shots in the first period and four times on 7 shots in the second period. Moncton scored late in the third to tie the game, but Dal wasn't able to get the winner until overtime, which was just too late. Shea Kewin had a hat-trick for the Tigers and Pierre-Alexandre Vandall scored the winner in OT on a power play.

Friday - STU 2 @ Dal 5
Saturday - UdeM 7 @ Dal 8  OT

Tommies finishing out the string

A lot of things haven't gone well this season for the short-staffed and banged up Tommies, but at least they've found a goaltender in Jonathan Groenheyde to be the core of their ongoing rebuild. STU only had 15 skaters for their weekend games, and were only down by one goal after two periods against Acadia. But in that third period they were completely gassed, as Acadia out-shot them 30-3 while Cozolla scored the insurance goal plus an empty netter.

Friday - STU 2 @ Dal 5
Saturday: STU 2 @ Acadia 5

This weekend

While UNB now has the luxury of  being able to rest players and go into cruise control mode if they choose, the next three teams have a lot to play for. UPEI has to win both their games against UdeM and UNB, and hope Acadia loses to StFX and SMU, as well count on the Huskies losing to Dal on Friday. Not too much to wish for, is it?  Life's a little simpler for Acadia and SMU -- they have to just keep winning to each control their destiny.  StFX's and UdeM's long shot at fourth place is complicated -- they have to win both their games and then hope for help from other teams.
It is definitely crunch time in CIS men's hockey, with teams only having five or six games left in their regular season schedule going into this weekend. I of course encourage you to bundle up and head out to the rink to watch local games, but if you can't, here's some choice games you can watch online:

AUS: First place and #2 ranked UNB hosts 2nd place and #4 ranked Saint Mary's. Last time these two teams tangled at the AUC in Fredericton it was a refereeing debacle. Hopefully this time the zebras let the top two teams in the AUS settle it even strength.
Refereeing was not an issue in a playoff-style game played in front of over 3400 (including 1200 schoolkids and teachers). UNB survived 2 PP goals against in second period and broke the tie in the third period for 4-2 win in "4-point" game versus the Huskies.

OUA: The top two teams in the OUA East meet in Trois-Rivières as UQTR hosts Carleton. The physical Ravens have been making some waves this year and this should be an interesting match against the historically dominant Patriotes.
Bit of a surprise score wise, as UQTR built up early lead and put the game away with three goals late in the third period for 5-1 win.

Canada West: The top ranked and 1st place Golden Bears slide down the highway to play the rival Dinos. Fourth place Calgary are an enigmatic team this season, but are 8-2 in their last 10 games.
Close game decided by Alberta third-period power play goal for 2-1 win.

AUS: While the first recommendation might be 4th place StFX at UNB (as these teams really don't like each other), more excitement might be found in the UdeM-Dal game as the Tigers are in must-win territory if they have any hope to pass les Aigles Bleus for the 6th and final playoff spot.
StFX bounced back from a thumping the night before by UPEI to keep it close with UNB. The V-Reds didn't really pull away territorially until the third period and won 2-1. The UdeM-Dal games was a goalie's nightmare, ending 8-7 in OT for the Tigers. Dal won the battle but lost the war, as the one point for the overtime loss clinched the last playoff spot for les Aigles Bleus.

OUA: Going by the CIS website, there are not a lot of webcast options Saturday, but the Ottawa at UQTR game looks interesting.
Looks like I somehow misread the schedule as UQTR did NOT host Ottawa. Oops.

Canada West: Two choices on Dinos are at Golden Bears in the second half of their home and home while Lethbridge tries to salvage their season in their second night hosting Manitoba.
Exciting game in Edmonton as the Golden Bears ruled the shot clock but lost 3-2 in the overtime shootout to the Dinos. The Pronghorns were dominiated by the Bisons for the second game in a row and lost 5-1.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Panthers rolling at the right time

After getting out to a slow start, the Panthers have been clicking for the start of 2013. Last Saturday's game against Mount Allison marked the first power play goals given up by the Panthers since their game on Nov. 18, which was against the Mounties as well. Since that game in November, UPEI has gone 6-1 after starting the season out 1-3. Finally, the Panthers have tackled questions of offensive output through scoring by committee. They are currently averaging 1.45 assists per goal and all but one Panther player has factored in on a goal this season.

Tommies cooling off

After only recording three losses in their first two months of play, the Tommies have lost 4 of their last 6. The road to the AUS playoffs doesn't get any easier for the Tommies as they make a trip to face UPEI in their only match this coming weekend. This game will be crucial for the Tommies given their recent woes as they won't play again for two weeks, until Feb. 9 at Mount Allison, after Saturday's upcoming game. Julia Sharun continues to have a solid season with four shutouts, including two in her last four games. She has had some rough outings against the X-Women allowing six goals twice and four goals once. The playoff atmosphere may yield a different result come late February.

Huskies rebounding well

For the first half of the season, the Huskies were holding their ground. A 6-5-2 record was a large improvement over the 1-8-1 record they had at the same point during the 2011-2012 campaign. After last season's debacle (over five goals allowed per game in a league that averaged three), a youth movement has taken over in the south end of Halifax. Rookie forward Brianna Soper is tied for the team lead in points and fellow first-year Billee Canning (despite playing defence) is tied for the team lead in goals with senior Kaitlyn Abbass. The Huskies' youth movement is also extended between the pipes where Sienna Cooke has a 9-6-1 record, 1.79 goals against-average and .938 save percentage in her first season of AUS hockey. The core going forward in future years could be the foundation for the Huskies winning their first AUS championship since 2010.

Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Jan. 11 in parentheses)

  1. St. Francis Xavier (1) — A win over the second-place Tommies and fifth-place Moncton padded the X-Women's lead to 9 points.
  2. St. Thomas (2) — A tough loss to the X-Women at home sealed them off from first place (9 points back with 4 games to play). Now they must focus on finishing ahead of the next three teams on this list.
  3. UPEI (5) — The victory over the Mounties was their sixth straight with their last loss in overtime against the Huskies on Nov. 30.
  4. Saint Mary's (3) — Technically a winless weekend since their one win was a forfeited game by Dalhousie.
  5. Moncton (4) — The only solace after weekend losses to the Huskies and X-Women is that a match-up with the 4-9-4 Mounties is their only one this weekend.
  6. Dalhousie (7) — Their case to not be in last here is that they offer some hope that they'll be determined to compete hard next season.
  7. Mount Allison (6) — They have yet to win a game on the ice in 2013.
We finish up this series with the (almost-)perennial contenders otherwise known as the Thunderbirds.

Record: 8-2 conference (1st, Canada West Pacific), 14-2 overall, +11.5 SRS (4th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 103.6 ORtg (12th), 92.4 DRtg (12th)

First half highlights:
  • I could summarize it here, or you could read this excellent recap from UBC athletics.
  • Holding Saskatchewan, the country's second best offence, to 42.4% shooting on their home court.
  • The overall balanced play of a no-star lineup (though Doug Plumb has been fantastic).
First half recap: The Thunderbirds have weathered the storm of high turnover, staying competitive despite losing program cornerstones like Nathan Yu, Josh Whyte, Alex Murphy and Kamar Burke in recent years. UBC's two losses are by a combined seven points, and they've shown they can win multiple ways — for example, see their win at UFV, despite shooting 34.4%, as evidence they can grind out wins, too.

What makes them good: The T-Birds make their living at the free throw line, shooting more from the charity stripe than any other team in the country at 0.31 FTs per FG attempt. Otherwise, it's fair to say they don't do anything great but do everything well. Balance is the name of the game for this team, with four starters averaging double figures in scoring, led by Plumb at 16.0 points per game. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this team stand out other than the fact they're well-coached and don't make many mistakes for other teams to capitalize on.

What they need to improve on: Lacking some of the firepower of recent UBC teams and without a dependable lead guard like Yu or Whyte to lean on, it will be interesting to see how the UBC will progress towards the playoffs. That being said, the well-balanced approach in almost every aspect of the game has led them to the top of their division, and could be the new formula for success going forward.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: UBC has seen its fair share of heartbreak at the Final 8, but missing out on the big dance last year has got to sting for Kevin Hanson's club. With the lead in this year's parity-filled Canada West, UBC could be back in contention for the national title.
Next up in our series of 2013 previews: the U of A.

Record: 9-1 conference (1st, Canada West Prairie), 11-3 overall, +10.2 SRS (7th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 106.8 ORtg (6th), 90.8 DRtg (10th)

First half highlights:
  • A wild win over UBC with a crazy final sequence.
  • A 35-point punishing of Victoria.
  • Two convincing wins over Lethbridge in November.
First half recap: Coming off a national championship game loss to Carleton in 2012, the Golden Bears have again looked like a Final 8 contender, looking better and better as the season has gone on. Their home-heavy schedule has helped them to jump out to a 9-1 record, but this is a solid team on both ends of the court. Sharpshooter Sahr Saffa, who didn't play in the team's only loss, has worked well with Jordan Baker and Kenneth Otieno and helped space the floor since coming back from a groin injury.

What makes them good: With new coach Barnaby Craddock implementing a slower-paced defensive style (73.9 possessions per game, sixth-lowest in the country), the Bears have still managed to score efficiently, shooting 50% on two pointers and posting the sixth-best offensive rating in the country. That's largely thanks to the duo of Otieno (28.9 PER, 60 TS%) and Baker, who has struggled from the field (39.5 FG%, 43% eFG) yet remained effective with a 27.6 PER and is leading the team in scoring. The Bears also have a league low turnover rate (tied with Lakehead and Carleton at 16%), generally a good sign that this offence can continue to score at a high rate.

What they need to improve on: Baker is a fantastic talent, but he's going to need to get even better to lead this team back to the national championship game, and one way he could do that is with improved shot selection. There's a lot to be said for Baker's ability to create his own shot and get the defence moving, but he's shooting almost five threes a game and making less than a quarter of them. It's a lot to ask an already great player to get better, but it might behoove the Bears to get a little more controlled play from their standout forward.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: With Saffa and big man Robert Dewar coming back from injuries, there might be some more consistency to Craddock's lineups — nine different players have started for the Bears this year. Alberta will face a road-heavy schedule (8/12 out-of-province), and will need their veterans to play at their best to hold on to their division-leading record and start their journey back to the Final 8.
Earlier this year we identified a dozen CCAA players (women's, men's) who would make the jump to CIS. How many of them are actually on CIS rosters?

(Spoiler: two.)



  • Rob Gagliardi: Another "unknown." Not with Durham, not in CIS.

  • Richard Townsend-Gant: "still training hard in Portland and is investigating some professional playing opportunities in Turkey", or so says former teammate and fellow Oregon native Brandon Jones.

  • Khalid Abdel-Gabar: Not on the Sheridan roster, likely graduated.

In the 2011-12 season, there were about six who made the jump after being identified here (and, of course, several others who transferred without putting up the kind of CCAA stats that would get them noticed in this series). All but one of those six were men's players, whereas this year the only ones who transferred were on women's teams. Not that that's significant or anything, but without anything else of note, it's the only trend we can notice.
Another in our regular series, checking in with AUS women's hockey.

Tigers season tamed by university

With their 2012-2013 season officially done, the Dalhousie Women's hockey team has one battle left before they can head into the off season: the survival of their program. Of the 24 players on the roster, only the rookies were spared by the university from suspension. Without enough players left to play, the Tigers forfeited all their games in the second half of the season. Members of the women's team and university administration continue to play a confusing game of 'he said, she said' that will only hurt the women's hockey team in the end. It will be interesting to see whether players from the team jump ship or stick with the program. If the program does survive, it's worthwhile keeping an eye on the level of support they receive from the Athletic department.

Playoff teams set but nothing else certain ahead of postseason

With the early end to the Tigers' season, the playoff teams have been confirmed for the AUS Championships which will take place February 21-24 in Sackville. Mount Allison, comprised of a huge influx of rookies this season, were saved twice by Dalhousie's early departure. As host, the Mounties automatically qualified for the playoffs. Their 4-6-4 record has been aided by two straight wins against the Tigers: one at the beginning of December and one match forfeited by the Tigers on January 20. With the recent surge by the X-Women the Mounties will be in tough if the standings remain the same for the playoffs. Facing off against the current CIS 6th-ranked X-Women followed by a match up against Saint Mary's or Moncton could mean an early exit for the Mounties in the playoffs on home ice in February.

X-Women pull away from AUS competition

A run of 7 straight wins (not counting three victories against Dalhousie at a later date) have the X-Women pulling away as the first-place team in the AUS. With Alex Normore scoring at a clip of almost one-and-a-half points per game and Kristy Garrow stifling AUS opponents between the pipes, things are rolling along for X. They are facing their strongest opponents to ring in the 2013 portion of the regular season schedule but will eventually finish off the season facing the league's worst teams a total of four times in the final month of play. The X-Women have consistently had strong regular seasons but post-season success has come inconsistently over the past few years. Last year, their run ended in the semi-finals against eventual champions UPEI but when the teams travel to Sackville on the last weekend of February the X-Women will be hungry for their second AUS title in three years.

Power Rankings (Our rankings as of Nov. 22 in parentheses)

  1. St. Francis Xavier (1) — Expanding their lead in the AUS and a CIS ranking are just the latest accolades for this team.
  2. St. Thomas (2) — For a team currently 6-1 at home, playing 4 out of their 7 final games in Fredericton is nothing to complain about.
  3. Saint Mary's (6) — Up some weeks and down in others, the Huskies need to find consistency but fortunately for them this is a good week.
  4. Moncton (4) — Despite 2nd and 6th place being separated by 11 points, Moncton finds some way to always remain in 4th.
  5. UPEI (3) — The Panthers' playoff drive will start early as their final five games consist of two against the X-Women and one against each of the Tommies, Huskies and Aigles Bleues.
  6. Mount Allison (5) — Scoring 20 goals in 14 games isn't good enough at any level.
  7. Dalhousie (7) — Looking to the future and to a supportive fan base for when they return to the ice.
Our next 2013 outlook examines the University of the Fraser Valley Cascades, who bring lofty expectations into the new year.

Record: 7-3 conference (2nd, Canada West Pacific), 10-3 overall, +10.3 SRS (6th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 102.3 ORtg (15th), 91.5 DRtg (11th)

First half highlights:
  • A 13-point road win over UBC that snapped a three-game losing streak.
  • A five-game winning streak to close the semester.
  • The strong play of Kevon Parchment and Sam Freeman.
First half recap: Despite losing their head coach and two star players to the University of Alberta, the Cascades have managed to stay competitive under new bench boss Adam Friesen. After losing coach Barnaby Craddock and standouts Joel Friesen and Jasper Moedt, it looked as though all the momentum from last season's banner campaign for the program would be lost. But Freeman has adapted well to a bigger role, Parchment, a transfer guard from Lakeland College, has been a potential All-Canadian, and fifth year forward Kyle Grewal has been a solid glue guy to keep the men in green in contention. UFV has responded well to a mid-season slide (where they lost two home games to Victoria and a road game to UBC), reeling off five straight wins including a signature victory over the Thunderbirds on the road. They've done it with very stingy defence, holding teams to a combined 35.7% shooting in those five wins.

What makes them good: Parchment and Freeman are two of the best scorers in the league, and have been the key to UFV's offence. Parchment's 29.7 PER and 64 TS% rank among the elite nationwide, while Freeman's 41.3% mark on nearly eight threes per game has made him very dangerous (his 62 TS% despite shooting 59.4% on free throws is kind of incredible). Grewal, despite a 39.4 FG%, has helped spread the floor as a three-point threat (48.8% on more than four attempts per game) while posting 15 points, eight rebounds and nearly four assists per game. As a team, UFV has kept turnovers to a minimum (just an 18% turnover rate) and doesn't foul much, making teams work to score against them. That's translated into good defence, especially in their stingy defensive run to end the first semester.

What they need to improve on: In their three losses so far, the Cascades have struggled to rebound. Their two losses to UVic saw them get beaten 66-52 over two games on the glass, and UBC beat them 54-35 in their win (UFV's bounceback win the next night saw them win the board battle 36-32). Perhaps it's a small sample size, but it looks like there's some value in UFV rebounding as a key to win.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: With Parchment and Freeman leading the way, there are high expectations on the Cascades for the second semester. They deserve them, too, and the showdown between UFV and UBC (who's had a slightly easier schedule in their 8-2 record) should be a dandy. A medal at nationals is certainly not out of the question.
The Saskatchewan Huskies are the first of our Canada West teams as we reach the home stretch in our 2013 hoops previews.

Record: 6-4 conference (4th, Canada West Prairie), 10-5 overall, +7.7 SRS (9th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 112.0 ORtg (2nd), 102.8 DRtg (31st)

First half highlights:
  • A road win over Lethbridge where they shot 56.9%.
  • The country's top offence, non-Carleton division.
  • The very solid seasons of Stephon Lamar and Matthew Forbes.
First half recap: Behind the ball-dominant play of Lamar, the latest California-born point guard to lead the Huskies, the Huskies have once again produced a high-octane offence at 112 points per 100 possessions. But a back-and-forth first semester sees the Huskies just 6-4 and looking at themselves in the mirror for 2013. Three of their losses are by less than five points, but there's a long road to climb in a parity-filled Canada West this winter.

What makes them good: Despite his astronomical usage rate (33.4%, north of the 'Pasquale Line'), Lamar has been great, leading the country in scoring at 25.8 points per game. And he hasn't been the only bright spot in Saskatchewan's lineup: Matthew Forbes actually has a higher PER (26.1 to 25.8) and has a 66 TS%, while Ben Baker, Patrick Burns and Evan Ostertag have been dependable as starters. The Huskies have put up a ton of points (over 80 in every game), have shot 52% on twos and get to the line a ton at .28 free throws per FG attempt.

What they need to improve on: Defensively, the Huskies have struggled. Opponents have a red hot 53 eFG% and have shot an absurd 43% on threes. Those numbers have to come down if the Huskies want to win, regardless of how many points Lamar and Forbes can score. In addition, the Huskies are running the risk of burning out their starters. In that win against Lethbridge, exactly 0 points came from the bench and four starters played at least 37 minutes. Lamar, Forbes, Burns and Baker are all averaging at least 31 minutes, and some bench contribution could go a long way to easing the burden on the starters.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: Saskatchewan's first game back from the break is against UFV, a great litmus test for whether this team can make it back to the Final 8. But with five teams .500 or better in their division, the Huskies will need as much as they can get from Lamar and co.
The Acadia Axemen demonstrated how tight the AUS men’s hockey standings are this past weekend – two losses saw them drop from first to third place, and Tuesday their CIS ranking plummeted from #2 to #6. The same thing could conceivably happen this coming weekend to new first place (and #2 ranked) UNB, as they will be on the road to play 4th place StFX and 2nd place Saint Mary’s. With only ten games remaining now in the regular season schedule, the top four spots are very much up for grabs.

UPEI and Moncton seem fairly comfortable in the final two AUS playoff positions, but Dalhousie is still in striking range, especially if UdeM continues to slump. Only the rebuilding and short-staffed STU Tommies are truly out of playoff contention.

Varsity Reds had a good Christmas

It must be frustrating for their competitors to watch UNB often use the Christmas break to add players to patch perceived gaps in their perpetually strong roster (most likely a contributing factor to the new AUS roster limits coming next season). This time coach Gardiner MacDougall added two veterans: 5th year forward Dion Campbell who returns to the team after taking the first term off from hockey to focus on his second degree in Education while former Guelph Gryphon defenceman Tim Priamo joins the V-Reds after a brief pro career and long injury rehab. Campbell brings hustle and grit that UNB has been lacking up front while Priamo shores up the once vaunted UNB defensive depth that has been depleted through graduations and injuries.

On the ice Campbell showed he hadn’t missed a beat in picking up MVP honours in UNB’s two-game tourney, the annual Peterbilt NB Pete Kelly Challenge Cup, played on Dec. 30th and New Year’s Eve against the touring Russian Red Stars (an “all-star” team selected from the top Russian junior league). The series was promoted as honouring the 40th anniversary of the ’72 series and the V-Reds wore Team Canada inspired jerseys with the ’72 players’ names on the back. Phil Esposito even showed up to drop the puck for the first game in Saint John. UNB jumped out to an early lead and won the first game 7-3, while the next day back in Fredericton they won a closer-played game 5-2 in the sold-out Aitken University Centre. Both games were very much “men against boys” as the older and stronger V-Reds dominated the skilled Russian juniors.

Four days later the Varsity Reds hosted then first-place Acadia in the biggest game of the AUS season to date. The Axemen had taken over first place in the AUS on the last game of the first half, when they beat UNB 3-2 at home on Dec. 1. The V-Reds drew first blood, on a Nick MacNeil power play goal, but then the home squad got into penalty trouble, an all too common occurrence this season. Mike Cozzola tied the game on a 5-on-3 Acadia power play and Liam Heelis put the Axemen ahead with a power play goal late in the 1st period. UNB rookie Cam Critchlow tied the game in the second, and Tyler Carroll redeemed UNB’s unimpressive penalty kill with a shortie in the third period to put the V-Reds back in front. MacNeil secured the win with a last-minute empty net goal, you guessed it, while shorthanded.

There was a lot less drama the next night against the Dalhousie Tigers. UNB scored three goals in the first nine minutes (two from Carroll and the other from MacNeil), and then spent the rest of the game trying unsuccessfully to get another past Wendell Vye. Vye made 48 saves in the loss while at the other end of the ice Travis Fullerton made 17 saves for his first shutout of the season. Another positive for UNB was that they successfully killed off a requisite 5-on-3 shorthanded situation.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday - Dal 0 @ UNB 3

Beware the charging Huskies

The hottest team in the AUS is Saint Mary’s, who now hold a seven-game win streak in conference play. Friday night they blew out a close game against the depleted Tommies in the third period, scoring five unanswered goals for a 7-1 win while outshooting STU 55-22. The Huskies had another big third period against les Aigles Bleus the next night, scoring four times for the 6-2 win. Lucas Bloodoff scored three times on the weekend, and now has 15 goals to lead the AUS and CIS in scoring, and earn AUS male athlete of the week honours. Who would have predicted that the Huskies would score more goals (74) than the V-Reds (72) at this point in the season?

Friday - STU 1 @ SMU 7
Saturday - UdeM 2 @ SMU 6

Tough weekend for Axemen who didn’t play badly 

After their loss Friday night to UNB, Acadia head coach Darren Burns was nonplussed, stating that it was one of his team’s better games at the AUC (they’ve now lost 19 straight there going back to March 2006, and no, he didn’t mention that …) and said that you have to play “perfect” against a team like UNB, and they didn’t. Evan Mosher stood on his head in nets to steal the win for Acadia against UNB on Dec. 1, but he couldn’t repeat the same performance on Friday.

I wonder if Burns was a little more worked up after Saturday’s loss to UPEI? The two teams traded goals in the first period, and the Axemen went ahead in the second period on a 5-on-3 power play goal from Andrew Clark. Just over a minute later Harrison McIver scored shorthanded to re-tie the game. The Panthers scored later in the period to retake the lead, and McIver’s second goal in the third period gave them insurance. This time is was Peter DiSalvo getting tagged with the loss.

Friday - Acadia 2 @ UNB 4
Saturday - Acadia 2 @ UPEI 4

X-Men back in the hunt 

StFX struggled to find consistency in the first half, but they took advantage of two slumping teams to pick up two wins and put themselves within striking range of the conference leaders. Friday night they were led offensively by rookie Brad Cuzner’s two goals and the strong play of linemates Steven Kuhn and Murdock MacLellan. 20-year-old Cuzner spent his Christmas break playing four games for the QMJHL’s Halifax Mooseheads (who of course were missing Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Drouin). Saturday night they beat the game Tommies 3-0, with Joey Perricone only needing to make 10 saves to earn the shutout.

Friday - UdeM 1 @ StFX 5
Saturday - STU 0 @ StFX 3

What’s happened to Moncton? 

After a promising start, les Aigles Blue have now lost seven in a row. Injuries are an obvious issue right now. Moncton only had 15 skaters dressed for the weekend, and they were bombed with 49 shots in the lopsided 5-1 loss. It was no better Saturday, as SMU upped the attack to 57 shots on goal. Is Moncton one of the teams that voted for the roster limits?

Friday - UdeM 1 @ StFX 5
Saturday - UdeM 2 @ SMU 6
Panthers prowling 

UPEI squeezed out a victory against Dalhousie Friday night. The teams traded single goals in the middle period, but it took Travis MacIsaac’s goal at 5:53 of overtime to win it for the home squad. Saturday’s win against Acadia was bigger, and more unexpected, and apparently didn’t have the nastiness like the last time the two teams played. The Panthers are waiting for the result of their appeal hearing of the 12-game suspension handed out to Mason Wilgosh after his hit on Acadia’s Chris Owens back on Nov. 30.

Friday - Dal 1 @ UPEI 2 - OT
Saturday - Acadia 2 @ UPEI 4 

Can the week get any worse for Dalhousie? 

Hot on the heels of the suspension of the Dal women’s hockey team for the rest of the season for a hazing incident back in the fall, CTV News has added to the buzz about the ongoing CIS investigation of the men’s hockey team by intimating that some players were promised or paid money above the allowable limits of AFA’s (Athletic Financial Awards, the CIS’s version of sports scholarships).

Friday night’s game against UPEI was a must-win if Dal has hopes of making the playoffs, and they did come away with one point. Saturday in Fredericton was a different matter, and only goaltender Wendell Vye prevented the loss to UNB from becoming a complete rout.

Friday - Dal 1 @ UPEI 2 - OT
Saturday - Dal 0 @ UNB 3 

Tommies forced to suck it up 

St. Thomas is in rebuild mode, and didn’t start the season with a large roster as coach Troy Ryan was looking ahead to next season when many of his veterans will have graduated and moved on – freeing up scholarship spots. Therefore injuries and defections have even more impact this season. Talented but mercurial Alex Leduc was an unwanted distraction in the first half, and he’s gone now. Veteran Mike Reich had enough credits to graduate at Christmas, and has moved on. Backup goalie Justin Collier also left the team over the holidays.

The last weekend of the first half STU played through their injuries and pushed both SMU and StFX to overtime, coming away with the win versus the X-Men. They couldn’t repeat the same results this past weekend. With only 16 skaters the Tommies stayed with the Huskies for two periods, but penalties were their undoing in the third period as SMU broke it open. Jon Groenheyde was lifted after the fifth SMU goal, and newly added Tyler Piercy, a diminutive former Junior A goalie from Fredericton, came in for relief and gave up two goals.

STU could only muster 13 skaters the next night against StFX, and by all reports played well in the loss.

Friday - STU 1 @ SMU 7
Saturday - STU 0 @ StFX 3

This weekend

Most of the attention will be on UNB’s road games versus StFX and Saint Mary’s with travel partner UPEI. Acadia and Dalhousie get to host the struggling Tommies and Aigles Bleus.
The Cape Breton Capers, who open up their January schedule tonight, are next as we wrap up the AUS.

Record: 7-0 conference (1st, AUS), 12-2 overall, +4.9 SRS (12th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 110.7 ORtg (3rd), 88.6 DRtg (5th)

First half highlights:
  • A non-conference win over a very good Ryerson team.
  • An undefeated conference record.
  • The outstanding play of guard Jimmy Dorsey.
First half recap: The Capers have cruised to a 7-0 conference record that's partially due to having just the 36th-toughest schedule in the country, but mostly thanks to a novel style of play and senior guard Jimmy Dorsey. His 25.4 points per game and PER of 34.7 are both second in the country, and he's remained efficient while shouldering a huge load. He's within shouting distance of a 50-40-90 season (46.5 FG%, 39.3 3PT%, 91.9 FT%) and making a surefire case for an All-Canadian nod.

What makes them good: The Capers run teams off the court, once again playing the country's fastest pace at 88.7 possessions per game. With a team full of very good athletes, that's translated into a very efficient offence at 110.7 points per 100 possessions, third best in the country behind Carleton and Saskatchewan. The breakneck pace has also proven effective defensively, as Cape Breton has forced a ton of turnovers and turned in a defensive rating of 88.6 points per 100 possessions. That means the Capers are one of just three teams (joining Carleton and Ryerson, who are kinda good) to have a top five offence and defence. In addition to Dorsey, rookie Shaquille Keith (16.6 PPG, 57 TS%) and Meshack Lufile (14.6 PPG, 59 eFG%, 33.1 PER) have benefited from the quick pace and filled up stat sheets all season. Lufile has been especially solid in helping CBU become great on the offensive glass, where they grab 42% of their own misses, third best in the country.

What they need to improve on: Like their AUS rival Acadia, Cape Breton will have to deal with the injury bug for the time being. Dorsey has a hand injury and will miss an undetermined number of games. While there's plenty of talent and athleticism to fill the void, losing the nation's second most productive player is a challenge that will test the mettle of a would-be Final 8 team. As well, the Capers could do themselves some good if they stop fouling so much, with teams visiting the charity stripe more than once per three shots, and shooting 74% from the line on top of that.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: If both teams are 100%, the battle between Cape Breton and Acadia for the AUS title should be one of the closest nationwide. With a healthy Dorsey, this team is a legitimate threat at the Final 8.
To finish off our look at Quebec teams we think have a shot at nationals, here are the McGill Redmen.

Record: 3-1 conference (t-1st, RSEQ), 11-3 overall, +5.1 SRS (11th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 101.4 ORtg (15th), 89.7 DRtg (7th)

First half highlights:
  • A solid non-conference season with wins over Ottawa and Queen's (twice).
  • A tight road win over Concordia in the Shrine Classique.
  • The standout play and excellent nickname of 'Prince' Vince Dufort.
First half recap: McGill's excellent non-conference play gave them the look of a Final 8 contender, something rarely said about RSEQ teams. They beat several solid Ontario opponents and saw the rise of super sophomore Dufort. But a loss to Bishop's to close out 2012 in conference play and a sobering performance at Ryerson's holiday tournament have the Redmen looking in need of a turnaround for 2013.

What makes them good: Good looks at the basket, a stout defence and The Prince. McGill has benefited from a mark 53% on two-pointers, second best in the country. But the defence has been the calling card — so good, that you have to wonder if it's sustainable, especially with teams shooting just 29% from three against them. Dufort's numbers — 72 eFG%, 73 TS%, 32.0 PER — have been outstanding (All-Canadian worthy, though it's early), and coach Dave DeAveiro has said he "[doesn't] know where the team would be without him."

What they need to improve on: The first order of business is for the Redmen to cut down on their 23% turnover rate (paging Christian McCue and Aleksander Mitrovic, at 27% and 32% respectively). From there, they can work on solidifying their offence, and if the defence holds up, they've got a great shot at the Final 8.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: Not long ago, it looked like McGill was the favourite to come out of Quebec. They've fallen since, but behind the strong play of Dufort and their defence, it's possible for them to return. The RSEQ title and a trip to the Final 8 is still a very, very reasonable goal.
Some RSEQ teams tipped off 2013 on the weekend, but not the two we'll be recapping/previewing in this series, who coincidentally face each other on Thursday this week to resume their conference schedule. Up first, the Concordia Stingers.

Record: 3-2 conference (3rd, RSEQ), 8-5 overall, +2.9 SRS (17th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 96.6 ORtg (25th), 89.1 DRtg (6th)

First half highlights:
  • A 28-point win over Laval.
  • Reasonable success in the face of serious roster turnover.
First half recap: With Decee Krah gone to graduation and Kyle Desmarais out due to academic ineligibility/a knee injury, the Stingers have had to re-write the script to the success they've had in recent years. They've become an elite defensive team and have managed to put themselves in position to challenge for the QUBL title with McGill. Of course, the first semester includes all of five conference games, so we won't know if they're for real for a while yet.

What makes them good: Defensively, the Stingers have been fantastic. They've been able to keep teams away from the free throw line (just 0.18 free throws per field goal attempt, sixth best in the country) and held opponents to 31% shooting from three. That's an efficient, sustainable defence and bodes well for the Stingers' contention hopes. Individually, defending league MVP Evens Laroche has been solid if unspectacular, with 14.2 points per gane, 7.2 rebounds and a 22.5 PER. Second year guard Jerome Blake has been productive (16.0 PPG on a 23.1 usage rate, the same as Laroche), though somewhat inefficient with a 37.3 FG%.

What they need to improve on: Concordia really misses the shotmaking ability of Desmarais, a former league MVP himself, and Krah. Thus, their offence has struggled to transition, shooting 39.2% as a team and just 28% from three. They could start by cutting down on turnovers (with a per-possession rate of 22%). One would think the percentages should come back up a bit, especially as the team gets more and more used to life without Krah and Desmarais, but the facts are simple: Concordia simply needs to score more to give themselves a chance at making the Final 8.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: The good thing for the Stingers is that, well, their division just isn't very good. McGill has slowed down from their hot start, and there's nothing to suggest Concordia can't take control of the division. There's still a very good chance for Laroche to lead this team back to their third straight Final 8, and fourth in five years.
With the Axemen set to continue their conference schedule tomorrow, we jump to AUS basketball and preview Acadia.

Record: 6-0 conference (2nd, AUS), 11-1 overall, +5.0 SRS (13th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 98.7 ORtg (21st), 72.8 DRtg (1st)

First half highlights:
  • An unblemished conference record and a solid showing in non-conference play.
  • Two wins over Memorial by a combined 71 points.
First half recap: They've had the 5th easiest schedule in the country overall, but the Axemen have still managed to impress in their first semester. With an incredible (if unsustainable) defensive rating, they've been able to overcome a shaky offence and cruise to a 6-0 record.

What makes them good: So far, it's been tough to score against the Axemen. Their opponents' 72.8 points per 100 possessions is absolutely miniscule, and more than nine points fewer than no. 2 Ryerson, and teams playing Acadia have shot just 30% on two-pointers, a ridiculously low number. One reason the Axemen are so good at protecting their bucket is that they don't hit the offensive glass much (26% offensive rebounding rate despite having Owen Klassen, one of the premier rebounders in the country), letting the 'D' get set up off misses. Given that the Axemen play the fourth-fastest pace in the country (83.6 possessions per game), the need for solid transition defence is huge. Jonathan Tull (26.0 PER, 64 TS%) has been superb, while All-Canadian Owen Klassen (16.3 points per game, 10.3 rebounds) has put up great numbers despite shouldering much of the load so far (26.7% usage rate, 32 MPG). The Axemen should also receive a boost when sharpshooter Anthony Sears returns to the lineup, joining fellow bomber Anthony Ashe (62 TS%) on the perimeter.

What they need to improve on: Resilience in the face of the injury bug, among other things. Klassen is going to miss the next four to six weeks with an ankle injury, a huge blow to a team that will play several huge divisional games over that time period. He is also facing a February court date, "charged with assault and assault causing bodily harm in connection with two incidents last winter involving a woman." Klassen's combination of basketball skills is perhaps unmatched nationwide, and his ability to make up for teammates' defensive mistakes will be missed on the court — the Axemen struggled without him in a bad loss to Dalhousie at the Rod Shoveller tournament, shooting just 32%. Sears, who has returned to practice but isn't cleared to play, will provide a boost on offence when he comes back, but it remains to be seen whether Acadia can weather this storm.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: If Klassen can return and Sears can help on offence, it should be a pretty good battle for the AUS title between Acadia and Cape Breton (who have injury problems of their own, it should be noted). If not, however, it could be a long winter in Wolfville.
The Carleton Ravens finish off the OUA portion of this series, which will continue with RSEQ, AUS, and Canada West teams into next week.

Record: 7-1 conference (t-2nd, OUA East), 13-1 overall, +22.4 SRS (1st in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 127.9 ORtg (1st), 85.6 DRtg (3rd)

First half highlights:
  • Reigning Player of the Year/Basketball Robot Phil Scrubb continuing to break calculators everywhere.
  • Six wins by 28 points or more.
  • Shooting 19/34 from three in a 40-point win at Western.
First half recap: After an opening night dud against Windsor, where the Ravens lost their first game since 2011, Carleton has put up staggering offensive numbers against OUA West teams. Their mark of 127.9 points per 100 possessions is nearly 16 points better (!!!) than no. 2 Saskatchewan, and the fact that they've scored over 100 points three times while playing by far the country's slowest pace (69.6 possessions per game) tells you this is a scoring juggernaut. Seven straight wins to close the semester have the Ravens looking like they'll be back on track in 2013. Oh, and Phil Scrubb has a PER of 38.4 and a true shooting percentage of 73. Yikes.

What makes them good: A short list: (1) they shoot a LOT of threes (while making 43% as a team) and get to the line better than anyone except UBC, making their scoring output brutally efficient; (2) they don't turn it over (tied for a CIS low 16% turnover rate with Alberta and Lakehead) and are the best defensive rebounding team in the country (80%!), giving opponents few chances to score easy buckets; and (3) Phil Scrubb has once again separated himself from the field in the Player of the Year race.

Guarding the Ravens is a classic pick your poison. Phil Scrubb and Tyson Hinz both attract a lot of double teams and help, but they're so good at moving the ball they'll almost always make teams pay with open shots. Seriously, these offensive numbers are insane.

What they need to improve on: It's hard to look at this team and find something to improve on, but as Windsor showed, there's a reason why they play the games. Perhaps shooting 36.4% like they did in that loss is an anomaly for this team, but it's always possible. One thing to consider, and I'm reaching here: with Carleton playing the country's slowest pace, an opponent that likes to push the tempo and rebounds well could, with a little luck, be a problem. If everything comes together — Carleton shoots 45% instead of 50%, the other team makes its free throws and gets some offensive rebounds — we could be in for an upset.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: Anything less than a national title is once again a disappointment for Dave Smart's team. With Ottawa and Ryerson both looking strong, there's more competition for Carleton in the OUA East than in recent years, but it would take a massive upset for either of those (very good) teams to knock off the Ravens.
Our look at the 2013 portion of the men's basketball schedule continues with the Ryerson Rams.

Record: 8-0 conference (1st, OUA East), 12-2 overall, +14.3 SRS (2nd in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 107.4 ORtg (4th), 85.6 DRtg (2nd)

First half highlights:
First half recap: It was a peachy coming out party for Ryerson in 2012, with their massive Wilson Cup quarterfinal upset of Lakehead last March spilling over into a brilliant first semester. And the numbers suggest this isn't just a hot run — this is a very, very good team that's ready to contend for nationals this season. The young core of third-year players Jahmal Jones, Jordon Gauthier and Bjorn Michaelsen has been brilliant, while Aaron Best has showed flashes of monstrous potential. They also haven't gotten a game from York transfer Ostap Choliy yet. So, once again, very, very good.

What makes them good: Having a top-5 offence and defence usually translates to good basketball. And despite having a young team full of good (no, really good) athletes, the Rams play a fairly deliberate pace and are able to score well in the halfcourt. Jones (25.6 PER), Michaelsen (24.6, with a 65% eFG) and Gauthier (25.7) have all been fantastic, while Aaron Best, whose breakout game on national TV last spring against Lakehead wowed CIS hoops observers nationwide, continues to look like a potential star (see his 34 points on 18 shots against McMaster). The crazy thing about this Ryerson defence is that they don't do it by forcing tons of turnovers (a rate of 19%, just 32nd in the country). They keep teams from taking and making efficient shots. Teams have shot just 25% on threes this season against the Rams, and have rebounded less than 24% of their missed shots — which puts Ryerson's defensive rebounding rate behind just Carleton, Acadia, and UBC nationwide.

What they need to improve on: Really, not much. This is a well-rounded team. Every available stat shows this is a top-tier defensive quad (that opponents' 38% eFG is sweet) who can hold their own on the glass. The numbers may regress slightly against better OUA East teams, or just in general, but if they can keep doing what they've been doing, great things lie ahead for this young team.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: It's too bad this team plays in the same division as Carleton, because they might be the second-best squad in the country. Of course, it's possible they knock off Carleton, but it's also unlikely they can beat them twice while winning the rest of their games, a feat they'd need to pull off in order to guarantee a spot at the Final 8. Realistically, they'll need to hold off Ottawa and then win (at least) one game at the Wilson Cup Final Four to have a shot at nationals. That's a tough task, but should they pull it off, the sky's the limit.
Next up: the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Our series will continue tomorrow as we finish off the OUA, with teams from the other conferences to follow soon after.

Record: 7-1 conference (t-2nd, OUA East), 12-5 overall, +9.7 SRS (8th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 106.2 (8th), 90.7 DRtg (9th)

First half highlights:
  • A convincing 15-point win over Lakehead.
  • An 84-62 blowout of McMaster in which they shot 52% from the field.
  • Warren Ward's 43-point explosion in a road win over Laurier.
First half recap: It's been mostly clear sailing for Ottawa so far, with the lone mark on their record a close road loss to Windsor. Apart from that game, no one has been closer than seven points to the Gee-Gees, and their four 15-plus point wins include victories over decent teams like Lakehead and McMaster.

What makes them good: Ottawa's top-10 ranks on offence and defence give them the look of a solid contender. Led by their dynamic duo, the Gee-Gees have been able to get plenty of good shots in and around the paint, and are shooting 53% on two-pointers, second-best in the country. Ward has long been one of the country's premier scorers, and he showed why in taking over that game against Laurier, while third-year guard Johnny Berhanemeskel has continued to improve, giving the team a two-headed monster that has broken down opposing defences with ease. The two each account for around a quarter of their team's possessions when they're on the court, and why not? Berhanemeskel is shooting 44.2% from three and has a true shooting percentage of 64, while Ward's 29.1 PER ranks him among the elite once again. All signs point to this team being sustainably good and competitive with Ryerson for the second spot in the East (Sorry, Rams, Carleton's going to finish first).

What they need to improve on: Some improved outside shooting aside from Ward and Berhanemeskel will be crucial. No other Gee-Gee is shooting better than 31% from three, and fellow starters Vikas Gill (47 TS%) and Mike L'Africain (43 TS%) will need to be more legitimate threats to open up space Ward and Berhanemeskel can take advantage of to create offence.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: Dueling with Ryerson for the second spot in the East is a realistic goal. That would give the Gee-Gees a shot at the Wilson Cup final four, where, as Ryerson showed last year, anything can happen. It would be a great story for Warren Ward to finish his career at nationals in Ottawa.
The next 2012 recap-slash-2013 preview takes us to the Lakehead Thunderwolves.

Record: 3-4 conference (2nd, OUA West), 13-7 overall, +10.2 SRS (5th in CIS)

Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 102.5 ORtg (14th), 101.4 DRtg (19th)

First half highlights:
  • Not much so far.
  • No, really. They closed with two wins over Laurentian and York to rebound from an ugly 1-4 start.

First half recap: They began each of the last two seasons red hot, but Lakehead has slowed down in 2012-13. Nothing has screamed "Final 8 contender" about this team so far, though they've weathered the injury bug and their slow start without losing much ground in the standings. Also, they've had an absurd 13% of their two-point shots blocked so far this year (next highest team is 9%), which you would have to think will even out.

What makes them good: Don't let the 3-4 record fool you, the Great Group of Dudes [GGODs] are still a good team. They've had the toughest Strength of Schedule of any good team (behind Lethbridge and three lower-tier OUA West teams), and played all but the last two games without standout big Ryan Thomson. There's plenty of time left to get back to the form that saw the team go to the Final 8 each of the past two seasons. Fifth-year post Yoosrie Salhia has been a major highlight in Thunder Bay. Despite shouldering the load of the offence (30.4% usage rate, 10 points higher than he had last year), the undersized yet brutally strong Salhia has remained efficient, posting an individual ORtg of 108 and a PER of 29.6. His offensive rebound rate of 19% is the highest of any regular rotation player in the country. Thomson, meanwhile, will be a huge asset for Lakehead when he comes back. His absence played no small part in the Thunderwolves' loss to Ryerson in the Wilson Cup semi-final last year, and they've missed his floor-spacing abilities in Thunder Bay this year.

What they need to improve on: More production on offence from fifth year guards Greg Carter, Ben Johnson and Joseph Jones. Carter is a defensive specialist, but has given them next to nothing on offence this year (35% eFG, lowest of any regular). Johnson is a three-point specialist who has been good but not great (35.9% on 5.6 attempts a game) from deep this season. Jones has posted a below-average 13.4 PER and is shooting 36.7% from the floor. Lakehead will need all three veterans to give them more to return to elite status.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: A win at Winnipeg's Wesmen Classic over the break (which they got in convincing fashion), feasting on lesser OUA West foes and the return of Thomson should all help Lakehead improve in 2013. An 11-3 mark against the West would give them a 14-7 total and a reasonable shot at finding their way into the Wilson Cup Final Four. If they can do more and catch Windsor, however, they'll have a better shot at facing a non-Carleton team in the semi-finals (hello, rematch with Ryerson?) and possibly punching their third fourth straight ticket to the Final 8.
Due to time constraints and outside obligations, our men's basketball previews weren't ready in time for the fall. Instead, we will be previewing the 2013 portion of the schedule (and recapping the season so far) for a select number of teams we believe have a shot at nationals.

First up: the Windsor Lancers.

Record: 5-2 conference (1st, OUA West), 7-3 overall, +12.5 SRS (3rd in CIS)
Offensive/Defensive Efficiency (CIS Rank): 99.4 ORtg (20th), 90.3 DRtg (10th)
First half highlights:
  • Held Warren Ward to 0/5 shooting in a solid win over Ottawa.
  • Dismissed an improved Queen's team 118-82 in a game where they shot 53% on 34 threes and had an ORtg of 127.2.
First half recap: After the season's first weekend, it looked like Windsor could have been the surprise contender of the CIS season. They've trailed off slightly since then with a pair of losses to Laurentian and Ryerson, but still look like the favourite in the suddenly shaky OUA West. They certainly struggled to score — other than their blowout win over Queen's, they're shooting just 38.9% from the floor as a team — but the fact that they managed to navigate the OUA East with five wins despite that bodes well for this team.

What makes them good: Despite a shaky start to the season on offence, Windsor has weathered the OUA East storm better than any of their West counterparts thanks to a solid defence. In the season-opening shocker against Carleton, they held the super-powered Ravens offence to 36.4% shooting. They then held Ottawa to 35% the next night. The Lancers have regressed defending their own bucket slightly since then, but have guarded their bucket well enough to do what no other OUA West team did in the first semester: win more games than they lost. Josh Collins has been very solid for the Lancers, shooting the ball very well from three and posting a PER of 23.0, while Lien Phillip continues to be a big body in the paint that most teams just don't have an answer for, gobbling up rebounds and getting to the free throw line with regularity.

What they need to improve on: So far, Windsor has had trouble scoring for an elite team. Their 99.4 points per 100 possessions is just 20th in the league, and they've been too reliant on Collins creating and Phillip creating havoc in the paint to score. One potential antidote for the lacklustre offence could be former Guelph guard Mike Petrella, who had been quiet this season until exploding for 20 points on eight shots in the win against Queen's. A CIS coach once described Petrella to me as "that guy who gets anywhere on the court he wants to go," so look for the Lancers to use the speedy, crafty guard for some instant offence off the bench. In any case, the Lancers' offensive numbers should improve with more games against the West.

Goals/Outlooks/Scenarios: Windsor has plenty of talent, so expect the offensive numbers to balance out when they get to play some of their lesser OUA West opponents. If they can keep playing the defence that won the games against Carleton and Ottawa, a record in the neighbourhood of 18-3 would net them the top spot in the OUA West and a legitimate shot at returning to the Final 8.
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