(Longtime AUS hockey follower Eric Drummie has noticed that I have been very remiss with AUS men's hockey updates and volunteers his own report this week. Thanks Eric.)

Two weeks ago the Acadia Axemen visited UNB for their second-half return trip with a three point lead over UNB in the AUS standings; however when they returned to Wolfville after their New Brunswick road trip they were tied for the lead. Not much has changed since then and the two remain atop the AUS standings.

The numerous hockey games his season that were rescheduled due to bad weather have all now been made-up and each team have now played 22 games with six to go in the regular season. Acadia and UNB have clinched playoff spots. No first-round byes have been clinched and the remaining playoff spots are up for grabs (except in Dal’s case, as they have been eliminated from the playoffs).

Next in a series of the kenpom-inspired Week in Review ...

Biggest upsets

2. WBB: Lakehead (23%) over Brock, Saturday (box). There are so many storylines involved with this game. Starting with the positive: Jylisa Williams has been phenomenal in her short Thunderwolf career. Through six games, Williams is averaging 21.8 points per game on 45 per cent shooting, both better than expected. She had 20 points in this 63-36 blowout, and grabbed 16 (!!!) rebounds. Williams is listed as a 5-8 guard, yet still outrebounded the Brock starters 16-10 on the game. As for the negatives, the Badgers are collapsing. They are 2-4 in 2014, have fallen out of the CIS top 10 and sit fifth in the OUA West. Topping it off is a recent feud between star Nicole Rosenkranz and head coach Si Khounviseth, after Rosenkranz was benched in a loss to her former team. While this Lakehead win seems like an upset now, it may not at the end of the season if they can finish above Brock.

1. MBB: Concordia (22%) over McGill, Thursday (box). The Redmen suffer another loss, again by the same formula. They conceded 33 free throws to Laval in their first loss and only shot 61.5 per cent themselves. Against Concordia, McGill gave the Stingers 20 attempts and they made 18 of them; McGill was just 18-for-28. Vincent Dufort and Dele Ogundokun combined for 4-15 on the night, which is probably not what you want from your leading scorers.

Crazy comebacks

WBB: Cape Breton 62 at Dalhousie 67 (Jan. 25, 2014)
3. WBB: Laval (3.1%) over Bishop's, Saturday (play-by-play). Bishop's had a 21-3 lead with 2:56 left in the first quarter, but Laval would not lay down. They used defence to claw their way back in, holding Bishop's to four points in the second quarter and six points in the fourth quarter. The Gaiters only made nine baskets after the first quarter and with 1:50 left in the third quarter, Laval took over and did not look back. Bishop's is 0-8 this season, so the comeback is really just sad more than anything.

2. MBB: Guelph (2.7%) over Laurier, Saturday (play-by-play). Max Allin knocked down a free throw with 1:46 left in the third and Laurier took a 71-55 lead. It was the low point of the game for the rebuilding Guelph Gryphons, but they would rally back in a committee effort to get the three-point victory. Trevor Thompson, a third-year forward, nailed four free throws in the final 68 seconds to put Guelph up 84-81. It was a wasted effort from the Australia-bound Allin, who scored 33 points, including 6-9 from beyond the arc.

1. WBB: Dalhousie (2.3%) over Cape Breton, Saturday (play-by-play). In a crucial game, Cape Breton seemed to have it in hand at the half, holding a 35-19 advantage. But Dalhousie shot 18/28 in the second half, and that combined with a dry spell in the last 4:22 of the game for Cape Breton to give Dal the W. The Tigers would rally from 62-55 to win 67-62. The graph at right does a better job of showing how improbable the comeback was, on multiple occasions.

Biggest changes in SRS
SRS, or Simple Ranking System, is the basis for our basketball team rankings. These teams moved the most in the rankings vs. last week.

Up: UBC MBB, +11 (27th to 16th). UBC is on the upswing, with a 4-2 record in 2014, but they will still need a great playoff run if they want to make it to nationals.

Down: UNB MBB, +14 (12th to 26th). UNB dropping two games to UPEI is what sees the Varsity Reds plummet. Not a good time for that, with each their final five games being worth four points.

Slowest game of the week: MBB Concordia at McGill, Saturday (65 possessions).
This was not the comeback game, which was two days earlier. Instead, it was a 70-49 blowout for McGill. This is what you expect from the slowest and fourth-slowest teams in the country.

Fastest game of the week: MBB Lakehead at Brock, Saturday (90 possessions)
Two rebuilding — or "reloading" if you ask Lakehead coach Scott Morrison — teams playing at a wicked pace is not surprising. It's a good strategy: hope to catch a team on an off-night, then you shoot the lights out. And maybe, following the women's upset of the Badgers on the same night, Lakehead just wanted to get out of town before anyone noticed.

Ta'Quan Zimmerman Watch

Ta'Quan Zimmerman is your favourite CIS player; you just don't know it yet. He shoots at a ridiculous clip: 50.5 per cent overall, and 48.6 per cent from three. He is a junior college transfer and is simply playing out of his mind. He only shot 17-37 over the weekend, but had just had three turnovers total. The games over Trinity Western were critical too, because the squads were knotted at 7-7 before Thompson Rivers put together a sweep.

Best games of the upcoming week (all times Eastern)
Games to watch for playoff implications, the closeness of the two teams competing, or the standout individual performances...

MBB: Acadia at UNB (Friday 7:00pm, Saturday 2:00pm). UNB could really flip the AUS on its head if they can beat Acadia twice, but even splitting the games would be a positive.

MBB: Ottawa at Ryerson (Friday 8:00pm). This is the marquee match-up of the weekend, really. Ryerson could be an opponent for Ottawa in the playoffs, but the Rams have not looked the same this year and a home victory over Ottawa would be massive.

MBB: Carleton at Ryerson (Saturday 8:00pm). Ryerson got tagged with a 118-65 loss last time around, though they did not have a full roster that game. There is potential for a revenge game, but it is unlikely, given that the Ravens have Phil Scrubb and a cast of thousands.

MBB: McGill at Bishop's (Saturday 8:00pm). It's the second of a double-header and both teams are 6-2. The second game is listed because McGill's favoured in both so the home-court advantage for the Gaiters makes this one slightly more equal. It has the potential to be the most important conference game of the year.

MBB: Victoria at Lethbridge (Saturday 9:00pm). If Lethbridge could add a win over Victoria, it would be their third regular season win over a top-ten ranked team. They have defeated Alberta and Saskatchewan before, but a third win over No. 3 UVic bodes well for their potential chances at a wild card berth.

MBB: Winnipeg at TRU (Saturday 10:00pm). Ta'Quan Zimmerman takes on an average defence in the Winnipeg Wesmen. What's dangerous (or fun, depending on who you cheer for) is that Winnipeg gives up a three-point percentage of 37.7 per cent, tied for highest in the conference. Ta'Quan should be fun to watch.
He starts every game, leads the country in points, and is only in his first year of varsity basketball.

Javon Masters, a first-year standout with the Varsity Reds.
(Photo: Bronté James)
Javon Masters is a rookie at UNB with the Varsity Reds, but by no means has the presence of someone new to the AUS and CIS game.

“As I get older, I’ll become smarter, understand more reads [and] put myself in dangerous situations,” he said. “It’s all just part of being a first-year.”

Masters, leading his conference and the country in points per game — averaging 27.7, seven ahead the next-closest in AUS play — has played more of his team's minutes than almost anyone in the country (381 in just 11 games), and is shooting 47% (43% on three-pointers). He's made a name for himself, locally and nationally, his results already on par with Philip Scrubb, Owen Klassen, Jahmal Jones, and other standouts across the country.

And like every great performer, he knows how to rouse a crowd.

In his games against UPEI in November, Masters put on quite the show for the fans. In his second game, dropping 44 of the 93 total points scored by the Varsity Reds, Masters would get the ball on a breakaway and slam-dunk, adding a little flare to the already-intense game.

Despite this being one of his most memorable games this season, it was their win against Acadia that sticks out in his mind.

The Reds were able to come back from an 8-point loss the night before and take an important victory over the Axemen, a top-10 program in the country. 42 points came from Masters himself, including 10 of 15 to end the first half and help UNB pull away early.

“They’re the standard to want to meet,” said Masters. “[And we] beat them by 10 on their home floor in front of 800 people.”

He said the team really came together as a unit and played the crowd and refs and “ultimately just beat them down.”

But every athlete has to start somewhere — natural talent or not — and must practice, practice, practice.

Masters can be found taking 500 shots a day and keeping up with his conditioning to meet the physical demands of the league.

“I put in a lot of work in the summer — I devoted a lot of it to getting faster, stronger, quicker, pushing myself to the next level,” he said. “So I can attest to my work ethic and how many shots I put up.”

And like any great player, there is always a weakness. For Masters, a more consistent jump shot and consistency in his defence are two things he needs to work on most. As well, 23 turnovers in 11 games, 27 personal fouls and only 25 defensive rebounds show areas to improve upon over his time at UNB.

“Sometimes I can be lackadaisical, so I just want to be more consistent on the defensive end, just being in help-side more,” he said. “[And] keeping my man in front of me and not letting him get past me.”

Coming from high school as a shooting guard, the Masters sees the physical demands of a higher level of play.

“I didn’t think it would be this tough,” he said. “But it’s getting tougher as the games go on, especially getting closer to AUS championships.”

It’s not just the physicality that’s getting harder. He also has to deal with the defensive walls being put up to keep him away from the net.

“This past weekend we split with Memorial University, and I didn’t play my best because they tried to avoid getting me the ball, limiting all my touches, always being aware of where I am and clogging the paint.”

He used it to his advantage and despite shooting just 10-for-38 on the weekend, contributed by acting as a distributor, getting the ball to teammates Will McFee, Jordan Irvine and Mark Matheson, to hit three-point shots of their own, and using the Reds bench.

No matter who they’re playing, where they’re playing, or what time of day, Masters prepares for each and every game the same way: lunch with the team four hours beforehand, headphones in, rap and hip-hop music on — particularly Meek Mill’s "Ima Boss" or "My Moment" by DJ Drama — and just going with the flow of the music, the same way he plays his game. And he doesn't plan on slowing down any time soon.

“The play is faster, stronger, quicker, guys are quicker and more physical, so it’s a real challenge to get used to. But as the years go on I think I’ll pick it up more and more.”

UNB, currently behind Acadia for first place on points but with the same 8-3 record, host the Axemen next week in their last meeting before the playoffs, after their games at UPEI tonight and tomorrow.
Taking a page (i.e., blatantly stealing) from Ken Pomeroy ...

Biggest upsets
There are many more teams in NCAA than CIS so we have to extend our definition of "upset" a little bit more up here (kenpom uses anyone who was less than 10% likely to win).

3. WBB: Lakehead over Western (24%), Saturday. You often hear it said that the Thunderdome is a tough place to play. Well, anywhere is tough when your opponent is the Great Group of Dudes [Teammates]. This is not the GGOD[T]s; the women's team has played eight games at home this year and this was their first win against a non-Waterloo team. A really bad shooting night for the Mustangs all around and they didn't figure it out until it was too late: they scored 20 in the fourth, more than any other two quarters put together.

2. MBB: Memorial over UNB (23%), Saturday. Javon Masters missed four shots in the last 2:30 of this game (it was tied at 74 with 2:36 to go), part of a brutal 4/19, 12-point night from him. He and the Reds bounced back the next day, though, going from 40% in effective field-goal percentage to 52% (they average about 47%, for context) and winning by 17.

1. WBB: Toronto over Ottawa (19%), Friday. A season low in points scored for Ottawa U. 16-second half points won't get you many wins unless you had 46 in the first half. U of T had a brutal schedule to start the year and have since won 4 of 6 against their division-mates. They could very well make a run at a first-round bye but it would require more games like this.

Crazy comebacks
The teams who came back from the dead. Or at least back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit.

MBB: Laval 57 at Concordia 62 (Jan. 18, 2014)
3. WBB: Toronto (5%) over Ottawa, Friday. Only fitting that the biggest upset had a big comeback. It was 35-20 for Ottawa with 6:30 to play in the third. Here are Toronto's points scored on each possession from there to the end of the quarter: 2, 2, 2, 3, 0, 2, 2, 2, 2. An ORtg of 189? Yeah, that'll do. Ottawa, in the same time frame, went turnover, turnover, miss, miss, miss, miss (no offensive rebounds during any of those), turnover, then finally 1/2 from the line. They didn't make a basket for almost a nine-minute period.

2. MBB: Western (4%) over Lakehead, Friday. Back-to-back threes early in the fourth started a 10-0 run that put the Thunderwolves up 68-56 with 6:57 left. They would only make two more baskets in the rest of the game, going 2/7 to Western's 8/11. (Eight for 11!)

1. MBB: Concordia (3%) over Laval, Saturday (see chart, at right). Down 45-29 with 3:15 to go in the third quarter, the Stingers somehow pulled this one out, going on two separate 14-4 runs to tie it with about three minutes to go in the fourth. And while we're here: Laval also blew their chance in the first game of the home-and-home, up 9 midway through the second and losing by 10 (merely an 80% chance of winning at their peak in that one, not the 97% they had here).

Biggest weekly increases in SRS
SRS, or Simple Ranking System, is the basis for our basketball team rankings. These teams improved their ranking the most vs. last week.

WBB: Calgary, +5 (up to 16th from 21st). Staying within three points on average of the 5th-ranked team is not so bad when you're 21st to begin with.

MBB: UBC, +8 (up to 19th from 27th). Safe to say it's an off-year for the perennial contender. They weren't often in the 20s in January in previous years.

Slowest game of the week: WBB Toronto at Carleton, Saturday (67 possessions)
A classic Carleton pace. Both Raven teams are now legendary, for very specific meanings of the word "legendary," for slowing down the pace. The women's team came into this one averaging 70 per game, lowest in the country. Last year they averaged 70.5. Lowest in the country. 2011-12: 72.5, falling all the way down to third-slowest. You can almost see the Ravens and their short bench just hanging on in this game: up 15 at the half, then 13 after three, then just 1 when time ran out.

Fastest game of the week: MBB Laurier at Brock, Wednesday (91 possessions)
When the losing team scores 88 there probably wasn't much pack-line defence going on. 71 points total in the fourth quarter alone, which works out to one point every 8.5 seconds. Ironically, this fast-paced game probably took a long time to finish: the last five minutes saw 25 trips to the line, the first one coming when it was already a 13-point deficit for Brock.

Terrell Evans Watch
The kenpom version focuses on Alan Williams, UCSB's "undersized center [who] piles up stats like nobody else" and is "ignored by scouts and media alike." We'll draft in another product of the American Southwest now playing on the west coast: UVic's Evans, who despite being second in the country in our player rankings last year was only given a second-team conference all-star spot. Future editions of the Watch will rotate among other favourites.

Evans faced lowly UNBC this week and had 19 and 13 in the Friday game, then 25 points on Saturday, missing only five shots total in that game. He's now up to a PER of 34.0 on the year, third behind Phil Scrubb and teammate Chris McLaughlin, though he is averaging 32 minutes per game to their 27 and 29.

Best games of the upcoming week (all times Eastern)
These are based on the same odds that are used for our upset games from above — we just take the opposite, and look for the closest games on paper, between two good teams. Only games with webcasts are listed; those schools who don't show their basketball teams' games are kindly encouraged to get on board already.

MBB: Carleton vs. Ottawa (Tuesday, 8:00pm). Like you need to be told.

WBB: Windsor at Western (Wednesday, 6:00pm). The first of ... two? three? maybe even four? ... well, the first of multiple matches between Windsor and Western this year, anyway. Windsor's lapping the field pretty easily early on in OUA play; at least this one has home-court advantage for the Mustangs.

MBB: Laurentian at Ryerson (Friday, 8:00pm). Lots of OUA teams here, but that's just how the schedule goes this week (and, for that matter, how the rankings are set up). Here we have two top-10 OUA East teams...no, the other ones.

WBB: Calgary at Alberta (Friday 8:00pm, Saturday 7:00pm). The second of two weeks where Calgary plays top-10 teams from their division.

WBB: Western at McMaster (Saturday, 1:00pm). Losses to Laurier and Lakehead in recent weeks mean this stretch is pretty important for UWO. (Next week, they get Guelph and Waterloo at home. Next week, they will not be in the "best games" section.)
One of the most anticipated series of the month took place this weekend, when the No. 8 Ryerson Rams traveled north to Thunder Bay to face the No. 9 Lakehead Thunderwolves with first place in the OUA West on the line.

After Lakehead squeaked out a 4-3 Friday win on a Ryan Magill goal with just twenty-three seconds left in regulation, Ryerson came out insistent that they wouldn’t go home without splitting the series, blowing out the home side on Saturday 7-1 in front of over 2,500 fans.

It was obvious the Rams felt this grudge match was a must-win, as they came out flying and it didn’t take long for them to get on the board. The nation’s top point-getter and goal-scorer, Jamie Wise, ripped a hard slapshot top shelf to put Ryerson up just over four minutes in.

Less than two minutes later, Ryerson continued to buzz. Lakehead’s Justin McDonald stopped attempts by both Andrew Buck and Mark Corbett, but Jason McDonough continued to work and was able to bang home a rebound to give the Rams the early 2-0 lead. Not wanting things to spiral out of control, Lakehead used their timeout just 6:17 into the game.

The timeout cooled Ryerson’s attack, and back-to-back penalties gave the Thunderwolves over a minute of play with a two-man-advantage and a great opportunity to win back momentum. They were unsuccessful, and less than a minute after the second period ended, Buck fired a blistering slapshot, beating McDonald and giving the Rams the quick three-goal lead, which they took into the first intermission.

The second started rather slowly considering the offensive overload of the first, but some penalty trouble midway through the period gave Lakehead another great opportunity to chisel into the lead. McDonough went for a cross-checking minor, and then a minute later both Wise and Brian Birkhoff were also given cross-checking penalties at the same time, giving Lakehead a full two minutes of 5-on-3 hockey and an extrended powerplay.

Again, the powerplay stuttered, and Lakehead were unable to generate any real chances without being stopped by Troy Passingham.

After the penalties ended, Ryerson finally caught a break, as Luke Maw took Lakehead’s first penalty of the game for boarding. His teammate James Delory offered some choice words for the officials on the call, and an unsportsmanlike misconduct penalty gave the Rams a two-man advantage of their own.

They wasted just 29 seconds before Kent McPherson let go of a one-timer from the point that rang off the post and into the net, giving the Rams a four goal cushion.

Three minutes later Ryerson was back on the penalty kill as McDonough picked up a high-sticking call, resulting in an automatic ejection for his third stick infraction of the game.

On the ensuing powerplay, Chris de la Lande fired a hard slapshot from the point that finally beat Passingham low on the stick side, putting Lakehead on the board just before the intermission. Ryerson carried the 4-1 lead into the break, and only trailed in shots 22-21 despite heading to the penalty box seven times to Lakehead’s two.

Lakehead took a quick trip to the sin bin early in the third though, and Wise showed off some beautiful patience cutting across in front of the net before sliding the backhander past McDonald for his second of the game, and putting the game out of reach.

The teams traded penalties throughout the period, and Victor Tereri scored off a great feed from Dan Lombardi to swell the lead to 6-1, before Wise completed the hat-trick on the powerplay with just a minute and a half remaining, giving Ryerson a whopping 7-1 victory.

Wise’s three goals in the contest give him 40 points and 19 goals on the year in just 20 games, while Passingham’s impressive 30-save performance gave him his ninth win of the year. Domenic Alberga also had an assist for the Rams, giving him 38 points on the year, good enough for second place in the CIS. At the other end, McDonald stayed in the Lakehead net the whole game, stopping 27 of 34 shots in the losing effort.

With the win, Ryerson captured the top spot in the West with 30 points, while Lakehead fall to second place with 29 points. The Thunderwolves do have two games in hand on the Rams, though, so they could easily find themselves back atop the division soon, but have a tough test ahead as they travel to Windsor for a pair of game next weekend. Ryerson are back in action with just a single game next weekend, traveling to Waterloo to face the ninth-place Warriors.

Join us next week for a late edition of the Game of the Week as we watch the Battle of University Avenue, when the Waterloo Warriors battle the Laurier Golden Hawks on Tuesday, January 28. Though both teams are in the basement of the West, the game has massive playoff implications as they sit just one and six points, respectively, out of a playoff spot.
[Ed. note: Kyle wrote this piece earlier this week, but my mistake kept it from running until today, January 12. I regret the error. --RP]

The stands were packed, the benches fired up, and the referees' whistles put away in this past weekend’s big matchup between heated cross-city rivals #9 Carleton and Ottawa. And while the cliché of "the game being closer than the score reveals" is used a lot, it was certainly true in this one. Despite Ottawa outplaying the Ravens for much of the opening period, Carleton were able to escape with a lead after twenty minutes before opening up a 4-0 lead in the second, en route to a monstrous 5-2 victory.

The highly anticipated, crushingly physical game got off to a flying start for the Gee-Gees, who tested Carleton’s backup goaltender Francis Dupuis early and often. Within the first seven minutes of play, the garnet and grey had created a flurry around the Raven net, outshooting the home side 7-0.

All it took was one shot, though, for Carleton to jump out to the game’s first lead. Joey West deflected Matthew Stanisz’ point shot perfectly, tucking the puck just under the crossbar to give the Ravens the opening lead just seven and a half minutes into the game. From there, Carleton settled and slowed the game down to their pace, taking the one-goal lead into the dressing room and outshooting the Gee-Gees 8-4 in the twelve and a half minutes following the goal.

In the second period, it was Carleton who came out on the offensive. Less than two minutes into the frame, Joe Pleckaitis extended the lead, banging home a loose puck sitting at the side of the net in a mad goalmouth scramble.

Ottawa took two subsequent trips to the penalty box shortly after the goal, and Carleton continued to build up momentum. Just twelve seconds following Matt White’s release from the sin bin on Ottawa’s second penalty, Ryan MacLean found the back of the net to open the lead up to three, prompting Réal Paiement to burn his team’s timeout.

The strategy worked immediately, as Ottawa was able to get back on track and slow the Ravens attack. However, with just under five minutes to go in the period, Carleton capitalized on a controversial opportunity and delivered the final blow.

Gee-Gees captain David Foucher was carrying the puck in his own zone, and was hauled down after Pleckaitis got his stick around Foucher’s upper body. The puck made its way to Michael McNamee whose initial shot was stopped, but Damian Cross was able to knock home the rebound to give the Ravens the 4-0 lead.

The Gee-Gees pled their case following the goal to no avail. At the next stoppage in play twenty seconds following the goal, Mathieu Guertin continued to share his perspective on the goal before a faceoff, and was given an unsportsmanlike misconduct penalty, sending Carleton to the power play. Though they were unable to score on the man advantage, momentum was firmly on Carleton’s side, who outshot Ottawa 17-9 in the period, heading into the intermission.

Guertin redeemed himself for the penalty with a goal early in the third following some outstanding play deep in the zone and behind the net by Taylor Collins who fed Guertin all alone in front, but the deficit was too great by that point.

Ottawa tried to crawl back into the game, as Mathieu Oulette broke in on a powerplay and snuck a wrist shot through Dupuis’ blocker side with over seven minutes to play. A physical grudge match instead of a comeback broke out for the remainder, with McNamee adding an empty net goal for good measure with under a minute to go.

Dupuis made 27 saves on 29 shots for the win, while Ottawa's Warren Shymko allowed four goals on 31 shots in a losing effort.

The win for Carleton came just one night after another huge win over McGill, giving the Ravens 23 points so far on the season. They sit in fourth, two points behind McGill for second place but with a game in hand.

For Ottawa, they rebounded the next day with a 4-2 win in Kingston over RMC, to give them a record of 11-6-1. They sit tied with Carleton in points, but due to tiebreakers (Carleton’s game in hand), fall to the fifth spot. While there’s still a lot of hockey to be played, fans in the capital are sure to be dreaming of a potential first-round matchup between these teams once the playoffs roll around.


This weekend’s Game of the Week matchup will keep us in the East, as it will feature #6 McGill on the road to take on #7 Queen’s, in a battle for division supremacy. Queen's will have their hands full this weekend as they try to remain the last OUA team undefeated in regulation: they face Carleton on Friday night ahead of the McGill matchup. Meanwhile the Redmen will travel to Ottawa to face the Gee-Gees on Friday, before making the short trip to Kingston for Saturday's game.
It’s been thirty years, but the Queen’s Golden Gaels finally find themselves back in the CIS Top 10 with OUA teams set to hit the ice again and enter the second half of the season. As the games begin to mean more and we come out of the turn and into the final stretch of the playoff push, here's five of the biggest storylines from the conference over the first half, and that are worth watching as we begin the second.

Gaels on Top

It took until the eighth week for Queen’s to finally crack the top ten and take the eighth spot. In spite of three other OUA teams placing ahead of them in the voters’ eyes, the Gaels find themselves atop the conference standings with a two-point lead on #5 McGill. More impressively, despite racking up two losses in overtime and three as a result of shootouts, the Gaels remain undefeated in regulation, the only team in the OUA who can claim that (the only other in CIS is the #1 Calgary Dinos).

Head coach Brett Gibson has found success through a balanced attack, as not one player on the team finds themselves even in the top fifty of CIS scorers. Kelly Jackson, who leads the team with eight goals in fourteen games, only comes in tied for fifteenth in the OUA. Netminder Kevin Bailie, who previously played with the Oshawa Generals and London Knights, has also played a large part in the Gaels' early success, boasting the third best save percentage in the country at .941, with an impressive 1.78 GAA to boot. It’s not as if Bailie’s had an easy go of things, either, with the team right in the middle of the OUA pack in terms of shots faced, yet second best in the nation in total goals against.

The other factor that was in the Gaels' favour over the first half was a favourable schedule that put them at home nine times in fifteen games. They have a tough month ahead of them waiting in January, when they will play a dreadful seven road games which includes visits to two tough barns; McGill (7-1-0 at home this season) and Carleton (5-1-0). However, with RMC on the schedule twice, as well as games against UOIT, Laurier and Nipissing, and a pair against a lackluster Concordia team, Queen’s should find themselves with home-ice advantage in the first round for just the second time in Gibson’s eight-year term behind the bench.

Usual Suspects in their Usual Spots

With the exception of Queen’s, whose success, as highlighted above, is unprecedented to anyone born after Canada’s official adoption of the metric system, there really isn’t much difference in who the top contenders coming out of each conference will be. In six of the last seven regular seasons, Western and Lakehead have finished in the top three spots in the West, while McGill and UQTR have done the same in the East (the one year it didn’t happen, Lakehead finished fourth). With hot starts for all four teams this season, they all look poised to repeat the pattern yet again.

In the East, McGill and UQTR each have 11 wins going into the break, and with 23 and 22 points, respectively, hold the second and third spots in the division. McGill are being led by American-import offensive defenseman Ryan McKiernan, who has notched eight goals and 17 points in 15 games. Meanwhile, UQTR’s success is in part thanks to goaltender Marc-Antoine Gelinas, whose fourth nation-wide with an impressive .940 save percentage.

In the West, Lakehead are back at the top of the division with a solid 11-3-0 record heading into the break. Mike Hammond leads the Thunderwolves on offense with 18 points already this campaign. Western is also looking good again this year, currently tied for third in the West with 20 points. They’ve relied heavily offensively on Matt Clarke, who’s fourth in points and sixth in goals nationally, and Daniel Erlich, also tied in fourth with 25 points, but third in assists in the country.

All four teams look poised to take home-ice advantage in the first two rounds of the playoffs and to make deep runs in pursuit of a University Cup appearance.

Woes in Waterloo

Coming into the season, the Waterloo Warriors were ranked fifth in the country. The ranking was surprising to some as it came off the heels of a, (truthfully) rather disappointing regular season where the Warriors squeaked into the playoffs with the sixth seed in the OUA West with a 12-11-5 record. They proceeded to have a wonderful playoff run, knocking off the favoured Lakehead Thunderwolves in a two-game sweep, sliding past first-place Western in a third and deciding game, and then taking out Windsor in two before falling to UQTR in the Queen’s Cup finals. The Warriors snuck into the University Cup by virtue of beating Windsor, and eked out a 2-1 win over Alberta before being blown out by Saint Mary’s.

Apparently, that was deserving of a number five ranking to kick off this season, the second highest ranking in the OUA (UQTR, last year’s OUA champions, were ranked only tenth). The season started out on a shaky foot, as Waterloo squeaked out one-goal wins over UOIT and Queen’s at home, before dropping three straight to divisional foes Windsor, York, and Western. Since then, the Warriors have been streaky, but the bad has outweighed the good, emphasized by an 8-2 thumping at the hand of Toronto, and a loss at home to Nipissing, in a game they were heavily favoured to win.

They were promptly booted out of the top ten by the fourth week, but still, it’s been a disappointing start for a team with high expectations. The first half ended on a positive note with a 6-2 victory over Carleton (after beating RMC by the same score the night previous), so head coach Brian Bourque better hope his team can pick up where they left off.

Chris Chappell has been a bright spot for the Warriors, as the former Saginaw Spirit forward leads the nation in goals, averaging one per game, and is tied for seventh in overall points. The Warriors will need to continue to find success on their top-ranked powerplay, and play better in the “big games” against divisional foes if they can turn this season around.

Meanwhile, players at the other end of University Avenue have had it even worse. The Laurier Golden Hawks, who managed a decent fifth-place finish in the West last year, find themselves in the basement this time around. The G-Hawks lost six of their first seven games, and while they’ve been steadily trying to climb out of the hole, they face a pretty steep climb if they hope to make the playoffs this season.

Two Tiers in the East?

The Golden Hawks might have an easier time in the other half of the league. It would appear that the East is suffering from a lack of parity this season, after the Laurentian Voyageurs' entrance bumped the Rams and Varsity Blues westward. While the Golden Hawks have a measly 11 points through the first half, that record would be good enough for the seventh spot in the East, not to mention Laurier’s two games in hand over UOIT who sit one point ahead.

Of the 10 teams in the West, only two fall below .500 in terms of points percentage, contrasted with five in the East. However, when it comes to the remaining top teams in the East, the gap is enormous. While the top five teams understandably have an unblemished-in-regulation 14-0-1 record against the bottom five, their records against the West speak volumes. When the West has faced off against the East’s bottom five teams, they also have a commanding 38-8-0 record. However, when the West has faced off against the East’s top five, the record is 29-11-5 in favour of the Queen’s-McGill-UQTR-Ottawa-Carleton coalition.* With respect to the teams at the bottom of the East, especially as many of them are smaller schools still developing their programs, they face a difficult situation in trying to knock off the top five established schools. Further, as proven by the performance of the bottom five teams, it would appear that a top three finish in the East equals a much easier route to the second round than it does in the West.

*It should be noted here that the West vs. East records include single wins for Queen’s and UOIT over Ryerson, who forfeited two games due to a suspension handed down by university administration.

Toronto Rivalry Heating Up

After years of being split up, the three Toronto teams now find themselves battling it out in the West. Currently, the Ryerson Rams, Toronto Varsity Blues, and York Lions all find themselves in playoff contention, sitting in third, fifth, and sixth place, respectively.

Of course, the Varsity Blues and Lions have a long-held hateful rivalry that carries across all varsity sports. The rivalry between the blue & white and red & white is rooted in the historical traditions of both institutions, and their battles for supremacy in the city’s university athletics. However, Ryerson’s recent transformation that accompanied their renovation and move into Maple Leaf Gardens, and rise in success, has helped legitimize their program. It was less than a decade ago that Ryerson ended a five-season stint where they won just 11 games (from 2002-03 to 2006-07), and now that they’re a contender, with a high-profile, professional looking hockey program, they look poised to take over their intra-city rivals and insert themselves firmly into the rivalry conversation.

Each team has faced each other once thus far, and the Varsity Blues currently sit undefeated in those games. Early in the season, the Blues blew out Ryerson in a 7-3 thrashing, before taking down York on the road 4-2 just over a week later. In the remaining first half match-up, the Rams were able to withstand a late York attack and come away with a close 4-3 victory.

In the second half of the season, the rivalry continues with York heading to Maple Leaf Gardens to face Ryerson on the road on February 1, and then head to UT the next week. Meanwhile, Toronto make the short trip to Ryerson on Feb. 12 for the second last game of the year, in what should be an especially intense game with playoff implications at stake.

With just four points separating York from Ryerson and Toronto, this three-way rivalry should continue to heat up over the winter months and into the Queen’s Cup playoffs.

The OUA Game of the Week will begin again next week, with this weekend's national capital rivalry between the Gee-Gees and Ravens on Saturday night.
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