Toronto, ON- So by now we all know the reality that OUA and Canada West and RSEQ have cancelled the entirety or majority of the winter seasons. I was thinking about that very sad news recently and I realized that across those three leagues there were a lot of teams who after their strong 2019-2020 were poised (in my view) to either breakout in 2020-2021 or take that expected next step. So today I want to go through some of the teams in three cancelled conferences and point out some teams who 2020-2021 will go down for as a massive unfortunate missed opportunity.
We are going to avoid AUS because I am still holding out hope an AUS Conference Season can occur.
Ryerson Rams – Women’s Hockey
I sincerely think that the Ryerson Women’s Hockey team would have been a National contender this season. That may seem hyperbolic for a team that has won two playoff series in their existence but hear me out.
This team has been on a rise for the last four seasons, missing the playoffs, losing in the 1st Round, winning their first playoff series and getting swept in the 2nd round and then last year pushing the number one team in the province to overtime in Game Three and dominating but losing on a bad bounce. When you take into account they had recruited former Laurier Golden Hawk captain Jamie Watson and two-time OUA All-Star Annie Berg to transfer to Ryerson this had the makings of a coronation season for the Rams with likely an OUA Medal and their first trip to the National Championship.
Fraser Valley Cascades – Men’s Basketball
The Fraser Valley Cascades are an interesting team. They stormed their way into the 2020 playoffs winning 9 of their last 10 games and then hosting and winning a dramatic 94-82 win in a Valentine’s Day play-in game. They lost in the quarterfinal to Calgary but made some noise. This season they lost some key pieces to graduation including leading scorer Parm Baine. That means running the offense would have fallen into the hands of the “Toor de Force” Vick Toor a 4th year guard. Maybe I’m crazy but I just have this feeling Toor was going to go off on a Kadre Gray style season of 27/5/4 or something like that. Maybe I am entirely of base but I feel the Cascades would have built off the positive momentum of last year even with the loss of their starters.
Bishop’s Gaiters – Women’s Basketball
The Bishop’s Gaiters Women’s Basketball is a classic example of a young program that has massive growth potential. They were led in 2019-2020 by RSEQ MVP Amaiquen Siciliano who only in her second year was named a U SPORTS All-Canadian, RSEQ All-Star and RSEQ MVP after a 21/4/4 season for the Gaiters. In the Playoffs though this team was upset by the lower-seed UQAM in a game they very likely should have been able to win. So if 2020-2021 were happening I could Bishop’s leading RSEQ and picking up the conference title. Amaiquen Siciliano only will get better and the rest of the young Gaiters roster will improve after no graduations this past year.
UQAM Citadins – Women’s Volleyball
The UQAM Citadins are another team that was on the rise as 2019-2020 came to a close. With 13 wins the Citadins set a new team record for single season success and found individual success for their players as well. Noémie Gagné lead RSEQ in assists along with Frédérique Nicole and Gabrielle Archambault who found places at the top of RSEQ leaderboards in points, aces and blocks. The Citadins lost in the semi-final to a veteran Laval team but I think would have entered 2020-2021 with that proverbial hunger an underdog needs to have. This season I think they would have at least picked up an RSEQ medal if not more.
Toronto Varsity Blues – Men’s Volleyball
It might be a little strange to bring up a team that went 17-1 in the OUA Regular Season but the biggest reason is they did not get it done in the playoffs in 2019-2020. In search of their first Forsyth Cup since 2004 the Toronto Varsity Blues ran the table in the OUA, earned the right to host the OUA Final Four, took their semifinal win over over Guelph, went up 2-0 on Queen’s in the final and then collapsed losing three straight sets and the Forsyth Cup. Reaching the OUA Final still got them a trip to the 2020 National Championship but that tournament was cancelled back in March due to COVID-19. This season would have been great for Blues with the continued growth of Evan Falardeau into one of the top players in the league. I could easily see the Blues having challenged for the Forsyth Cup and be favourites to win. With the season cancelled though, the Toronto Varsity Blues have to sit with the taste of their championship collapse all the way until October 2021 at least.
UBC Thunderbirds – Men’s Hockey
The Thunderbirds have never really been a top team in Canada West, at least not in the past 10 years. They made the playoffs quite often but consistently found themselves as a one and done team in the Quarterfinal. This past season though the Thunderbirds finally made some noise. A Game Three OT winner from Austin Vetterl sent them to the semi-finals topping the Mount Royal Cougars. In the Semi-finals against the Kings of Canada West, the Alberta Golden Bears, it would be a dazzling 40 save performance in Game Three from 3rd year Rylan Toth that would punch UBC’s ticket to the Canada West Final. All good things end at some point though and for UBC that was in the Canada West Final were the Saskatchewan Huskies handily swept them in two games. This is why I think UBC has the biggest missed opportunity of 2020-2021, they made noise in 2019-2020 but this year could have been when they staked their claim as a new powerhouse in Canada West. Unfortunately their fight for the Canada West Gold Medal will have to wait another year.
Every team that will not get to play in 2020-2021 probably views the season as a missed opportunity. That’s fair of them to do so, each team should enter the season thinking that they have at least an outside shot of making noise in the playoffs. At the same time though these teams, at least in my opinion got really unlucky as 2020-2021 will go down for them as a lost chance to either right a mistake, or stake a new claim in the U SPORTS power structure.