Toronto, ON- Next Sunday is the 78th annual Golden Globe Awards. A night where the biggest breakout stars in movies and tv get appreciated and get celebrated. It is always fun talking about breakout stars in sports, isn’t it? The players who no one expects that surprise you the most. So that’s what we are going to do this week. We’re going to take a trip together in the U SPORTS time machine to talk about some of my favourite U SPORTS hockey players and their breakout seasons.
- The season can be either be a rookie U SPORTS season or from one U SPORTS season to another.
- I’m going to keep it to one per team that I pick to spread it out more.
Chris Helland | U of Alberta Golden Bears | 1978-1979
The Season Before – 1977/1978: 22GP | 13G | 13A | 26 PTS – (With Alberta)
The Breakout Season – 1978/1979: 41GP | 27G | 36A | 63 PTS
After two middling seasons with the Calgary Canucks of the AJHL and the Calgary Dinos, Helland transferred to U of A in 1977. His first season was fine, but his second was his breakout as he finished second in team scoring behind fellow breakout Golden Bear John Devaney (who followed up his year with an appearance at the 1980 Olympics for Team Canada). Helland followed up his breakout year with a repeat 57 point performance the following year before heading to League2 in Germany, where in 56 games for Deggendorfer FC 1973, he had a mind-boggling 79 goals and 61 assists.
Keifer House | Dalhousie Tigers | 1994-1995
The Season Before – 1993/1994: 17GP | 6G | 8A | 14PTS – (With Dalhousie)
The Breakout Season – 1994/1995: 26GP | 25G | 25A | 50PTS
Kiefer House feels like a guy that encapsulates the point of this exercise. Someone who on the Dalhousie Tigers was a fine piece, but one season just went off. In 1994-1995, he totalled more points than his previous three seasons combined. He was named an AUS All-Star for the first time, but the Tigers could not win with House as the Moncton took the 1995 AUS title. Dalhousie is today still looking for their first AUS title since 1979. As the student paper from October 1995 points out, though, Keifer didn’t stop at the start of the next season, and he kept going as he added a 45 point year in 1995/1996.
After his days at Dalhousie House now owns the “Top Shelf Hockey Program,” where he teaches young players the skills to score the way he could for the Tigers.
Shaun Fairweather | Western Mustangs | 2000-2001
The Season Before – 1999/2000: 25GP | 6G | 4A | 10PTS – (with Western)
The Breakout Season – 2000/2001: 23G | 20G | 22A | 42PTS
Shaun Fairweather is another true breakout example. After two middling seasons with the Mustangs, the London, ON native exploded in 2000-2001. The Mustangs rode his hot run to the Queen’s Cup Final, where they were thwarted 3-2 by the UQTR Patriotes, who were right in the middle of six straight Queen’s Cups from 1998 to 2003. Following his breakout, Fairweather played for part of one year in Germany before coming back to North America, where he bounced around the CHL for three se
Todd Norman | St FX X-Men | 2002-2003
The Season Before – 2000/2001: 33GP | 2G | 6A | 8PTS – (with Indianapolis Ice – CHL)
The Breakout Season – 2002/2003: 28GP | 10G | 17A | 27PTS
Todd Norman took a winding path to get to St FX. After four years with the Guelph Storm, he played four minor league seasons split between four leagues, where he played on nine different rosters. Finally, after taking a year off, he landed in St FX. During 02/03, Norman finished 2nd on St. FX in scoring, finishing behind current Ottawa Gee-Gees Head Coach Patrick Grandmaître. Norman’s breakout year was matched with a 28 point performance in 2003/2004, where he helped the X-Men to their first and only U SPORTS National Championship victory. After leaving St FX following the national title, Norman played one season in France before spending six seasons in the Western Ontario Athletic Association Senior Hockey League.
Robert Rideout | Ottawa Gee-Gees | 2003-2004
The Season Before: 2002/2003: 20GP | 1G |1A | 2PTS – (With Ottawa)
The Breakout Season – 2003/2004: 28GP | 10G | 24A | 34PTS
Rideout is the first example of an actual complete flash in the pan. His season before was terrible, and despite some offensive flair, he had never gotten higher than the BCHL in junior. In 2003/2004, though, everything just clicked. Rideout led the Gee-Gees in scoring, and he was rewarded with an OUA East All-Star team slot. The team got right on the precipice of success, reaching the Queen’s Cup final and losing to the York Lions. What is even more fascinating is Rideout went back to normal the next season and then just graduated. For one season, though, Rideout got to be the star on the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
Keaton Turkiewicz | Western Mustangs | 2009-2010
The Season Before – 2008/2009: 19GP | 3G | 9A | 12PTS – (With Western)
The Breakout Season – 2009/2010: 28GP | 20G | 23A | 43 PTS
Keaton Turkiewicz had a career with the Western Mustangs that left him with a full trophy case for himself and his team. After reaching the 2008 Memorial Cup with the Belleville Bulls, Turkiewicz went to Western and played a supporting role on the 2009 OUA Queen’s Cup Champion Mustangs. The following season though, he took off, leading the team in goals and tying for the lead in points which earned him an OUA First-Team All-Star Selection. The Mustangs were unable to repeat as Queen’s Cup champs in 2010, but Turkiewicz helped them get more chances. Beyond his breakout year, he was a 2011 OUA Second-Team All-Star as the Mustangs made it back to the Queen’s Cup final but lost to McGill. In 2012 Turckiewicz peaked; he scored 47 points in 28 games and was named an OUA West First-Team All-Star, a CIS First-Team All-Canadian and OUA West MVP. The Mustangs got back to the Queen’s Cup for a rematch with McGill but again had to settle for silver. So Turkiewicz was never able to get a second gold for Western, but he left with his career chiselled in the Western record books. He finished his hockey career at Western, took his degree and is now an insurance agent for Green Benefits Group.
Aaron Armstrong | Ryerson Rams | 2016-2017
The Season Before – 2015/2016: 28GP | 5G | 9A | 14PTS – (With Ryerson)
The Breakout Season – 2016/2017: 28GP | 17G | 29A | 46 PTS
Coming from Briercrest College and Seminary in 2015, Aaron Armstrong entered the Rams with little fanfare, and his first season at the Gardens was fine but unremarkable. In his second season, everything changed; Armstrong led the OUA in points with 46 and was named an OUA First-Team All-Star and a U SPORTS Second Team All-Canadian. He was also awarded the Dr. Randy Gregg Award for athletics, academics and community service. Armstrong played one more season with the Rams before transferring to McGill and never hit the high of 2016/2017 again, but that one season carved a place for him in Ryerson and OUA record books.
Matthew Alfaro | Calgary Dinos | 2019-2020
The Season Before – 2018/2019: 25GP | 6G | 14A | 20PTS – (With Calgary)
The Breakout Season – 2019/2020: 27GP | 16G | 22A | 38 PTS
Matt Alfaro is an interesting case. He entered Calgary with some decent offensive seasons on his resume, but he only put up 12 points in 26 games in his first season as a Dino. His second season was better, but it still felt like something was missing. In 2019-2020 that “something” showed up. Alfaro became the offensive centrepiece for the Dinos and led them in scoring by eight points. The team itself had a strong season but fell at the hands of the Saskatchewan Huskies in the 2020 Canada West Semifinals. I named Alfaro a potential All-Star for the series that never happened in November vs the Canada WJC team, but it didn’t matter as he turned his strong year into a pro deal with the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL.
Ken Lovsin | Saskatchewan Huskies | 1987-1988
The season before: 1986/1987: 28GP | 3G | 13A | 16PTS – (With Saskatchewan)
The breakout season: 1987/1988: 28GP | 10G | 28A | 38PTS
Ken Lovesin had an absolutely fascinating career. He transferred to Saskatchewan in 1986 after a season with Camrose Lutheran College, and in his first season in green and white put up decent numbers. His breakout year, though, came in 1987-1988 when he more than doubled his point total. He was named a 1988 Canada West Second-Team All-Star, and although the Huskies were unsuccessful in 1988, Lovesin was just beginning his career. Despite being taken with the 6th pick in the 1987 Supplemental Draft by the Hartford Whalers, Lovesin signed with the Canadian National Team and played 145 games between 1988 and 1990. In 1990 he joined the AHL’s Baltimore Skipjacks before reaching the NHL in 1991 for a game against Mario Lemieux and the Penguins. He spent one more year in Baltimore in 92, headed to Sweden for a season, then finished with two more years on the national team, including playing for Canada at the 1994 Winter Olympics. Now Lovesin is the Vice President, IT of the Alberta grocery store chain Freson Bros, but for six years starting in 1988, he had a wild international ride through hockey.
Josh Garbutt | Regina Cougars | 2005/2006
The season before – 2004/2005: 12GP | 3G | 0A | 3PTS – (With Prince George WHL)
The breakout season – 2005/2006: 31GP | 11G | 20A | 31PTS
Garbutt started his career in 2001 with the Brandon Wheat Kings, but after three seasons, he fell out of favour, was traded to Prince George and spent most of the year in the SJHL. So, Garbutt headed to Regina and U SPORTS. There he became a point-per-game player for the Cougars. Regina ultimately finished in 5th in Canada West, but that season sparked a breakout in Garbutt’s semi-pro career. He played two seasons in the CHL, one in England, before heading to Saskatchewan and playing six seasons in the Triangle Hockey League. His last hockey game was with the Wynard Monarchs of the Long Lake Hockey League in 2019-2020.
Jesse Ferguson | UNB Reds | 2005-2006
The season before – 2004/2005: 27GP | 2G | 5A | 7PTS – (With UNB)
The breakout season – 2005/2006: 28GP | 6G | 25A | 31PTS
Another defensive breakout came in 2005/2006. This time, Jesse Ferguson of the UNB Reds came out of nowhere to lead all UNB defenders in scoring and come just shy of equalling his point total with the Reds from the previous three seasons combined. The Reds were never victorious with Ferguson at his best (They did win the AUS Title in 2003 during Ferguson’s rookie year), but he left Fredricton 4th all-time in Playoff assists with 22. Hockey was not in Ferguson’s cards post-UNB as he took his Bachelor of Business Administration degree and eventually, 15 years later, now owns his own financial advisory company.
Ed Snetsinger | Toronto Varsity Blues | 2007-2008
The season before – 2006/2007: 28GP | 1G | 10A | 11PTS – (with Toronto)
The breakout season – 2007/2008: 28GP | 4G | 29A | 33PTS
Snetsinger is a true example of a breakout. He started his OPJHL junior career with low point totals and high PIM totals. In his first season in Toronto, he dropped the PIMs but put up just 11 points, but he had his breakout in his second season. He was named an OUA West Second-Team All-Star and the Varsity Blue’s best defender. He followed that season up with even better ones. Between 2008 and 2010, he was named best defender again, was an OUA First-Team All-Star twice, and was named team MVP in 2009. After his U of T career, he went to the ECHL and SPHL for two seasons and now holds a JD from the University of Windsor and works in employment law.
Chris Owens | Acadia Axemen | 2011-2012
The season before – 2010/2011: 26GP | 3G | 13A | 16PTS – (With Acadia)
The breakout season – 2011/2012: 28GP | 10G | 19A | 29PTS
It is almost surprising Chris Owens didn’t get more fanfare. In his last junior season with the MIrimichi Wolves of the MJAHL, he won a scoring title AS A DEFENSEMAN with 92 points in just 49 games. Owens hoped to bring that offence to Acadia, and he kind of did in 2011. The following season though, he finally hit that point-per-game offence which he stayed at for the next three seasons. The offence resulted in him being named to the AUS All-Rookie Team in that first season before becoming an AUS First-Team All-Star for 2011/2012 through to 2013/2014. Following his 5th year in Acadia, Owens had an AHL tryout with St John’s before signing with the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL for two years. He followed that up with a year in Austria, three in Germany and last played in 2019-2020 in Slovakia.
Jesse Deckert | Manitoba Bisons | 2012-2013
The season before- 2011/2012: 11GP | 7-3-0 | 1.98GAA | .918SV% – (With Manitoba)
The breakout season- 2012/2013: 25GP | 16-9-0 | 2.15GAA | .915SV%
I don’t view Jesse Deckert in the traditional breakout sense. He was not bad for the Bisons over his first three seasons. An 8-6-0 record serving as a backup to Joe Caliguiri and Steve Christie over his first three years was unremarkable but acceptable. In his fourth year, Deckert received the keys to the Bisons crease and ran with them. He finished 4th in Canada West in GAA and save percentage but first among goalies who started more than 15 games. As is a tradition for them, the Bisons did bow out in the Canada West Semi-finals but not without Jesse Deckert’s best efforts. Following his time with the Bisons, Deckert played parts of two seasons with the ECHL’s Florida Everblades, eventually getting a one-game cup of coffee with the Charlotte Checkers in 2014.
Mack Shields | York Lions (and now Ryerson Rams) | 2016-2017
The season before – 2015/2016: 23GP | 7-8-1 | 4.56GAA | .867SV% – (with Medicine Hat WHL)
The breakout season – 2016/2017: 20GP | 13-7-0 | 1.78GAA | .930SV%
Mack Shields is now doing an MBA at Ryerson, but before COVID, he was the long-time starter for the cross-town rival York Lions. His breakout is a textbook example of, put a good goalie behind a good team, and good things happen. After finally getting behind the strong defence on the Lions, Shields broke out. He ended the year OUA West Rookie of the Year, the goalie for the OUA West All-Rookie Team, an OUA West First-Team All-Star and an OUA champion as York rode him to the 2017 Queen’s Cup title.
So those are my picks for some of the biggest breakout seasons in U SPORTS Men’s Hockey history. Some of these seasons even resulted in athletes taking home hardware for themselves and for their teams. What do you think? Did I miss a season? Let me know below.
Cover PHoto: Alex D’Adesse