TORONTO, ON – The rivalry between Queen’s and RMC hockey has lasted two pandemics.
When RMC and Queen’s played their first hockey game on Kingston Harbour’s ice on March 10, 1886, nobody would have expected the rivalry to last through pandemics in 1918 and 2020. Although the game might look slightly different in 2021 than when Lennox Irving represented Queen’s before the Canadian confederation, the contempt remains as the Kingston schools return to the ice.
The Queen’s Gaels and RMC Paladins kick off the season in the OUA, dropping the puck on the first university hockey game in Ontario since March 7, 2020. The Gaels and Paladins will become familiar with the Nipissing Lakers and Ontario Tech Ridgebacks in their newly realigned division.
The Nippissing Lakers might be staring down a golden opportunity in 2021-22. With the divisions realigned to four or five teams per division, they could be looking at a playoff berth for the first time since 2017-18.
After finishing second last, just above RMC in 2019-20, the Lakers have a new-look roster for 2021-22. Most notably, in the crease, goaltender Talor Joseph has transferred to Canada West’s Trinity Western Spartans, leaving the Lakers with a group yet to feature a determined starter. Brett Epp joins the team from Nichols College but struggled at that level, while Brent Moran and Francis Asselin return from the 2019-20 Lakers.
Leading scorer Gael Lubwele returns for his fourth year, and he will have significant help in the offensive end with OHLer Harrison Caines heading back to North Bay, where he played two seasons with the Battalion. Head Coach Mike McParland also welcomes former Laurentian Voyageurs Theo Todd and Charles Farmer, who are back in the OUA after being left high and dry when Laurentian shut down its hockey programs.
For Nipissing to find success, they will have to clean things up in their end. They allowed 3.96 goals per game in 2019-20, something they cannot continue to do, especially when facing teams that can score like Queen’s and Ontario Tech. Former Hamilton Bulldog Payton Vescio will play an important role in shoring up the defence, as will QMJHL Alexandre De Gagne.
The Lakers and Nipissing University don’t have the caché that some of their OUA rivals do, but their recruits may be able to forge a playoff push this season.
Player to watch: Payton Vescio
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Often a “sleeper team” in the OUA, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks are building a notable hockey program in Oshawa. However, after finishing in the middle of the pack in 2019-20, Head Coach Curtis Hodgins has higher aspirations for the next few seasons.
The Ridgebacks lost some quality throughout the last 20 months, with Jackson Yuill and Jake Bricknell signing professional contracts. However, they have brought in quality that will push them to new heights in the next four-year cycle.
Austin Eastman highlights a returning group of forwards as he looks to build on or repeat his team-leading 30 points from 2019-20. He’ll have help alongside him as well, with Jack Patterson returning to the team.
The blueline will be very fresh-faced for the Ridgebacks. However, they have brought in quality, with former Sarnia Sting defenders Mark Jakovljevic and Kelton Hatcher joining the group. In goal, expect to see third years Michael Bullion and Leif Hertz split starts.
2021-22 might not be the year that the Ridgebacks find themselves challenging for a Queen’s Cup, but with Eastman likely returning in 2022-23 and a talented young group, the Oshawa school has a high ceiling.
Player to watch: Austin Eastman
The 2018-19 Queen’s Cup Champions are looking strong once again, and after missing out on the semifinals in 2019-20, they are right back in the OUA title conversation. Led by Head Coach Brett Gibson, Queen’s has the luxury of drawing on a veteran core, which is a rarity in 2021-22.
Defenceman Patrick Sanvido, a former Dallas Stars prospect, is back for his fifth year on the team, choosing to stay in Kingston rather than graduate. In net, Luke Richardson has proven to be a top OUA goaltender, posting a .908 save percentage as a rookie, and will be leaned on again this season.
While the veteran core will guide them, 17 new players have not played together for the Gaels. One of those players is Matt Needham, who transfers to Queen’s, having spent the last four years on a strong StFX X-Men team. Needham not only brings leadership, having captained the X-Men but four seasons of U CUP experience.
Outside of Needham, forwards Hayden Fowler and Jonathan Yantsis bring a tantalizing flavour to the Gaels this season. After playing himself into NHL Draft conversations while in Barrie, Fowler opted not to take his overage year in the OHL. Meanwhile, former Kitchener Ranger Jonathan Yansis comes to the OUA after scoring 50 OHL goals in 2018-19 and 39 in 2019-20. There is no doubt that Yantsis will become a star at the U SPORTS level.
A solid yet unofficial connection with the OHL’s Kingston Frontenacs will also boost the Gaels in 2021-22, as former OHL teammates Matt Hotchkiss, Ryan Cranford and Jakob Brahaney pull on the same jersey once again. The trio has looked strong through the preseason, as Brahaney adjusts to the speed of U SPORTS hockey.
Unlike many OUA counterparts, Gibson has his recruiting horizons opened beyond the Ontario and Eastern junior leagues. For this season, he has added former Vancovuer Giants teammates Holden Katzalay and Trevor Longo, adding chemistry and offence from the blueline with Longo.
Player to watch: Luke Richardson
Being the military school, the RMC Paladins always have difficulty attracting top talent, but that doesn’t mean they don’t put a competitive team onto the ice.
The Paladins snuck into the playoffs on a tiebreaker in 2019-20, and while they lost to the Carleton Ravens in the opening round of the playoffs, they forced the Ravens to be their best. In Game 1, the Paladins fought back from being 3-0 down to tie it 3-3 before losing 7-4, and in Game 2, the Ravens came away with a tight 5-4 win. It was a sweep, but it wasn’t easy.
Coached by Richard Lim, the Paladins will be led by OUA East MVP Chris Paquette this season as he enters his second year in the league. Another key player will be former Kingston Frontenac Liam Murray, a tough player who brings skill and OHL experience to a roster primarily from outside of major junior.
While the Paladins are always going to be in a difficult place to find success, they could make an impact in the playoffs if they find their way into the dance. The 2021-22 playoffs feature one-game knockouts, making it a perfect year for RMC to take a run at the more prominent programs.
Player to watch: Chris Paquette
OUA EAST PREDICTIONS
- Queen’s Gaels
- Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
- RMC Paladins
- Nipissing Lakers
Cover photo: Ian MacAlpine