TORONTO, ON- It’s been a long time since OUA women’s hockey has taken to the ice in Ontario. The 2020 McCaw Cup, which saw the Varsity Blues defeat the York Lions on Mar 6, 2020, was one of the last major championship events in Toronto before COVID-19 took over the world.
Now though, hockey has returned. Faces, new and old, decorate 12 OUA rosters (with the Laurentian Voyageurs’ shuttering their program). While the Varsity Blues appear poised to have a robust title-defending season, many teams are ready to take them down. With COVID-19 still, a factor in Ontario, the breakdown of the OUA season will be different than usual. The league will split in an East and West division, see the top four teams make the playoffs (after a five v four play-in game) and have one game rounds until the 2022 McCaw Cup.
Toronto Varsity Blues
The defending McCaw Cup champions certainly did not win the trophy in the most traditional sens in 2020. After walking past Guelph quickly in round one, the Blues looked outmatched through much of their three-game series vs the Ryerson Rams but managed two wins in four combined periods of overtime. In the 2020 McCaw Cup, the York Lions dominated much of the play, but Erica Fryer stole the show with 33 saves in a 3-1 win for the Blues and handed Toronto their first McCaw Cup since 2003.
Player to Watch: Erica Fryer- Goalie
This has to be Fryer. The fourth-year kinesiology major was the critical force that carried an often struggling Blues team to the championship. After having the lowest GAA in the OUA at 1.29 and finishing second in save percentage at .943, it will be a tough act to follow for Fryer, but if she is on her game, the Blues will feel unbeatable.
The Ryerson Rams are a team that deserved better in 2019-2020. After losing a wild triple-overtime semifinal game two vs the Varsity Blues, they went to Varsity Arena. They controlled most of Game Three into overtime before losing on a Natasha Athanasakos goal that was Toronto’s first shot of the period. Heading into 2021-2022, the Rams lose some faces, including longtime stalwart Kryshanda Green, but they have added some formidable names to their lineup to finish above fifth place for the first time and challenging for them the McCaw Cup.
Player to Watch: Savannah Bouzdie – Forward
The Rams managed to add a marquee name to their lineup in fifth-year Savannah Bouzdie. The forward spent the last four seasons with the UConn Huskies, where she racked up 44 points in 126 games. Bouzdie was named Huskies team MVP in 2020-2021 and will bring a winning pedigree, along with a veteran presence to the Rams for her one season.
The York Lions came out of nowhere in 2019-2020. A program that had toiled in the OUA basement since 2013 finally got back to the playoffs and all the way to the McCaw Cup. They ultimately fell to the Varsity Blues in a game that they probably should have won, but heading into 2021-2022, it exists as a building block for a program that will have to recognize they will not surprise anyone anymore.
Player to Watch: Serena Vilde – Goalie
One of the most significant question marks for the Lions will be in the net. Lauren Dubie tied for eighth in the league with a .921 save percentage and finished fifth with a 1.78 GAA. The Lions will presumably give the first crack at starter to Serena Vilde, who backed up Dubie for the last two seasons. Vilde has already been tested in the spotlight as she was forced to step in in the semifinals vs Nipissing and the 2020 McCaw Cup, but she has never faced the workload of an entire OUA season as a starter. If she can rise to the occasion, the Lions will be a difficult team to beat.
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
The Ridgebacks, unfortunately, hold the history of being one of the weaker teams in the OUA, only making the playoffs three times since 2007 and never since 2015. In 2019-2020 they dropped nine straight games to begin their season but stormed down the stretch to a 10-5-0 record. Unfortunately, they dug too deep a hole and finished in the bottom three of the conference for the sixth straight season. Whether the Ridgebacks can continue the magic run, they had to end 2020 will be essential to if they have any shot in a strong OUA East Division.
Player to Watch: Natalie Wozeny – Forward
The Ridgeback’s fate will lean heavily on the play of fourth-year Natalie Wozeny. Wozeny carried the Ridgebacks offence finishing second in OUA, scoring with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists). If she can somehow find another gear, the Ridgebacks might have a chance at a lower playoff seed.
The Nipissing Lakers joined the OUA in 2013 and, since then, have always managed to stay competitive. In 2019-2020 backed by a rookie of the year performance from Malory Dominico, the Lakers finished second in the OUA and got to the semifinals for the fourth time in program history but fell to York in three games. With many familiar faces (including the Dominico sisters), the Lakers should be poised for a top-three spot in the OUA come playoff time. When the McCaw Cup rolls around, though, the question remains will it finally go up to North Bay?
Player to Watch: Chloe Marshall – Goalie
Like a lot of teams, the Lakers lost a significant piece in the net. Danika Ranger was a top-four goalie in the OUA in 2019-2020, and one of the Lakers’ options to replace her was a fifth-year transfer, Chloe Marshall, from the Lethbridge Pronghorns. Marshall started ten games for the Pronghorns, going 4-3-1 with a 1.74 GAA and a .932 save percentage. She will not be the only person up for the starting job for the Lakers, but she transferred to Nipissing under the auspice that she will get a fair shake at it.
The Queen’s Gaels haven’t quite been able to find their groove since falling in the 2018 McCaw Cup to the Western Mustangs. The Gaels were a middle-of-the-pack team in 2019-2020, falling to the Nipissing Lakers in two games in the quarterfinals. The problem for the Gaels came upfront, as Makenzy Arsenault finished in the top-10 in both GAA and Save Percentage but saw only a single Gael (Kaitlyn Dennis) finish in the top-50 in OUA scoring. While Arsenault has returned for a fifth season, the Gaels will need a much more pronounced offence if they want to make noise in the OUA.
Player to Watch: Quinn Johnston – Forward
With no Dennis, Alex Maw will likely step into the number one offensive role but that leaves a potential opportunity for Quinn Johnston to take a step forward. The fourth-year potted seven goals in 2019-2020 which led the roster. Look for Johnston to step into that number two role on the Gaels.
OUA EAST PREDICTIONS
- Toronto Varsity Blues
- Ryerson Rams
- Nipissing Lakers
- York Lions
- Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
- Queen’s Gaels