TORONTO, ON – With one of the most experienced teams in U SPORTS, and the defending OUA Queen’s Cup Champions, the OUA Far West Division could offer some of the most intriguing university hockey in Canada.
On opening night, the Gryphons fell 5-3 at home to the Laurier Golden Hawks, who took them down with five first-year players getting their first OUA points; meanwhile, the Windsor Lancers held off the Waterloo Warriors to pick up the OUA’s first shutout of the season.
Parity has shown its best side through every U SPORTS sanctioned sport this season, and no hockey division looks closer than the OUA Far West.
The Guelph Gryphons come into this season with a target on their back. The 2019-20 Queen’s Cup champions hoisted the OUA Championship trophy on March 7, 2020, less than a week before North America shut down for nearly two years.
In 2021-22, the team looks a lot different. Ryan Valentini, who assisted the winning goal in triple overtime, has moved on, as has defender Zach McFadden, forward Marc Stevens, and goaltender Andrew Masters. This season, it will be a much younger team in Guelph, but that does not mean they aren’t immediate contenders.
Queen’s Cup-winning goalscorer and former Kingston Frotnenacs captain Ted Nichol takes the captaincy for the Gryphons this season. He will be joined by fellow veterans Ryan Da Silva and Giordano Finoro. Outside of them, however, the group is extremely fresh-faced.
While a young team could have its drawbacks and weaknesses, Head Coach Shawn Camp is making sure it is as smooth a transition as possible to the new group, bringing in top talent from the CHL and pro ranks.
Former Mississauga Steelheads defencemen Duncan Penman and Liam Ham come into the fold as intelligent defenders, and goaltender Gabe Mollot-Hill transfers from the NCAA’s Providence Friars. However, no player is as important as Lucas Chiodo.
Coming off a season with the Fassa Falcons in the AlpsHL, Chiodo showed that he could play at the pro level, scoring 54 points in 42 games in 2019-20. While he would have had to redshirt last season, he jumps right into the Guelph lineup for this year, without a season in 2020-21.
The Gryphons look a lot different in 2021-22, but once they get up to speed, they could play themselves right back into Queen’s Cup contender status. Unfortunately, things did not start as the Gryphons would have wanted, falling 5-3 to the Laurier Golden Hawks in their first game back; however, with the confidence that likely comes from raising a banner, they should be in the win column very soon.
Player to watch: Lucas Chiodo
Laurier Golden Hawks
After losing the Guelph Gryphons in the first round of the 2020 Queen’s Cup Playoffs, the Laurier Golden Hawks come into 2021-22 with a talented group of new faces and returnees who could contribute at a much higher level.
Roughly one-third of the roster returns from the 2019-20 season, including top-players like Justyn Gurney, Anthony Sorentino and Grayden Gottschalk return to the Kitchener-based school, but it is the newcomers who will make the difference.
Former Kingston Frontenac Christian Propp comes into the fold between the pipes after posting a .874 save percentage in his final OHL season. While that may not pop off the page, the Fronts were a young team with defensive liabilities.
Former Kitchener Ranger Nick McHugh headlines the additions to their forward group, arriving at Laurier after three 20+ point OHL campaigns and an over point-per-game season with the OJHL’s Brantford 99ers.
Although the lack of major junior recruits could worry some, the Golden Hawks came out in full force on opening night with a 5-3 win over the defending OUA Champion Guelph Gryphons, proving they can compete with anyone.
Player to watch: Christian Propp
Unlike their Kitchener-Waterloo foes, Laurier, the Waterloo Warriors have two thirds of their roster returning for the 2021-22 OUA season. Led by Head Coach Brian Bourque, the Warriors will lean on a veteran presence to succeed in 2021 against some much younger teams.
Third and fifth-year forwards and e Jacob Cascagnett and Markson Bechtold are bound to lead the Warriors again this season, as they bring experience and scoring to the top of the lineup.
Bechtold could have graduated but returned for his fifth and final year of eligibility, looking to build on a 22 points performance in 2019-20. For Cascagnett, this season is about taking the next step in his production level. He’s already played on the team for two seasons and represented Canada at the Krasnoyarsk 2019 Winter Universiade, so he adds many levels to the Warriors lineup. Forward Nolan Leejoins the Warriors for 2021-22, and could be in the conversation for Rookie of the Year come season’s end, after playing professionally with the VHL’s KRS-BSU Beijing.
David Radke’s return to the Warriors blueline buoys a team looking to take the next step in the playoffs. The fifth-year defender wil be joined with top young defenders, including OHL graduate Nick King.
The 2021-22 season presents the Warriors with a golden opportunity to take advantage of not just their skill but familiarity with each other as they face inexperienced teams across the conference.
Player to watch: Nick Chysowski
The Western Mustangs were the darling of the 2019-20 season, qualifying for the U CUP after finishing 8th in the OUA West. They first beat first-place Toronto, then knocked off second-place Ryerson, and qualified for the U CUP with a bronze medal win over Concordia. Once there, they knocked off Saskatchewan to advance to the semifinals before the tournament was cancelled.
Over the last four years, much of their playoff success and success over the last four years has come from goaltender Luke Peressini, but there’s a problem with that. He’s playing for Ryerson now. Like Guelph, the Mustangs cashed in on a final year for many veterans, and they got hot at the right time. However, they still finished eighth in the regular season and looked anything but contenders.
Franco Sporviro returns to the lineup, and he will be the leader for this team, with Anthony Stefano transferring to Windsor. Sporviero, a former Sarnia Sting player, scored 34 points in 24 regular-season games in 2019-20.
While the 2021 recruiting class was underwhelming, the Mustangs welcomed Shane Bulitka to the team for his first season in London. Bultika committed to the Rams in 2020, coming off a 52 points OHL campaign, which he split between North Bay and Sudbury.
The 2021-22 edition of the Western Mustangs is underwhelming on paper, but with Head Coach Clarke Singer behind the bench, they could very well surprise in a season featuring one-game playoff rounds.
Player to watch: Franco Sporviero
The Windsor Lancers have improved since 2019-20, but so have the teams around them. Often destined for the middle of the standings, that is likely where they will find themselves come the end of a 20 game sprint.
Returning players include veterans Erik Olson, Ryan Barbosa, and captain Ben Assad; however, other than that; the returning core is bare bones.
Head Coach Kevin Hamlin has made sure that all of the players coming into the Lancers program are not from junior hockey, as he adds U SPORTS experience with former UPEI Panther Olivier Arseneau and three-year Western Mustangs forward Anthony Stefano. They will become de-facto leaders for Windsor, helping guide some top young talent.
A pair of Petebourgh Petes grads make their way to the UW campus as John Parker-Jones, and Matt McNamara begin their U SPORTS careers. While McNamara might take a bit of time to adjust to the OUA level, Parker-Johns has excelled in preseason action. Also joining them are QMJHL grads Hunter Holmes and former Moncton goaltender Dakota Lund-Cornish.
It won’t be an easy transition year for the Lancers, who have to replace production front heir Top-5 scorers in 2019-20. Still, they have young talent, which could push them through the playoffs if they find form at the right time.
Player to watch: John Parker-Jones
- Guelph Gryphons
- Waterloo Warriors
- Windsor Lancers
- Western Mustangs
- Laurier Golden Hawks