TORONTO, ON – There has never been a time like the present in OUA men’s hockey with restructured playoffs and a packed schedule. Before the league paused for nearly two months, seldom was there a game on a Sunday, Tuesday or Wednesday.
OUA hockey is moving quickly in February and March, with games packed into short periods in a final rushed sprint to the post-season and the U CUP Tournament in Wolfville
For the OUA playoffs, the Far East and East Divisions are joined, and the same with the west to fill out a full playoff bracket. Each round is just one game, and seeding is based on win percentage rather than points to an unequal amount of games each team plays.
One month down, one to go since the restart. Five takeaways from the last couple weeks of U SPORTS men’s hockey action in the OUA.
York Lions pick up wins, but struggle against Brock
The York Lions and Brock Badgers shared a similar theory over the extended pause — they lost the most players of any other teams in the OUA. However, since the resumption, both have been playing well.
While the Lions rattled off three wins after a loss to Ryerson, they looked out of their depths against the Brock Badgers on Saturday night. Despite the close score, the Badgers played on the front foot for most of the game and found holes in the Lions’ defence.
York lost a lot of veteran leadership and speed during the pause, and it becomes clear against quicker players, like Owen Guy, who caught York twice. Luckily for the Lions, goaltender Cole Ceci and an undeniable fight ensure they’re not totally out of games, but it’s not a sustainable style to push deep into the post-season.
The Lions are also missing Head Coach Russ Herrington until at least March 13, as he coaches the Canadian Para-hockey team at the Beijing 2022 Paralympic Games.
Losing on Saturday could prove costly for the Lions, and it puts them on the outside looking in amid the search for a home playoff game as one of the top four seeds. If the season ended today, they would face one of Laurier or Brock, two strong teams.
uOttawa Gee-Gees are figuring things out
The uOttawa Gee-Gees are young, and they were injured. This weekend, however, the return of Nicolas Ouellet has buoyed them to improved results. The Gee-Gees have kept games close after hitting bottom with a 10-2 loss to UQTR at the start of the month.
Losing goaltender Tristan Berube to the ECHL was a tough pill to swallow, but Anand Oberoi is finding his footing at the OUA level, picking up his third win of the season on Sunday in a 2-1 victory against UQTR.
Head Coach Patrick Grandmaitre has his team in a solid position heading into the final stretch, despite some struggles earlier in the season. With just nine teams vying for eight playoff spots, uOttawa will have a chance at the Queen’s Cup, and rounding into form late is enviable.
While a home game may have seemed out of the cards, the Gee-Gees have worked their way into having a shot. They’re roughly 1.5 games back of the Concordia Stingers, who hold the final home playoff spot in the Far East.
The Toronto Varsity Blues are better young
Ok, let’s plan how to be successful. First, lose the U SPORTS MVP from last season (David Thomson) and most of your other veteran leaders that play on your top two lines.
That’s what happened at U of T, and suddenly, the Varsity Blues have improved and look to be en route to the post-season. It doesn’t make much sense on paper, but it’s working just fine for Ryan Medel’s team
It is harder to make the post-season in the West/Far West side of the bracket, but the Varsity Blues are right in the mix, with Kyle Potts, and Billy Moskal finding their scoring touch and Alex Bishop regaining form in net.
While Bishop and Potts have been with the team for several seasons, Moskal’s emergence is welcome for Toronto, who had not seen much production from the former London Knights forward. Since the restart, he has scored seven points and is a constant presence in each game, despite not consistently hitting the scoresheet.
Adding Jeremy Pullara, who spent three seasons at Laurier, also lifts the Varsity Blues, who are en route to the playoffs after spending the first half of the season flailing in fragility.
Guelph’s season gets worse
No program in U SPORTS has had a rougher ride in 2022 than the Guelph Gryphons. They lost three wins to start the second half due to playing an ineligible player, putting them way back where they could have been.
Over the extended pause, they also lost key contributors in Giordano Finoro and Lucas Chiodo, among others. However, it got direr his past weekend with the return of their Frosty Mug rivalry with the Laurier Golden Hawks.
In front of a limited capacity crowd at Guelph’s Sleeman Centre, home of the OHL’s Guelph Storm, the Gryphons dressed a lineup of just 14 players and were visibly exhausted by the end of the game, losing 4-0 on showcase ice.
While the leadership and grit of captain Ted Nichol aides their hopes of winning, this season has gotten worse by the game in the second half for a once exciting, promising Gryphons team.
Ryerson and UQTR leading Queen’s Cup hopes
While the standings will be decided by win percentage this season, the Ryerson Rams and UQTR Patriotes are leading the way heading into the final stretch. Both started the season well and have maintained their form; however, they are tough to judge based on their differing divisions.
The Rams have been an intriguing team since the restart. Playing two games against Toronto and York, they swiftly moved through one game in each set while playing a close one-goal game in the other matchup. One thing is sure, though — the familiarity in these assets brews the toughest rivalries in the division.
For the Rams, finding stability in their end with the departure of Gregory di Tomaso has been critical. At the same time, they have needed scoring support from their blueliners and their forwards to regain form. Rookie and team-leading goalscorer Kyle Bollers has found his touch again, tied for the OUA lead in goals, while Ryan Wells scored twice against York, providing scoring prowess from the blueline.
For UQTR, depth has been the key. While they lost quality during the pause, they have only four players on their roster without a point and have fought through challenging games against determined, often younger, programs.
Although a 10-2 victory over Ottawa stands as an anomaly, their offence has not slowed down a tone, scoring four or more goals in three of their five February games. Much of their success comes down to the play of centre Julien Tessier, who held a seven-game point streak until their latest loss against Ottawa.
In the crease, Alexis Gravel has figured things out in February and is rolling into the season’s final month with a .921 save percentage.
UQTR and Ryerson sit atop the standings, and after the first month back from an extended pause, they look to be contenders for the Queen’s Cup entering the final stretch.