TORONTO, ON – The OUA men’s hockey season is drawing to a close, finally. With Carleton playing just 10 games and RMC set to play 20, deciding playoffs has never been a more confusing task. However, it’s a welcome one.
After a year without playoffs and OUA hockey, it is a lot more fun to break down standings than to not have any action whatsoever.
With the Queen’s Cup playoffs scheduled to begin on March 16, OUA programs enter the final weeks of their season searching for playoff qualification, seeding and simply momentum.
For 19 teams, there’s just one last stride towards the playoffs and then a quick sprint to the U CUP. Either way, it’s going to be a thrilling ride, so hold on tight.
Windsor and Ryerson battle for top spot in the west
For many of the teams in the OUA, the last two games feature a home and home with a divisional rival. While nearly every series has playoff implications, the sets between the Windsor Lancers and Guelph Gryphons and the Ryerson Rams and York Lions will determine to take top spot in the Western side of the OUA.
The Windsor Lancers enter the weekend having played 15 games to a win percentage of .767, while Ryerson comes into their final set at 13 games and a .769. Despite the difference in games played, it comes down to their last two to determine the top seed.
However, if both teams tie the records in their final games, the edge goes to the Lancers, with each game meaning slightly less to their overall standing and record.
Earning the top seed would secure home games until at least the OUA semi-final and also puts the western team in a decent position to host the Queen’s Cup as long as the Queen’s Gaels do not make it with their outstanding record.
The Lancers have handled the Gryphons well since the season’s resumption, beating them 5-2 and 4-3 in February; however, Guelph cannot afford to let many, if any of their games slip down the final stretch, making them a tough out.
The Rams face a York team that they have beaten twice in two meetings this season, both games coming just after the resumption. Ryerson has been on fire lately, winning eight of their last nine, and have forward Kyle Bollers, who leads the division in scoring. York, however, is on a three-game skid and in their last gasp chance for a home playoff game.
Although the Lancers have the slight edge in the final sets in the battle for home ice, the final games of the season matter to both teams, unable to just play out the string and cruise into playoffs.
Windsor’s success comes with a stroke of luck in the crease
The Lancers had an impressive start to the season, and much of that came from the performance of Noah Giesbrecht in goal. He had a .941 save percentage through eight games, the best in the OUA.
During the extended break, Giesbrecht transferred to Ferris State in the NCAA, leaving Windsor without their backstop that had been the key to their success. The Lancers were not bringing experience to the fold, turning to rookie goaltender Nathan Torchia, but the youngster has more than settled in.
Torchia, who could never find a consistent role in the CHL, has been the best goalie through the second half of the season, boasting a .931 save percentage and a 3-1-0 record. While the team in front of him is clean in their defensive end, Torchia’s emergence as a premier goaltender has kept the Lancers in the top-spot hunt.
His form is so incredible that the Lancers’ website doesn’t even have his photo just yet.
Not many teams in U SPORTS, let alone the OUA, can turn to a replacement and maintain the same confidence in the crease, but the Lancers are enjoying their stroke of luck led by Torchia.
Questions remain for the Queen’s Gaels
This season, the Queen’s Gaels have had a blessing and a curse in their schedule. On the positive side, they have cashed in wins against lesser opponents, going 12-0 against the RMC Paladins and Nipissing Lakers.
They are leading the OUA by a landslide in nearly every category.
However, despite their astronomical win percentage, the Gaels have not faced the level of competition that will come to them in the playoffs. If they make it through the playoffs, they will have a chance to host the Queen’s Cup OUA Final, but it will be a stretch to make it to that point without being pressed to an extreme this season.
The RMC Paladins are the only team in the OUA Eastern side to miss out on the playoffs, finishing 9th. Meanwhile, the Nipissing Lakers are barely sneaking into the fold but are far from favourites. The only challenger from the OUA East other than Queen’s is Ontario Tech, but playing second fiddle all season to Queen’s does not establish themselves as a championship contender.
Led by Head Coach Brett Gibson, the Gaels have done what they can by beating the teams presented, but heading into the postseason and the crossover throughout the divisions, that level is unlikely to pay off against programs from the other divisions.
They have a 42% success rate on the powerplay — that is unheard of and indicative of the quality of opponents the team has faced.
The Gaels have the top two scorers in the OUA with rookies Holden Katzalay and Jonathan Yantsis, but those two have been dominant against the same teams over and over. Within their division, Queen’s hasn’t played a U SPORTS top 10 ranked team but has gotten the job done — there’s little indication that they can keep it up, however.
The Guelph Gryphons calculation
The Guelph Gryphons were a stellar team to start the season and looked dominant nearly every time they hit the ice. With veterans such as Ryan Da Silva and Girdonao Finoro leading the team from their 2020 Queen’s Cup, and the additions of Lucas Chiodo, among others, the Gryphons looked set to challenge for the Cup in 2022.
However, they lost three wins due to dressing an ineligible player and had five integral members sign pro during the extended break. They were far from the same team when they returned, dressing an often short bench and scrapping their way through games.
Despite it all, they’re in a playoff battle in the final few games of the season.
The Gryphons sit at .286, last in their division with three games to go. However, if they win all three, they can improve to 6-9-2 and a win percentage of .412. Currently, the cutoff for the playoffs is .429 held by York.
There are a few ways for Guelph to slide into the playoffs as a 7th or 8th seed, but the most likely way for it to happen would be York losing twice to Ryerson and Guelph winning out.
Although it may be a long shot, the Gryphons have a chance.
The Carleton Ravens and their short season
No team has felt the oddities of 2021-22 more than the Carleton Ravens, who have played just 10 games and will end the season playing just 12 times before the playoffs. At the same time, RMC will finish the year with 20 games played.
With the shortened schedule, the importance of every Carleton game is exacerbated, and through 10 games, they sit third in the OUA Far East with a win percentage of .550.
In the season’s final two games, the Ravens take on the Concordia Stingers, who currently hold the second seed and a home playoff game. With two wins or an OT loss and a win, the Ravens could overtake the Stingers for the second seed, setting themselves up with home ice in the first round.
After losing veterans CJ Garcia, Andrew Jarvis Cody Caron, among other leaders on and off the ice, they have been able to bounce back and could force their way into contender conversation when playoffs come around next week.
Carleton and Concordia have played once this season when the Stingers beat Carleton 7-6 in Ottawa. Concordia has the upper hand hosting both games, with the first on Tuesday night at 7:3-0 p.m. ET.
Last shot: Toronto and Brock battle for home game
Keep an eye on the Toronto Varsity Blues and Brock Badgers set this week. The Varsity Blues have been on a tear as of late, beating the Lakehead Thunderwolves once and York Lions twice, before welcoming Brock for a two-game set this week.
The Badgers hold the tiebreaker between the two teams, but if Toronto’s form continues and leads them to two wins, they will host a first-round playoff game at Varsity Arena. Any other result, Brock hosts in St. Catherines.
The first game of the set is Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. ET at Varsity Arena.
Queen’s Cup Playoffs start March 16
The OUA Quen’s Cup Playoffs begin on Wednesday, March 16 and feature single knockout games in a 16-team bracket. The highest seed remaining will host the OUA Queen’s Cup Championship Final on March 26, streaming live on CBC Sports.