HALIFAX, NS – The Brock Badgers may play the prettiest hockey, but they are fired up and ready to take on their first University Cup tournament since 2018.
The St. Catharines, Ont. based school plays the first game of the tournament, facing the StFX X-Men, who eliminated them from the 2018 U Cup. Only X-Men captain Santino Centorame remains from that game.
After playing to a middle of the pack 9-6-2 record through 17 games in the OUA regular season, the Badgers hit their stride in the Queen’s Cup playoffs, dispatching the Laurier Golden Hawks, York Lions and second-seed Ryerson Rams en route to the 110th Queen’s Cup Final.
Although the final, a 3-1 loss to the UQTR Patriotes, did not go their way, the Badgers are playing carefree coming into the University Cup. They are ready to continue defying expectations after many underestimated them entering the OUA postseason.
“We’re relentless,” Brock general manager Michael Raskin told 49 Sports. “We’re hard on every block we like our guys play with, with the hardest work ethic in the entire league [OUA].”
While their regular season scoring rested primarily on the shoulders of Christian Girhiny’s 13 points and Jared Marino’s nine, the Badgers struck a chord of form in the postseason with eight players scoring at or above a point per game.
Injuries struck the Badgers hard during the regular season, losing integral defender Matthew Barnes after a rough game at York. Still, their resurgence and health have propelled them to the national tournament.
Marino continues to lead the team in scoring with three goals and three assists through four playoff games, but he is tied with Justin Brack, who has been a welcome surprise in the playoffs after scoring as many points in 12 regular-season games.
While their outright 8-2 domination of the York Lions in the second round inflates some of the stats, the Badgers have figured out how to score while continuing to play their uncompromising brand of hockey.
In the semifinal against Ryerson, the game which punched their U CUP ticket, the Badgers turned to their top line of Marino, Owen Guy and Jacob Roach for offence and a stellar forecheck that ensured Ryerson’s breakouts were cut off.
Led by interim and first-year head coach Kevin Forrest, the Badgers have emphasized cutting off opponent’s breakouts, a strategy that has been critical through the post-season. However, they were picked apart in the Queen’s Cup Final against a skilled and quick UQTR Patriotes team.
Against the best teams in university hockey, the Badgers will need to maintain their structure while also turning to some of their more skill-based players in Girhiny, Roach, Adam Berg and Frankie Pucci, who have the quality to control the play at times.
Despite their successful surge, Brock’s kryptonite is their penalty kill. If the OUA runner-ups get stuck in the penalty box, they will have to lean on luck and not the 66% penalty kill through the playoffs.
The X-Men are the overarching favourite coming into the opening game and come into the quarterfinal with a familiarity of the odd bounces that can impact games at Acadia’s rink. However, playing without expectation, and with some momentum, the Badgers may be primed to pull off an upset.