WOLFVILLE, NS –My 2022 U SPORTS U CUP Men’s Hockey Championship brackets and picks have been, to understate, off this weekend. So why not try to predict more stuff?
Let’s do that with my picks for the tournament all-star team. The forward spots have a ton of competition, given there’s a six-way tie for first in U CUP scoring after Saturday’s action. There are a ton of good options on defence as well, while a pair of goalies have stood out above the rest in three days of hockey in Wolfville, N.S.
Keep in mind that this evaluates the field after the quarter and semifinal games. The final selections depend heavily on Sunday’s results, especially the gold medal game. Unsurprisingly, the winning team will typically have the most selections while the runner-up will also contribute most remaining spots. The bronze-medal winners often have a player selected too.
The same goes for the tournament MVP, in terms of a player on the winning team usually earning the selection. The last player to win the national men’s hockey championship MVP without winning gold was the Saskatchewan Huskies’ Derek Hulak in 2014. Despite scoring six points in three games, Hulak’s team fell to the Alberta Golden Bears 3-1 in the final.
Eric Florchuk – Alberta
Among the Golden Bears’ leading scorers through 2021-22, Florchuk has turned up the dial this U CUP. As a rookie, he’s tied for the tournament lead in goals alongside the StFX X-Men’s Matthew Struthers after Saturday’s games.
Against the Acadia Axemen, Florchuk opened the scoring amid an early Axemen onslaught of pressure. In the next game versus X, his timely play became even more crucial. His power-play goal early in the second frame got the wheel turning for the Alberta offence on Saturday afternoon, while another tally off the rush later in that period would end up being the game-winner. He generates steady chances, reflected in his eight shots through two matchups.
Florchuk moved up to the top line on Saturday alongside fellow top-scorers Josh Prokop and Gary Hayden. The three combined for 10 points. Immediate chemistry is hard to realize, especially under pressure at the national championships.
So why wouldn’t Florchuk thrive in the championship game? If he stays on that line, great. He can fit in if he’s placed elsewhere. On an Alberta team that demands contribution by-committee, Florchuk has been the ideal complement to Alberta’s game this postseason.
Felix Lauzon – UQTR
In such a short, single-elimination tournament, single plays by single players carry a lot of weight. If it’s a double-overtime winner to keep the team’s season alive for instance, that’s pretty crucial. Well, Lauzon did just that in the UQTR Patriotes’ quarterfinal triumph over the UBC Thunderbirds. Now, it’s one reason the OUA champs are in Sunday’s national final.
That’s not the only reason Lauzon is worthy of a selection. He may have the most pure skill of anyone at the U CUP. Before his winning goal, he had a number of individual efforts that were highlight reel-worthy. The crossbar he hit moments before he scored in overtime wasn’t even a part of his seven shots on the night.
He also came in clutch the next night, less than 24 hours after the UBC game. With UQTR struggling to beat Kevin Forrest of Ryerson in the third period, Lauzon decided to do it himself, side-stepping a Ryerson Rams blueliner and going upstairs from range. By all intents, the game was over once that one went in.
The Patriotes have had balanced scoring, but Lauzon sets the tone for the UQTR offence. Plays often start and sometimes finish with him. He has made those around him better this tournament while attracting a lot of attention his way. As seen, that can be a good thing.
Josh Prokop – Alberta
Prokop’s job for the Golden Bears is to raise hell. He flies around out there, ensuring no opposing d-men go unpressured. Oh, and he’s scored quite a bit as well. With four points this weekend, all against StFX on Saturday, he’s tied with teammates Florchuk and Gary Hayden, StFX’s Matthew Struthers and Liam Hawel, and UQTR’s Simon Lafrance for the tournament scoring lead.
He didn’t have a busy game against Acadia on the scoresheet. Still, play was in the Axemen end for the most part while Prokop was on the ice. He’s a master of finding open space on the ice, which he has done in both games.
Finally, in game two of the tournament, the scoring started piling up for the Golden Bears rookie, one of many this season. With linemates Florchuk and Haden, Prokop was a key component of the Alberta counterattack that scored five times off the rush against StFX. He contributed on three of those: a goal and two assists. He picked up a third assist on the first Alberta power-play goal.
Coach Ian Herbers has utilized Prokop as the top-line forward he is after his team-leading 36 points in the regular season. So far in Wolfville, he hasn’t disappointed.
Jared Freadrich – Alberta
I went back and forth between Freadrich and Clayton Kirichenko for Alberta’s all-star nod on the blue line. Captain Kirichenko has been unbeatable on the back end and has been as dangerous as any Golden Bears scorer in the tournament. And Alberta’s offence has been very dangerous.
On that note, Freadrich has been the source of much of the top seed’s ungodly scoring this weekend, especially in their semifinal versus the StFX. Alberta ran up the score that game, including three goals in the third period to make it 7-3. But Freadrich was key in winning that game for the Golden Bears. Quarterbacking the power play, he scored on their first opportunity and assisted on the second. Later on, Friedrich started the rush that led to Florchuk’s goal that made it 4-1.
Plus-minus doesn’t always mean much. But Freadrich going plus-five in a game where the opponent scored three times is a good sign that he played well. Including the Acadia game where he had another assist, he is among the tournament leaders with a plus-seven rating.
Alberta’s team-first approach is no different on the back end where no defenceman has stood out as much as they’ve fit into place to stop opposing scorers. But Freadrich’s two-way game and crunch-time performance has made him one of the U CUP’s best defenceman.
Loik Leveille – UQTR
Leveille doesn’t have the offensive numbers like fellow UQTR blueliners Justin Bergeron and Samuel Hould. But boy, has he had a presence. He’s the leader of the Patriotes blueline and judging by his play this weekend, the team will go as he goes.
Leveille hasn’t picked up any points this tournament, yet he remains involved upfront. He’s run a power play that’s chugging along at a 28 per cent efficiency after two games. His powerful shot hasn’t yielded much for his personal stat line, although he’s registered six shots so far in the tournament. Again, one can’t place much emphasis on a player’s plus-minus count. But in a short tournament like this, Leveille’s plus-three (tied for the team lead) is one way of showing his impact on both ends of the ice.
As steady as he’s been offensively, it’s his defensive game that makes him stand out among defenders this weekend. It helps that Leveille is a wide, strong player who is difficult to get through. He can also move; it’s one reason he gets his power play time in the first place.
Teams have struggled to get around him both of those ways this weekend. In the Rams’ case, who beat the UNB Reds in large part with an efficient forecheck, Leveille rendered the Rams strategy almost useless with his play in his end. That’s getting into a lot of specifics regarding his game, but things like that have been so important in UQTR’s near-impenetrable defence.
Alexis Gravel – UQTR
Alberta and UQTR have been two of the highest-scoring teams this weekend. But make no mistake, neither would be in the national final without their stellar goaltending. Taz Burman shut out Acadia Thursday night and weathered the Matthew Philip-Struthers-Liam Hawel storm against StFX.
The vote could go his way, but mine will go to UQTR’s Gravel. Back in his major junior stomping ground in Nova Scotia, it’s apparent he feels right at home. He hasn’t been the busiest goalie, but he’s still faced a relatively steady workload. After all, he had to stick out a marathon-like effort to help the Patriotes overcome UBC in double overtime. That didn’t phase Gravel though, bouncing back to stop 29 saves on 31 shots the next night against Ryerson. With that double-OT game, Gravel has played the most of any goalie in this tournament and has still allowed the fewest goals of any netminder in the final four with three (tied with Burman).
Each goalie has had their moments leading up to Championship Sunday from Joseph Raaymakers’s (StFX) shutout over the Brock Badgers or Garrett Forrest’s brilliance against the UNB Reds. Gravel has had his moments but his edge is his consistency, especially in the big moments. Six UBC shots in double overtime? He was there. Late second period Ryerson power play in the semis? He killed their chances. All goalies have been fun to watch, but Gravel has been the brick wall that backs a championship team.