VANCOUVER, BC – There are just 91 days until the puck drops on the U SPORTS hockey season.
Although the OUA has yet to announce the men’s hockey schedule, the season is fast approaching. Many teams have rebuilt their rosters after two years of the pandemic and an extended eligibility window.
Unlike the last two summers, no programs have folded ahead of the season. Remember the Lethbridge Pronghorns and Laurentian Voyageurs? Still, many new faces will be around when pucks hit the ice in September.
Let’s look at the OUA West while we’re at it.
The most significant change for the Brock Badgers this season is on their bench. Despite the team making the U CUP in 2022 under the guidance of interim head coach Kevin Forrest, the program appointed former NCAA coach TJ Manstersky to lead the team in 2022-23.
With a large graduating class and a change in approach, the Badgers are welcoming five players so far, including OJHL defender AJ Cooke and goalie Andrew McLean, GOJHL forwards Jeff Burridge and Matthew Riva, and MHL forward Max-Antoine Melançon.
McLean is an intriguing add for the Badgers, coming to their refreshed program after posting a .943 save percentage with the St. Catharines Falcons last season. He’ll be a familiar name to the local fans and has the confidence in the crease that could help him push for the starters role this season.
The Guelph Gryphons missed the playoffs in 2022, but they were much better than the standings showed. Hit with a points deduction punishment after icing an ineligible player, the Gryphons were up against it down the stretch. However, even with a highly short-handed roster, they made a push for the playoffs that only came up a few games short.
This offseason, they’ve rebuilt, bringing in eight players, five from the OJHL, one from the NCAA and two from junior-A. While starting goaltender Gabe Mollot-Hill won’t be with them this season, the Gryphons have added another former NCAA netminder, welcoming Nate McDonald from Cornell, where he posted a respectable .904 save percentage in nine games.
While McDonald is one to watch in goal, keep your eyes on feisty forward Giordano Bondi, who joins from the recent OHL Champion Hamilton Bulldogs. At the same time, the other OHLers of Anthony Tabak, Nathan Allensen, Nolan DeGurse, and Anthony Reesor will slide right into the Gryphons lineup.
From Junior-A, Guelph adds Ethan Doyle of the OJHL and Griffin Wilson from the BCHL.
Guelph has one of the more highly-touted recruiting classes this season and looks set to return to the Queen’s Cup conversation after a difficult 2021-22 season.
The Lakehead Thunerwolves have never been one of the league’s strongest teams, but their new additions will attempt to change that, as the program welcomes three players, including two locals. Josh Van Unen and Keighan Gerrie come over from the BCHL, while goaltender Christian Cicigoi makes his way back to Thunder Bay.
Cicigoi was a second-team all-star in the OJHL this season after posting a .925 save percentage with the Haliburton Huskies; meanwhile, fellow local Gerrie scored 26 points in 32 games with the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers.
The Thunderwolves are unlikely to be major contenders this year, but look for them to continue some strong home form against tired teams making their way to Thunder Bay.
Laurier Golden Hawks
The Laurier Golden Hawks have quite a ways to go if they are to become a strong contender in the OUA West, but they hope to be on their way with additions for the 2022-23 season. So far, head coach Greg Puhlaski has reached commitments with OJHL goalie Matthew Dunsmore, forward Matt Zebedee and MJHL defender Bryce Kilbourne.
While Dunsmore comes off a strong season with the Wellington Dukes, he will likely slot behind second-year goaltender Christian Propp this season, although would likely get some games as Propp preps for playoffs. He’s no weak fallback, which will allow Laurier to compete with both netminders.
With Zebedee, the Golden Hawks get a skilled forward who posted 73 points in the OJHL last year, good for seventh in league scoring. He has a strong shot that helped him to 28 goals, but his main strength is the ability to find and create space for his teammates, something he did quite often in the OJHL.
Laurier has not contended for several seasons, and 2022-23 is unlikely to be their year. Still, Puhalski is adding some talented athletes for the coming season, and they will certainly be noticeable down the stretch.
Toronto Metropolitan TBDs
The Ryer…. oh…. Toronto Metropolitan University men’s hockey team has had a busy offseason, but not the most active in the country, with that going to their Toronto rivals, the York Lions. Still, with a new school name and team name TBD, the team will feature many new faces on the ice.
After riding a hot run of form to get over their second-round playoff curse, en route to a fourth-place finish at the U CUP, head coach Johnny Duco and his staff have been busy replenishing a large recruiting class.
At the time of writing, the school has added 10 players, including OHLers Kosta Manikis, Liam Ross, and Evan Brand, in addition to WHLer Connor Bowie. Joining them is a deep group from the OJHL in Ian Martin, Ryan Dugas, Dustin Hutton and Holden Rogers, while SPHL goaltender Kai Edmonds also makes his way to Toronto.
On the blueline, Liam Ross will be an essential player, likely eating up some of the minutes left in the graduations of Zach Shankar, among others. The former Sudbury Wolves defender scored 26 points in 58 games this season on a subpar OHL team and could slot in quickly at the U SPORTS level, in particular alongside fellow OHL recruit in former Missisauga Steelhead Evan Brand. He also comes to the program after experiencing an NHL development camp with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
While the defence core plays an integral role, goaltending is another aspect to be excited about. Ryan Dugas comes in after posting a .934 with the Milton Menace after three years with the Kingston Frontenacs, while Kai Martin joins from minor-pro in the SPHL. Although Duco won’t be able to call upon the veteran presences that have manned the crease the last few years, the team is well set in goal.
It will also be a return to Maple Leaf Gardens for Dugas, who won the OHL Cup in his final year of minor hockey with the Missisauga Reps.
Rogers, meanwhile, is a compelling add among the forwards. Coming to U SPORTS after scoring 35 goals in the OJHL, he could be bound for a similar quick rise as 2022 breakout star Kyle Bollers, who entered the program after leading the OJHL in scoring in 2019-20. While that sets expectations high, there is the potential for a quick transition.
Toronto Met has rebuilt their program swiftly since their bronze medal loss at the U CUP in April and looks as though they will continue to be contenders in the fall. For that to happen, though, they’ll need strong play from the rookies and second-year players to avoid a sophomore slump.
Toronto Varsity Blues
The Toronto Varsity Blues didn’t start last season well, but things seemed to get better despite losing many of their top players, including OUA First-Team All-Stars David Thomson and Joey Macnhurek.
So far this offseason, they have not been too busy on the recruiting front, only signing four players for the fall. Headlined by former Kingston Frontenac Nick Wong, the Varsity Blues also bring in the OJHL’s Mason Reeves and SJHL goalie Rayce Ramsay and BCHL forward Zack Smith.
Wong was a highly sought-after recruit this season. He eventually landed on U of T after posting 32 points as an overager with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, a team he joined ahead of the season after four years between Oshawa and Kingston.
A skilled experienced forward with a hard-working mentality, Wong will add a lot to a Varsity Blues side that can sometimes take their gas off the pedal too early. Joining him will be a group of three major junior players, including forward Mason Reeves, the younger brother of Toronto’s Peyton Reeves.
As for Rayce Ramsay, there likely isn’t a spot for him to start the season, as the crease is likely reserved for second-year Cole Purboo, but there will be chances to battle and potentially steal the role as Toronto adjust to the post Alex Bishop era.
Toronto’s Ryan Medel always ices a strong team, which won’t change in 2022, as Wong and co. bring much-needed skill to Varsity Arena.
Head Coach Brian Bourque has a strong returning class with his Waterloo Warriors program after pushing TMU to the brink in the 2022 playoffs. There’s a strong program being put together in Waterloo, and their three newest additions fit the plan.
Forward Marco Lopez comes to the team from the SJHL, defender Simon Rose from the OJHL, and Nathaniel Bierd from the AJHL. All three bring qualities that should impact the team in their first season.
Lopez had a stellar season this past year in the SJHL, scoring 48 points in 55 games on a high-flying Melfort Mustangs team, and brings a scoring touch that will fit well with Waterloo’s top line if he gets the chance.
Beard, meanwhile, is also a thrilling talent out of the AJHL’s Grand Prarie Storm, coming off a season where he potted a blistering 52 assists in 59 games. While he’s on the shorter side at 5’10”, his first few strides and vision create space for teammates.
The Waterloo Warriors had a lot of promise in 2021-22, and they will look to continue building their pathway to the Queen’s Cup when they hit the ice in 2022-23.
From the U CUP cinderella story of 2019-20 to an OT loss in the second round of the 2022 OUA Playoffs, the Western Mustangs are on a pathway to competing for a title once again in 2023. However, it’s not been a busy recruiting summer for head coach Clarke Singer.
The Mustangs are adding two players, welcoming Anthony Allepot, a BCHL defenceman, and forward Ethan Brown out of the AJHL.
Brown, from Sherwood Park, Alta. has had an interesting junior career and one that could translate well to the OUA. Bouncing between the AJHL’s Drayton Valley Thunder and WHL’s Prince George Cougars, he held down a WHL spot for four seasons. However, he’s coming to the team after posting 38 points in 30 AJHL games while also playing 17 games with the Cougars.
Meanwhile, Allepot is one of a rare few to have played in the QMJHL and the BCHL, spending four years with the Val D’or Forerurs, before moving west to play in Penticton and Chilliwack. Whilen he’s not been an offensive deefeceman through junior, he brings a calming, composed presence to the Western blueline.
I wouldn’t expect either player to dominate the OUA in their first seasons, but both are strong adds to a program coming off what was a rookie year for many athletes.
The Windsor Lancers were fantastic last season, only to unravel in the playoffs at the feet of the eighth-seeded York Lions. Still, head coach Kevin Hamelin has a strong returning class and a few recruits.
Mason Kohn, their leading goalscorer from last season, is back for another year at the Capri Pizzeria Sports Complex as he looks to build on his 20 points in 16 regular-season games from 2021-22. Additionally, goaltender Nathan Torchia returns after his strong half-rookie season.
So far, the Lancers will welcome OJHL goaltender Ryan Polidori, GOJHL forward Nic Pavia and OJHL defenceman Stefan Dobrich. While none come from major junior, they are still substantial additions to a team with a significant returning group.
Polidori, who posted a .927 save percentage with the Leamington Flyers, will likely back up Torchia to start the season. Still, if the former Oshawa General follows up his predecessors, he’ll take over the starting role soon. However, it could be a while with Torchia in his second season.
Transitioning from the GOJHL to the U SPORTS level is challenging, but it’s what Pavia will try to do after scoring 52 points in 44 games with the LaSalle Vipers. However, the right-handed forward hasn’t shown the ability to play at a much higher level and lacks size, indicating that he may struggle to play above replacement level in the OUA.
On the blueline, Stefan Dobrich joins the Lancers with an abundance of junior-A experience, playing across the NAHL, OJHL and MHL. The 6’3” defender can score, putting up 13 points in 23 OJHL games with the Trenton Golden Hawks this season, and will also add a physical aspect to the Lancers blueline that they missed in the 2022 playoffs against York.
Remember the York Lions of 2021-22? Cool. Forget that. They’re gone.
The York Lions have the largest recruiting class in the country for the 2022-23 season, welcoming 12 recruits to Canlan Ice Centre for September. Unfortunately, nearly a third of their roster left during the extended COVID winter break, and they lost even more to graduation, forcing head coach Russ Herrington to bring in a nearly whole new team this offseason.
While the recruits bring a lot of junior experience, none join the Lions from major junior, although nearly every league in the CJHL is represented.
From the OJHL, the Lions add goaltender Nolan Boyd, defender Brendan Tomlinson and forward Aiden MaCIntosh. Meanwhile, from the MHL, they add the forward trio of Brendan McCarthy, Thomas Lacombe, and Blake Richardson as well as defender Klim Georgiev.
Outside of the two leagues with three alumni joining the Lions, York adds Michael Horon and Bryan McAndrews from the AJHL, David Mabey from the CCHL, and Cole Beamin from the SJHL.
Mabey and MacIntosh are the two most intriguing commits. The former shows offensive, puck-moving qualities from the blue line in his 20-point season with the CCHL’s Ottawa Jr. Senators. Meanwhile, MacIntosh joins the Lions after scoring above a point per game with Trenton in the OJHL.
The commitments might not steal the headlines as others from major junior teams, but they will no doubt bring much-needed depth and quality to Herrington’s team as they look to build on a late surge that topped off 2022.