HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA – The 2022-23 U SPORTS and AUS seasons are fast approaching, and things will look a little different on the benches and sidelines around Atlantic Canada this season. After years of minimal changes in coaching and leadership, the 2022 summer has offered an abundance of turnover as new faces make their presence known in the AUS
With so many taking on new challenges, programmes and teams, let’s take a look at the coaches and staff that you should be familiar with heading into the 2022-23 AUS and U SPORTS seasons.
Derek Cormier (Moncton Aigles Bleus men’s hockey coach)
The departure of former Aigles Bleus head coach Judes Vallée caught plenty of people offguard. Moncton, for the second straight season, surprised a lot of people with an impressive playoff run including dramatic wins as underdogs over Dalhousie and U Cup host Acadia. But with Vallée taking a job as the technical director of the QMJHL’s Sherbrooke Phoenix, assistant coach Cormier will take the lead for the eastern New Brunswick team.
Outside of an 18-year pro career in Europe and a stint with UNB from 1993-1995, Cormier has been involved in anything and everything Moncton hockey. Joining the team during the pandemic, he has been the bench boss of the Dieppe Flyers Major U15 program since 2015 and runs two highly-acclaimed hockey programs in the area: youth development and spring hockey program East Coast Ice, and summer off-ice-focused Pro Evolution Hockey. While not a sure thing, Cormier’s skill set and plan shed promise that he can help the Aigles Bleus, a team plagued with slow starts in recent seasons, fly out of the gate in 2022-23.
Sean Fisher (UPEI Panthers women’s hockey coach)
Fresh off hosting the 2022 U SPORTS women’s hockey championships, the UPEI Panthers are bringing in a national champion coach. With previous coach Bruce Donaldson having retired last season, Fisher will head to Charlottetown after coaching the EVH Sabres of Vienna, Austria, to a national championship and a European Women’s Hockey League bronze medal.
Fisher has coached women’s hockey for almost two decades. He was an assistant coach for the University of Manitoba Bisons when they won the country in 2017-18. As the interim head coach the next season, Fisher led the Bisons to a fifth-place finish at the U SPORTS tournament. The hiring is an interesting one given Fisher’s history of coaching high-scoring teams and UPEI’s flashes of offensive brilliance last season. Manitoba was the highest scoring CanWest team in 2018-19 when Fisher was last in U SPORTS. Can he use that experience to take the Panthers’ offence, featuring 2021-22 AUS goals leader Jolena Gillard, to the next level?
Martine LeBlanc (Moncton Aigles Bleus athletic director)
After being in the position on an interim basis in 2021-22, LeBlanc was officially named the conference’s newest athletic director in May. Although she’s been in the position for just a year, she’s far from a stranger within the Aigles Bleus/Bleues organization, dating back to her time playing with the Aigles Bleues hockey team when she studied at UdeM. Not long after, she was hired by the university and has worked within the athletic department’s administration for most of her 18 years with Moncton.
LeBlanc led the way in Moncton’s hosting efforts during the most recent AUS cross country and track & field championships, the latter of which they will welcome back for the February 2023 conference championships. LeBlanc’s hiring marks another major step in women’s leadership in the conference. UPEI’s Jane Vessey was the next most recent athletic director hired in the AUS when she took the job in 2021. Additionally, Memorial’s Karen Murphy was recently named president of the AUS management council.
Tanya McKay (Dalhousie Tigers women’s basketball coach)
The struggling Dal Tigers women’s basketball program scored their biggest win in a long time this spring by hiring McKay. The veteran U SPORTS coach has left her coaching gig with the University of Winnipeg Wesmen program, where she has worked since 1996, for the Tigers job close to her native Sackville, a half-hour drive from Halifax.
McKay has coached 831 U SPORTS games with the Wesmen and has earned five medals (three silver, two bronze) at the national level. Four of them came during consecutive seasons from 2001-2005. The fifth, a second-place finish, was this spring at the U SPORTS championships in Kingston, Ont. On McKay’s staff, last year’s interim head coach Anton Berry will remain with the team as the head of basketball operations and an assistant coach. They will be tasked with leading Dal out of the AUS basement and closer to their first AUS championship since 2001.
Matt Spencer (Saint Francis Xavier X-Women basketball coach)
Also struggling in AUS women’s basketball is StFX, who hasn’t made the conference playoffs since 2014 (not counting last year’s season where everyone qualified). Stepping in for Lee Anna Osei, who was relieved of her duties in December, Spencer has coached on U SPORTS squads across Canada. On the Calgary Dinos staff from 2013-2020, he helped lead the team to two U SPORTS championship appearances. The Antigonish native also coached at Western and Laurentian, where he has coached for the past two years. This will be Spencer’s first U SPORTS head coaching job.
Expectations won’t be terribly high to start for Spencer, despite his pedigree. Only once in the past five seasons has X won three or more games in a season, but they managed to win twice in the COVID-shortened season last year. If that is any indication of an upward trend for the team, then StFX picked the perfect time to hire Spencer.
Steve Sumarah (Saint Mary’s Huskies football coach)
The SMU Huskies will look to rediscover their magic through the rehiring of Sumarah as head coach. Sumarah was with the team from 1998-2011 in his first stint on the coaching staff. Starting off as the Huskies’ offensive coordinator, he took over as head coach in 2006. Sumarah was on the team during SMU’s back-to-back Vanier Cup championships in 2001 and 2002. He led the team to a Vanier Cup appearance in 2007 and captured the CIS coach of the year honour in 2009.
After leaving SMU in 2011, he was at the helm of the Carleton Ravens program for eight seasons. In that span, Carleton went 29-33 as part of the OUA East. They went as far as the OUA semifinals in three of those seasons, twice losing to the powerhouse Western Mustangs. While the Huskies were conference dynamite when Sumarah was last around, it’s been up-and-down over the last decade. They have lost in their last five Loney Bowl appearances dating back to 2011. They missed the playoffs altogether in the other five seasons since then, including the last two campaigns. Sumarah will have a big job ahead with the offensively-potent StFX X-Men and rebuilding Acadia Axemen to contend with.