TORONTO, ONT – Remember how last year unfolded? The coaching and roster announcements, the hype about going to Switzerland, the expectations for a veteran-heavy Canadian Men’s Hockey team?
And then remember how it all fell apart, with COVID-19’s fall rise cancelling the Lucerne 2021 World Univesity Games just over a week before puck drop.
Fast forward a year, and the Lake Placid 2023 Games are on the horizon and could feature a different but similar men’s hockey team.
Once again, UNB’s head coach Gardiner MacDougall leads the team behind the bench. Meanwhile, Calgary’s head coach Mark Howell takes up the GM position. As assistants, Western’s Clarke Singer and Queen’s Brett Gibson step into the fold, with Toronto bench boss Ryan Medel joining as video coach.
With just eight players from the Lucerne 2021 nominated roster still in U SPORTS, 49 Sports has selected a projected Lake Placid 2023 roster with hopes of leading Canada to World University Gold in Northern New York.
Disclaimer: This team is selected as though all student-athlete’s academic and injury situations allow participation at the FISU Games.
The top line: Liam Hawel – Austen Keating – Jared Dmytriw
The top line of Team Canada will have a lot of work to do, especially going up against what could be one of the strongest ever American teams. So with that, we’ve selected two of the top offensive forward in U SPORTS, with a winger, Jared Dmytriw, who is not only skilled but hard on the forecheck to win pucks.
All three were named to the Lucerne 2021 roster.
Although the line features two second-year players in Liam Hawel and Austen Keating, the duo broke into AUS play at a blistering pace, quickly launching themselves to the top of the food chain in the most challenging conference.
Keating, a centre for MacDougall, will know the same systems the head coach is looking for and can also finish having scored 5 goals and 19 assists in 24 games with the Reds last season.
Meanwhile, Hawel is bound to lead StFX again this year after spending time at NHL Training Camp with the Columbus Blue Jackets. His speed and quick release is at a pro level and could be one of the most valuable assets on Team Canada.
The Cougar Line: Nolan Yaremko – Riley Sawchuk – Jonathan Yantsis
In a short tournament like the FISU Winter Games, chemistry from the first puck drop is critical, and it just so happens that two of the best scorers in Canada West often play alongside each other. The MRU Cougars pair of Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko combined for 77 points in 2021-22 and would be a plug-and-play duo on the second line to drive offence.
For the third man on the line, OUA Rookie of the Year Jonathan Yantsis comes into the picture. He earned a call-up to the FISU team for Lucerne 2021 and being a year older, in addition to having his Queen’s Gaels head coach Brett Gibson among the staff, there’s little doubt he’ll make the team this time around.
Yaremko and Sawchuk are scorers who are challenging to play against. Meanwhile, Yantsis will be one of the fastest and quickest guys on the team. So while the line may not materialize, these three should be called into MacDougall’s squad.
The Panther Line: Kyle Maskimovich – Brady Gilmour – Troy Lajeunesse
The UPEI Panthers may not be the strongest tea in the AUS, but the top of their roster is extremely talented and built for short tournament hockey. On the third line, the winger combination of Kyle Maskimovich and Troy Lajeunesse comes together, with Maskimovich returning from the Lucerne roster.
Their instant chemistry, combined with a dynamic two-way centreman in Brady Gilmour’s will, could create a near-perfect third line that can contribute at both ends of the ice.
Gilmour, in particular, will be a valuable player to Team Canada, with his ability to play difficult minutes and offer flexibility in shifting higher in the lineup, having scored 42 AUS points in 46 games.
An offensive fourth line: Kyle Bollers – Matt Struthers – Phelix Martineau
Matt Struthers and Kyle Bollers were in each other’s faces in the U CUP bronze medal matchup last season but could put their differences aside on the fourth line of Team Canada’s FISU roster. Meanwhile, Concordia captain Phelix Martineau shifts to the right wing from his natural centre position.
Struthers electrified the AUS last season and came to StFX after a strong OHL career and AHL season. A big, intense, yet offensive centre perfectly built for Team Canada’s fourth line, Struthers brings a bit to his game seldom seen in U SPORTS and has the scoring touch with 30 points in 24 games last season.
With him, TMU Bold sniper Kyle Bollers enters the fold after impressing last season with 25 OUA points in 15 games and driving TMU’s top line towards the U CUP semifinal, which included beating the heavily favoured UNB. Bollers also spends time on both special teams for TMU, making him a versatile addition to Team Canada.
Top pairing of Reds: Kade Landry – Adam McCormick
The UNB Reds had the best defence in the AUS last season, and even though some stalwart blueliners have moved on, the duo of Kade Landry and Adam McCormick stand out as astute defensive players with an offensive upside.
McCormick, once selected as the best defensive defenceman on the Cape Breton Eagles, played top-four minutes for the Reds last season, scoring 12 points in 24 games. Meanwhile, Landry had greater offensive contributions with 15 points in the same games played.
The two are strong at breaking the puck out of the defensive zone and are responsible for their own side of the puck. Already playing significant minutes for MacDougall in Fredericton, the pair would be a simple step to man the top blueline pair in Lake Placid.
Hustling Huskies on D-Pair 2: Dennis Busby – Justin MacPherson
Although the SMU Huskies were mid-table in terms of goals conceded, two of their own proved to be among U SPORTS’ elite in their rookie seasons. Former Kitchener Ranger Justin MacPherson slotted into the top pair for head coach Tyler Naugler and kept a responsible +10 plus/minus while chipping in with 21 points in 23 games.
Alongside MacPherson, I have former Flint Firebird Dennis Busby, who suffered a freak injury which derailed his rookie season, but he picked up in his return, ending the season with 15 assists in just 11 games.
The pair have not played a ton together but are both among the best blueliners in the OUA and would have some resemblance of team chemistry if paired together for Team Canada.
Veteran third pair: Connor Hobbs – Ryan Barbosa
What the top two pairs bring in chemistry, they miss out on in the experience. So for the third pair, I’ve gone with Saskatchewan Connor Hobbs and Toronto’s Ryan Barbosa, who will be 26 and 25 years old when the puck drops.
Hobbs would have been a member of the Lucerne 2021 team in his first U SPORTS season after a pro career with the Washington Capitals and Hershey Bears. Meanwhile, Ryan Barbosa won the OUA West’s defenceman of the year award after impressing the Windsor Lancers.
While Hobbs brings solidity to the blue line, Barbosa can jump into the play and offers an invaluable right-handed shot compared to the left-heavy defensive group.
Goaltending: Alexis Gravel, Griffen Outhouse, Luke Richardson
All three goaltenders from the team nominated for Lucerne 2021 have now graduated. However, young goaltenders stole the spotlight last season and have earned a look for the Lake Placid Games.
With that, I’ve picked U CUP Champion Alexis Gravel as the starter, UNB’s Griffen Outhouse as backup, and Queen’s Gaels netminder Luke Richardson as the third-string goalie.
While Alexis Gravel’s 66 saves in the 2022 U CUP Final against the Alberta Golden Bears stand out, the 22-year-old netminder had a stellar season from start to finish last year, winning the Queen’s Cup, U CUP while posting a .924 save percentage through 11 games.
This summer, Gravel attended NHL prospects camp with the Seattle Kraken and had pro offers, but he has chosen to return to UQTR for another season, allowing him to compete in Lake Placid.
As a backup, UNB sophomore Griffen Outhouse gets my nod, having split starts with Rylan Parrenteau last season, posting a .916 save percentage through seven games to help lead the Reds to the AUS title. Meanwhile, he will also have learned from Parenteau, who was one of the netminders bound for Lucerne.
Finishing off the goalie group would be Queen’s Luke Richardson, who dominated his division last season before Queen’s crashed out of the playoffs. While he may not see the ice, Richardson is familiar with assistant coach Brett Gibson ad another potential call-up in Jonathan Yantsis, which could help make him a solid addition to the locker room.
While Team Canada may struggle for goaltending at the Olympic and World Championship levels, there is no shortage of elite goaltenders to choose from for the FISU Winter Games, and whoever is picked will give Canada a strong chance to win each game.
Alternates: Isaac Nurse, Elijah Roberts, Jonathan Smart
UNB’s Isaac Nurse turned heads in his first U SPORTS season after coming over from the OHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. Quickly slotting into MacDougall’s top nine in New Brunswick, he would bring a familiarity with systems to the FISU team and be above a replacement-level player if he found himself in game action.
The case for Elijah Roberts may be long, but there are few players in U SPORTS more versatile than he is, and that’s valuable for a depth option. If included, don’t expect him to start every game. Still, his ability to play anywhere in the lineup on offence or defence could be invaluable if Team Canada gets bitten by the injury bug. Sure, he’s not the most tantalizing player at any position, but he offers versatility that could prove the difference between a medal and being off the podium.
In terms of purely blueliners, UBC’s Jonathan Smart just falls off as one of my final cuts, as his defensive upside and left-handedness aren’t enough to squeeze out any of the other defenders. However, the value he offers as an intelligent offensive defenceman is near unparalleled to anyone else in U SPORTS, as he’s scored 44 points in 48 games in Vancouver.