Breaking down each OUA East Men’s Hockey team

TORONTO, ONT – When Simon LaFrance dragged his leg out of a natural position to stay onside at Andrew H. McCain Arena in the second overtime of the 2022 U CUP, he wasn’t sure if the puck would end up in the back of the net.

Yet moments later, as he slid the puck past the Alberta Golden Bears netminder, he completed UQTR’s comeback, as the 2022 OUA Queen’s Cup Champions added a University Cup to a legendary season.

Now, the Patriotes return to the OUA East as they seek more hardware in 2022-23. However, it won’t be an easy road through a highly competitive division of university hockey.

Carleton Ravens

It’s hard to judge the 2021-2022 Carleton Ravens season because it feels like they barely played one. Carleton played 11 games in the OUA last year, going 4-5-2 to finish in the seventh seed before losing to UQTR in the quarterfinal. However, with an entire season ahead of them and some vital pieces a year older, it feels like this year might do better justice in showing what the Carleton Ravens can do.

The big piece upfront that the Ravens will lean on is Oliver Castleman. The former Niagara IceDog put up 13 points (5 goals, 8 assists) in 11 games in his freshman season. With Aaron Boyd, who tied Castleman for the team lead with 13 points (7 goals, 6 assists), also returning for his final season, it creates a chance for the two to grow with another year of chemistry.

In net, Mark Grametbauer looks likely to handle the crease for one more ride with the Ravens. The senior played in eight games in 2021-22, going 2-2-3 with a 3.27 GAA and a .909 save percentage. Look for him to be challenged more by sophomore Cole McLaren, who backed up Grametbauer in 2021-22 (1-2-0, 2.34 GAA, .937 SV%)

Key Player: Oliver Castleman

Concordia Stingers

(Ben Steiner)

The Concordia Stingers will challenge for the Queen’s Cup this year, or at least the top of the regular season standings. While their 2021-22 season ended in a disappointing quarterfinal playoff exit, they enter this season looking ready to compete.

Offensively, Isaiah Campbell will look to lead the team in his second season after scoring seven goals and 15 points as a rookie; meanwhile, another sophomore, Maxime Trepanier, has looked more potent in the preseason as he tries to improve on his team-leading eight goals from last season.

The key to success, however, is the defence. Anchored by physical defenceman Kyle Havlena, the Stingers are a tough team to play against and can push most attacks out wide, leaving starting goaltender Jacob Delorme very little to worry about.

Even with Campbell, Trepanier, and Tyler Hyland, the Stingers are a defensive-minded team committed to head coach Marc-André Elément’s structures in all areas of the game. They’ve also had the most extended preseason of any OUA program, as they played professional teams in Italy, beating Val Pusteria and SG Cortina, as well as OUA opponents.

Key Player: Kyle Havlena

McGill Redbirds

(McGill Athletics)

The McGill Redbirds were in a transition year last season under David Urquhart, who took over the head coaching role from interim bench boss Liam Heelis. In his first season behind the bench, Urquhart led the Redbirds to the OUA semifinal, losing to the eventual U SPORTS champion UQTR Patriotes, before missing out on nationals with a loss to the TMU Bold in the OUA bronze medal game.

Still, the team has quality coming into this season and will have developed after the first year under Uruqhart’s tutelage. Although the Redbirds struggled to score in the regular season, they hit their stride in the playoffs, knocking off the Queen’s Gaels and Nipissing Lakers.

Although the team adjusts to life without last year’s leading scorer, Keanu Yamamoto, they turn to sophomore forwards Eric Uba and Brandon Frattaroli, who settled in quickly to the OUA last season, both scoring near a point per game. Additionally, defenceman Scott Walford established himself as a top-two blueliner and one that be trusted at both ends of the rink.

While veterans may be gone, opposing teams will have to keep a close watch on William Rouleau, the former Chicoutimi Saguenéens assistant captain, who scored 61 points in just 46 QMJHL games last season before committing to the Redbirds.

The OUA East won’t be easy to get out of, with the UQTR Patriotes offering tough competition, but McGill showed their qualities last season and could push towards the U CUP in 2022-23.

Key Player: Scott Walford

Nipissing Lakers

(Nipissing Lakers Athletics)

The best way to describe the Lakers’ season in 2021-22 would be good enough, but not what they hoped for. The Lakers finished second in the OUA East Division behind Queen’s and took down the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the opening round of the Queen’s Cup playoffs before falling to McGill in the East semifinal. Heading into the new season, the Lakers have to be hoping to improve and reach the OUA East Final for the first time in program history.

What should excite Lakers fans is that a core that brought the team their best season since 2016 returns mostly intact. The roster did lose Jacob Hickey and Gael-Mukeba Lubwele, who tied for the team lead in scoring with 12 points, but sees the return of sophomore Cole Stewart who also had 12 points, as well as sophomore Harrison Caines who clocked in 11 points.

Perhaps the biggest question for head coach Mike McParland is who steps up in net. The Lakers split the crease three ways in 2021-22 between Francis Asselin, Brett Epp and Michael Herringer, but only Herringer returned for 2022-2023. Logically that means the crease is his but, having not played more than seven games in a season since 2017-18, it will be a tall order.

Key Player: Michael Herringer

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

(Ontario Tech Athletics)

The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks had their best result in over half a decade in 2021-22, as they took down Concordia in the opening round and advanced for the first time since 2016. But, unfortunately, just as things might finally be looking up in Oshawa, 2022-23 now seem like it will be a tough year.

Quite simply, the Ridgebacks lost everybody after last season. Matthew Barron, who led the Ridgebacks in scoring with 17 points (4 goals, 13 assists) in 17 games, signed a deal with the ECHL’s Adirondack Flames. At the same time, longtime Ridgebacks Jack Patterson and the former OUA first-team all-star Austin Eastman signed a contract with Greenville of the ECHL. So many departures leave a gaping hole in a Ridgebacks offence that already averaged the third-fewest goals per game in 2021-22 at 2.71.

That means a lot more work will follow the goaltender and last season Leif Hertz was up to the task. Despite his 3-7-1 record, he finished in the top six in GAA (2.20) and save percentage (.926)

If the Ridgebacks hope to take another step forward this season, then the pivotal reason whether that does or does not happen is going to come in between the pipes.

Key Player: Leif Hertz

Ottawa Gee-Gees

(uOttawa Athletics)

It’s easy to surprise; it’s harder to repeat. The Ottawa Gee-Gees followed up their run to the 2020 Queen’s Cup Final with a mixed season in 2021-22, going 9-8-1 before falling 4-0 to Nipissing in the quarterfinals. With some critical missing pieces heading into the new season, however, the odds of getting up to the height of 2020 will not be easy for the Garnet and Gray.

The two key pieces that left the Gee-Gees were Yvan Mango and Nicholas Mattinen. Mango had 14 points in 18 games (4 goals, 10 assists) and graduated, while Mattinen, the 2021-22 U SPORTS defenceman of the year, had 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) and left Ottawa to a pro contract.

Yet, some pieces could offset the loss up front for Ottawa. The door is open for Mathieu Desgagnés to step into the top offensive pivot position after a strong rookie season (4 goals and 8 assists in 18 games). The bigger challenge will be replacing both the size and power of Nicolas Mattinen, as well as the production. One name to watch is defender David Lafrance, an Ottawa native who had stops with Robert Morris University in NCAA D1 and the Halifax Mooseheads before finding his way to Ottawa.

In between the pipes, the Ottawa crease very clearly belongs to Anand Oberoi. The sophomore took over the crease in the second half of the season, going 4–2-0 in seven starts after Tristan Bérubé left the Gee-Gees. Into the new season, goaltending depth will be the question as sophomore JP Tourigny is the logical backup, but only got into half of one game in 2021-22.

Key Player: Mathieu Desgagnés

Queen’s Gaels

(Queen’s Gaels Athletics)

All that Queen’s could do in 2021-22 was beat the teams in front of them, and they did that very well. Unfortunately for head coach Brett Gibson and the Gaels, those teams were far off any challengers, and their stats came in quite inflated with eight wins against Kingston-rivals RMC Paladins.

In those eight games, Queen’s outscored last-place RMC 38-9, as they lofted their way to the top of the division and nearly every statistical category in OUA hockey. Unfortunately, after a straight-forward ride through the regular season, the Gaels fell 3-2 to the eighth-seeded McGill Redbirds in the first round of the playoffs.

However, even though this season will prove more challenging in terms of opposition, the Gaels saw breakout years from rookies Jonathan Yantsis and Holden Katzalay, with the latter winning OUA East Rookie of the Year. Yantsis also earned a call to Team Canada for the Lucerne 2021 FISU Winter University Games before finishing the season with nine goals and 26 points, while Katzalay scored 13 goals and 29 points.

While he was never near a pro deal, goaltender Luke Richardson participated in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s NHL Rookie Camp this summer, getting him some early reps with quality prospects ahead of the OUA preseason.

The Queen’s Gaels impressed last season and did what they were expected to do by beating the teams in front of them, but with more formidable opponents regularly scheduled for 2022-23, the Gaels could be in for a challenge.

Key Player: Holden Katzalay

RMC Paladins

(RMC Paladins Athletics)

After an appearance in the 2020 Queen’s Cup Playoffs, the RMC Paladins struggled mightily in 2021-22. Between wins against Ontario Tech on Nov. 12 and Mar. 12, the Paladins lost 16 consecutive games to finish the season 2-15-3.

Overall, the challenges were on both sides of the rink for the Paladins. They finished last in the OUA in goals-per-game at 1.70 and on the penalty kill at 69.6%

With leading scorer Alex Macdonald moving on, the offensive load falls to Christian Tsukamoto, who finished with two goals and eight assists in 19 games. The biggest question offensively for the Paladins is which Chris Paquette shows up in 2022-23? A member of the U SPORTS all-rookie team in 2019-20 with 32 points in 28 games, Paquette notched just six points in 20 games for RMC and zero goals. If the Paladins have any hope of turning around from last season’s disappointment, a lot will rest on the shoulders of Paquette.

Senior Joey May likely takes over as the starter the net, after sharing the crease with Brad Van Schubert in 2021-22. May played 10 games last season (1-8-0, 4.66 GAA, .869 SV%). He will definitely face some competition in Michael Davis. Davis joined RMC from the University of Windsor after sitting out the 2021-2022 season and will provide competition for Joey May, hopefully driving both to improve.

Key Player: Chris Paquette

UQTR Patriotes

The most dominant team in U SPORTS and the OUA, with a goalie that could have very well left university hockey for the pro game. Alexis Gravel and the UQTR Patriotes are the crème of the crop in Canadian university hockey and the favourites to repeat as Queen’s Cup Champions in 2022-23.

While they’ve lost several key contributors from last season’s title-winning team, the additions and holdovers will allow head coach Marc-Ettiene Hubert the chance to run it back for a second year in a row.

Simon LaFrance, who scored the U CUP winning goal against the Alberta Golden Bears, is back for another season as he looks to build on his 20-point OUA campaign. Meanwhile, his brother Felix, who scored 79 points in 48 QMJHL games, joins the program as a freshman.

With the LaFrance brothers up top, alongside Julien Tessier, and a blueline lofted by the dynamism of Justin Bergeron, Felix Boivin, the Patriotes will be an exciting team when breaking out of their zone and setting up attacks.

Meanwhile, the backend is held together by Gravel, who stopped 66 shots in the U CUP final and earned himself a call to the Seattle Kraken’s NHL Prospect Camp alongside top prospects such as Shane Wright. For Gravel, now a year older, the focus will be on maintaining consistency with his .924 save percentage from last season while also avoiding injury.

UQTR’s 20% powerplay may not have been spectacular last season, but they have the qualities to improve that mark, especially with games against some of the weaker sides they didn’t face last season.

With a preseason that featured trouncings of Waterloo and McGill, as well as wins over professional division one clubs in France, the Patriotes are well equipped for another Queen’s and U CUP run this season.

Key player: Alexis Gravel

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