TORONTO, ONT – In 2020, the Western Mustangs were an eighth-seeded team that made a run to the University Cup semifinals, and in 2022, the TMU Bold qualified for the tournament for the first time in program history.
If there’s a division of Canadian university hockey where the unexpected tends to happen, it’s probably the OUA West.
Heading into 2022-23, there’s a possibility for more thrills, with coaching changes and some of the largest recruiting classes in the country.
Last year may have ended unexpectedly, and 2022-23 isn’t any easier to predict.
The Brock Badgers 2021-22 season was far better than anyone expected, as the St. Catharine’s school finished the regular season with a 7-5-2 record before qualifying for the Queen’s Cup and falling to the StFX X-Men in the first round of the U CUP Final.
While their success last year defined the season, it is a new-look Badgers team on and off the ice in 2022-23. Former NCAA coach TJ Manastersky has replaced interim head coach Kevin Forrest, and team leaders such as Owen Guy have moved on in their careers.
With Manastersky leading the charge, the Badgers will hope their core of leading scorers Christian Girhiny, Jared Marino, Cole Tymkin and goaltender Mario Peccia can lead them to success in 2022-23.
In 2022-23, the goal will be to elevate their game offensively and distance themselves from the +/- of 0 on goal differential. While conceding 47 goals last season put them middle of the pack defensively, they lacked in offence, especially against top teams, with only York scoring less than them in the division.
On their run to the U CUP last year, the Badgers became known for a hard-working, hard-hitting style of play, and that style could very well carry over into this season. However, the wild card will be how quickly they get rolling under new coaching staff as they take on a rugged OUA West.
Key Player: Christian Girhiny
On the ice, the Guelph Gryphons were one of the OUA’s top teams last season. However, they ended up falling short of the playoffs, as their team was hit by a penalty due to playing an illegible player. This season though, they start at a level playing field and could prove to be a Queen’s Cup contender.
Led by head coach Shawn Camp, the Gryphons feature stellar offensive talents in dynamic winger Luke Bignell and veterans Ted Nichol and Ted McGeen. Additionally, the group has added eight new faces, headlined by former Sarnia Sting forward Nolan DeGurse, who scored 20 OHL goals in 2021-22.
Bignell’s sophomore season will allow him to establish himself as a true OUA star as he takes the offensive reigns from the start, coming off a preseason that featured a trip to New Jersey Devils NHL Rookie Camp.
In net, the Gryphons have a pair of new faces in former OHL goaltender Tanner Wickware and Cornell University transfer Nate McDonald. While Wickware’s 6’5” frame puts him among the larger goalies in the conference, expect McDonald to take the starting role, having kept a respectable .904 save percentage through nine games with Cornell.
It’s a new look for the Gryphons this year and will start on a more positive note than 2021-22 ended, as the 2019 Queen’s Cup champions will look to their veterans to lead the way.
Key player: Luke Bignell
2021-22 was a close call for the boys from Thunder Bay, as the Lakehead Thunderwolves kept things interesting down the stretch before narrowly missing out on the Queen’s Cup Playoffs. While their record of 6-9-0 may not have been what they had hoped for, there were positives to take away as they look towards a playoff return in 2022-23.
Head coach Andrew Wilkins will likely lean on a group of veterans this season, as top scorers Joe Mack, Tyler Ho and Spencer Blackwell all join for another season. Mack and Ho, who both scored six goals last season, bring hypnotizing offensive talent with the ability to shoot from nearly anywhere on the ice.
Additionally, look for former BCHLer Josh Van Unen to hit the ground running after scoring 45 points in 50 games with the Merrit Centennials in one of Canada’s stronger junior-A circuits.
Between the pipes, Brock Aiken and Max Wright split starts last season and look destined to do that again, with rookie Christian Cicigoi also looking for a share of the games.
The 2022 preseason has been interesting for the Thunderwolves, as they beat the NCAA giant Wisconsin Badgers 3-2 in an upset while also downing Canada West’s Regina Cougars and Manitoba Bisons. Yet, they struggled in transition against Guelph, losing 5-2 and 7-2 over a pair of exhibition contests.
The Thunderwolves aren’t contenders for the Queen’s Cup this season, but with the promise shown late last year, the group can have to make the playoffs as a minimum and very realistic target.
Key Player: Tyler Ho
There was no team with a better story in the OUA last season than the TMU Bold, as the downtown Toronto school advanced past the second round of the Queen’s Cup playoffs and clinched a spot at the U CUP for the first time in program history.
Led by a rookie line of Kevin Gursoy, Kyle Bollers and Chris Playfair, the Bold qualified for the playoffs as the top seed in the OUA West before ousting the Western Mustangs and Waterloo Warriors in thrilling overtime games to qualify for the OUA semifinal. Despite losing to the Brock Badgers in the semifinal, TMU rebounded against McGill in the bronze medal game, clinching their spot at the U CUP.
In Wolfville, the Bold knocked off the heavily favoured University of New Brunswick Reds before falling to the StFX X-Men in the bronze medal game. Despite coming up short at nationals, it was a banner season for the program.
2022-23, however, brings a new era in bold hockey. Not only a new team name but 11 recruits, as the veteran presences, including David Miller, Steven Harland and Jared Walsh, graduated.
The top rookie line from last season is still together and has started the preseason on a high note, with Bollers beginning to build on his 13-goal, 25-point season. Meanwhile, Playfair and Gursoy each scored a goal and five points through exhibition play.
As for rookies, keep an eye out for former Owen Sound Attack forward William Portokalis, who has stood out in preseason against UNB and Concordia. He spent the 2020-21 season in Europe, playing against tough competition in the Slovakian pro league and looks to be a welcome addition to TMU’s offence.
On the defence, former Kingston Frontenac teammates Evan Brand and Dustin Hutton step into the program, complimenting veteran holdovers such as Zachary Shankar and Aaron Hyman. Meanwhile, goaltender Ryan Dugas will start as a backup behind veteran Garett Forrest, who backstopped TMU to nationals with a .913 save percentage through playoffs.
Despite the turnover, expectations are sky-high for head coach Johnny Duco and the TMU Bold this season as they look to change the colour of their OUA bronze medal.
Key player: Kyle Bollers
Toronto Varsity Blues
The midseason pause of OUA activity last season hit teams hard. Over 70 players left university hockey from across U SPORTS, and the Toronto Varsity Blues were one of the teams most impacted, as star players David Thomson ad Joey Manchurek stepped into the ECHL.
While head coach Ryan Medel adjusted well to life without the veterans, the 2022-23 season offers a chance to start again as he looks to redefine one of the nation’s most successful university hockey teams.
The Varsity Blues have always played a quick style, focused on their transitions and ability to move the puck laterally across the ice. That has not looked any different in 2022’s preseason, as veterans Kyle Potts, Steven Elliot and Ross Krieger have led the offence. Yet, the most significant improvements could come from second-year and first-year students as they begin to write their own stories on the hallowed ice of Varsity Arena.
Second-year forward Billy Moskal showed he could be among the OUA’s best last season, finishing with 19 points, tied for the team lead, and scoring eight goals. At the same time, Cole Purboo established himself as a versatile player through the forward ranks.
With those two, among others, looking to improve their game, the Varsity Blues also welcome a talented group of recruits, headlined by two OUA transfers, as OUA West defenceman of the Year Ryan Barbosa joins alongside power forward Owen Guy.
Barbosa scored a goal and seven assists with the Windsor Lancers last season, while Guy scored six goals and nine points with the Brock Badgers. Both will loft the veteran experience on a now young yet determined Varsity Blues team.
In net, goaltender Jett Alexander takes the reigns with Alex Bishop having moved on; Alexander, a second-year, who had an emergency call-up to the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche last season, featured in two games last season but has looked comfortable through the preseason.
2023 marks 30 years since the Varsity Blues last lifted the Queen’s Cup, but they’ll hope that streak ends this season as they look to add a 42nd OUA title to their trophy cabinet.
Key Player: Ross Krieger
It was a bitter end to the 2021-22 season for the Waterloo Warriors, as they fell in overtime to the TMU Bold, despite a successful campaign. Yet, entering 2022-23, there’s a lot of hope for head coach Brian Bourque’s program.
The team has a returning core looking to avenge their short playoff run and will look to build on a season that saw them post an above-average 83.3% penalty kill and an OUA Far West-best powerplay of 18%.
Look for leading goalscorer Dan Walker to build on his eight-goal, 17-point season, while Tate Popple, also on eight goals from last year, looks to take another step in 2023-23. Both were threats throughout the season and led the way through the playoffs, priming them for big things this season.
Also, blueliners Connor Lovie and Nick King will be prepared to play big minutes for the Warriors. After featuring in all 16 regular season games last season, the two established themselves as reliable defenders, helping the Warriors concede just 41 goals.
While their 2-4-1 preseason is marred by a 6-0 loss to UQTR and losses to Laurier, Nipissing, Concordia and Boston University, the group showed their strengths in wins over uOttawa, and Queen’s as they look ahead to their regular season opener against Brock.
‘Key player: Connor Lovie
After capturing the hearts of university hockey fans as an eighth-seeded OUA team making the U CUP semifinal in 2020, the Western Mustangs are hoping that 2022-23 brings them back to high points, not seen in last year’s first-round playoff exit.
Led by head coach Clarke Singer, the Mustangs finished the 2021-22 season with a 7-7-0 record and featured an OUA Far West division-worst penalty kill of 82%. Still, there were positives from the challenging campaign, headlined by forward Franco Sproviero establishing himself as an elite OUA scorer.
Sproviero led the team with five goals and eight assists for 13 points and was a constant threat on the forecheck, not only when he was on the puck but as a player who could get under opponents’ skin. Now heading into his third OUA season, the Sarnia native is set to lead the Mustangs’ attack.
There is not much turnover from last season for Western, which will allow them to run things back to an extent, as they hope to build on the positives from last season with a more mature group of players.
Key player: Franco Sproviero
Laurier Golden Hawks
The Laurier Golden Hawks have had a mediocre last few seasons, but that could very well change in 2022-23, as Kevin Forrest comes into the program as head coach, replacing Greg Puhalksi, who failed to coach the team past the quarter-finals after leading since 2010.
Forrest comes to the program fresh off a year where he buoyed the Brock Badgers to the Queen’s Cup final with a group featuring striking similarities to Laurier’s 2022-23 personnel. In addition, Forrest was the coach that knocked Laurier out of the 2021-22 Queen’s Cup Playoffs.
This season, look for second-year goaltender Christian Propp to maintain his .925 save percentage of last season as he settles into OUA hockey. At the same time, rookie Matt Zebedee hopes for a quick start to his university career.
The Golden Hawks didn’t have many standout offensive talents last season, but Zebedee, with his 28 goals and 73 points in OJHL play last season, could add a spark to the attack. On the backend, third-year defenceman Conor Ali will continue to shut things down with his calm demenour on the blueline.
Laurier’s roster may not jump off the page with the most outstanding junior hockey accolades. Still, Forrest managed to get a lot out of the Badgers last season and could potentially push the Golden Hawks to similar heights.
Key Player: Christian Propp
The Windsor Lancers are one of the OUA’s most intriguing teams and have had a challenging preseason to prime them for a fast start. Head Coach Kevin Hamelin got his team together in late August for a trip to British Columbia, where the group helped out local Indigenous communities while also playing a competitive pair of games against the UBC Thunderbirds.
Meanwhile, the Lancers added preseason games against the NCAA powerhouse Michigan Wolverines and several OUA opponents.
The preseason is one thing, but last season’s accomplishments also suggest future success for Windsor, as they topped the OUA Far West with 12 wins and just three losses before falling out of the playoffs in an upset as the eighth-seeded York Lions ended their Queen’s Cup hopes.
Look for leading goalscorer Sean Olson to maintain the form that scored 10 goals last season, while Mason Kohn, Holden Wale and Brady Pataki also approach the new year with vigour.
A big loss, however, is John Parker-Jones, who starred with the Lancers last season, before impressing the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, earning a call to training camp and eventually an AHL contract with the Laval Rocket.
However, while the offence is compelling, it was goaltending where Windsor found their groove last season. Noah Giesbrecht was the starter in the fall, posting a .941 save percentage through eight games, before leaving for the NCAA. Yet, in a challenging situation, rookie Nathan Torchia stepped up and operated at a .933 clip through the season’s final seven games.
The Lancers won all four of their preseason games against U SPORTS competition, only dropping their exhibition matchup against Michigan. With elite goaltending and a deep roster, they look to pick up early season points after one of the most extended preseason camps in the conference.
Key Player: Sean Olson
When the York Lions, an eighth-seed, upset the Windsor Lancers in the OUA quarter-final, positivity reigned throughout the program. Now, with that, the last time they left competitive ice, they return with added drive and vigour in 2022-23.
Head coach Russ Herrington knows what it takes to win. He led the Lions to the 2017 Queens Cup and recently returned from the International Para Hockey Cup, where he led Team Canada’s Para Hockey Team to the silver medal.
Returning to the York program, Herrington will hope to lead a skilled and young group through the OUA season. With 13 players, York has the largest recruiting class in Canadian university hockey.
Look for fourth-year veteran Braydon Buziak to lead the way in attack, complemented by Benjamin Evanish and last year’s rookie standout, Lucas Breault. Then, with the more experienced players leading the way, look for rookies to buoy the middle of the roster, such as Michael Horon, who scored 19 goals and 33 points in the AJHL last season.
York is in a bit of a transition year with such a young roster, but feverous youth can also pay off in the OUA, and the group looks to stand out from the rest in the competitive OUA West.
Key Player: Benjamin Evanish