Breaking down each OUA East WHKY program

TORONTO, ONT – Much like with the OUA West, the teams that make up the OUA East are finally going to be playing a regular schedule. With no arena restrictions, fans are allowed back in total capacity this season which will make for a great season. 

This year the Toronto Varsity Blues, who dominated the OUA East last season, have the chance to do so again, while the Nipissing Lakers try to find their way back to the McCaw Cup Final. 

Toronto Varsity Blues

(Toronto Varsity Blues)

Building on their dominant performance is something the Varsity Blues are looking to do. Last season was terrific. They averaged three goals per game and were statistically one of the OUA’s best 

Last season, the Varsity Blues didn’t show any signs of weakness. When going into the pause of the shortened season, the Varsity Blues only had one loss; to Queen’s. From there, it was only up as they went on an 11-game winning streak and saw their next loss come against Nipissing in the last game of their season.

Not only did the Varsity Blues know how to win blowout games, but they also knew how to win tight games, which was the foundation for their success. They had all the elements for a championship-winning team but fell short to Nipissing in the OUA semifinal losing 3-2.

Erica Fryer continued her strong form for the Varsity Blues, posting a .954 save percentage through 13 games after helping Toronto to the McCaw Cup Final in 2020. 

For the Varsity Blues, a championship is always the goal, and that won’t be any different for the veteran group with exciting rookies in 2022-23. 

Key Player: Taylor Trussler

Nipissing Lakers

(Nipissing Lakers Athletics)

With much of the core staying the same for the Lakers, fans should expect them to make another deep push in the OUA playoffs. Last season they made it to the U SPORTS Championship but fell to the Concordia Stingers, who went on to win the national title. 

However, don’t let their placement in the OUA regular season standings fool you of how good a team this was. 

Last season, the Lakers had no rookies. In some cases, it’s easier on the players not to have that much roster turnover from year to year, while in others, an elite player can add to the team and take it to the next level. 

One of the OUA’s best, Maria Dominico, is entering her fifth year with the Lakers and has been looked upon to lead the team since she was a rookie. In her first season, she scored 26 points and has constantly improved her game from there. She was one of the more consistent goal scorers last season for the Lakers, scoring ten goals. 

Malory Dominico,  Maria’s younger sister, is also a threat on the ice. Last season she scored seven times, and she enjoyed excellent midseason form. However, her goalscoring cooled off down the stretch as she shifted to a playmaking role, providing four assists in Nipissing’s late-season surge. 

If the Lakers want to make another run at U SPORTS Nationals, they have the pieces to do so with 5th-year starting goalie Chloe Marshall. Last season she posted a 6-1-0 record with a .937 SV% and a 1.48 GAA. Whenever she starts, the Lakers have the best chance to win.

Key Player: Chloe Marshall

TMU Bold

(TMU Bold Athletics)

The TMU Bold has to be happy with last year’s performance, even though it left them wanting more. Eliminated in the semifinals to the Nipissing Lakers no doubt left a sour taste at the end of the season.

This year, the newly renamed TMU Bold will miss Lauren Nicholson, who led the team in goals (7) and was tied for the team lead in points (13) and Savannah Bouzide, who led the team in assists (8) and tied with Nicholson in points (13). The departure of Nicholson and Bouzide creates opportunities for others to step up and produce.

Meanwhile, they welcome back veteran fifth-year forward Olivia Giardetti, who, despite not reaching unearthly numbers in her OUA career, has played significant roles for head coach Lisa Haley. 

For the Bold to take the next step, they must improve their special teams, specifically their powerplay, which was a paltry 3.3% on home ice while converting at 19.2% on the road.  

Although it’s preseason, the Bold have a plan in place which surrounds first-year player Ahalya Julien-Medeiros. It’s clear they are trying to unlock her offensive potential, as she has been seen jumping in the rush trying to produce offensively. She brings a lot of poise to the defence core and was even given time on the first powerplay unit. 

With the departure of Jamie Watson, there is an opportunity for Julien-Medeiros to step in and become that leader on defence for the Bold, as they look towards making a deep playoff run this season. 

Key Player: Ahalya Julien-Medeiros

Ontario Tech Ridgebacks

(Ontario Tech Ridgebacks)

The Ontario Tech Ridgebacks are looking for a much better season this year than last year. There were many things wrong for the Ridgebacks and that starts with the offensive output. 

Natalie Wozney led the team last year with 6 points in 12 games but it was hard for her to really get going. After 23 points in 24 games in 2019-2020, it was a tough final season for the senior, but with her moving on, it creates a large hole for the Ridgebacks up front.

Goaltending for Ontario Tech did all they could but with only 1.33 goals per game, there’s not much that can be done. For most of the season, the Ridgebacks split starts in goal to get a gauge of who would be the better goalie going forward. Zoe McGee ended up having more starts for the Ridgebacks despite being a rookie and posted a record of 2-5-0 with a 2.14 GAA and a .941Sv%. McGee also got the nod in the Ridgebacks’ quarterfinal loss to Queen’s.

For this season, it still feels like a toss-up for who could start for the Ridgebacks. Thankfully, they still have the option of running the same tandem of McGee and Brooke Vial, so there should be some confidence and familiarity there going into the season.

One player for Ridgebacks fans to look out for is Mackenzie Krasowski. Last year she scored 4 points (2 goals, 2 assists) in 11 games, including one game-winner against York and picking up a goal in the Ridgebacks’ 4-2 playoff loss against Queen’s. A fifth-year senior, Krasowski could be one option for the Ridgebacks to look to on offence for this season.

Key Player: Mackenzie Krasowski

Queen’s Gaels

(Queen’s Gaels Atheltics)

It’s hard to evaluate the Queen’s Gaels. Mainly because they played the least amount of games in the entire OUA in 2021-2022. It’s no question they were the most affected team due to all the COVID-19 stoppages during the season, so this season is going to tell us a lot about the direction the Gaels are going to go in.

Only 11 players for Queen’s played in their full schedule. That means Queen’s only had 44% of their players play in all 11 games. If there’s ever a team that has questions surrounding them, it’s the Queen’s Gaels. What will they be able to accomplish when everyone is healthy? It’s hard to predict.

Scout Watkins-Southward was amazing for the Gaels with 7 points in 11 games, including five points (4 goals, 1 assist) in the final four games of the season. Look for her to be a leader for this year’s Gaels team. In the past, she was the assistant captain for the Kingston Jr. Ice Wolves in the PWHL. That experience will prove valuable.

Key Player: Scout Watkins-Southward

York Lions

(York Lions Athletics)

After making the McCaw Cup Final in 2019, the return of York Lions hockey in 2021-22 fell short of any such feat, as the Lions won just once in their first eight games before finishing the season on a 3-6-0 run. 

The marquee departure for the Lions is Courtney Gardiner, who amassed 40 points in 81 games. She led the team in all major statistical categories. Already with big shoes to fill, York Lions Head Coach Dan Church is going to have his hands full when evaluating the talent on the 2022-23 roster as seven seniors moved on from the team. 

One leading candidate to help the Lions move forward is Julia Cuccia. She has shown that she can definitely help put up points and could be a go-to leader. Last season with the Lions, she had six points in 15 games, but the rookie found her groove late, with four points in her final four games.

Key Player: Julia Cuccia

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