TORONTO, ON – When the final month of the season rolls around, it’s the time that teams want to start chasing U SPORTS University Cup glory.
Well, at least start nearing their peak output, so when playoff time comes, they’re ready to charge toward the conference and national titles.
At this point, we’re starting to see what teams are contenders, pretenders, and totally out of it.
49 Sports has “power-ranked” every team in U SPORTS based on their form and favour heading into the regular season’s final month.
This ranking includes our #10-#6 ranks, with the top five and the remainder of the list soon to come.
6 – Windsor Lancers
The Windsor Lancers have pivoted quickly this season but have managed to maintain the top-quality form that they established through the second half of the 2021-22 campaign. Despite losing mainstay star defenceman John Parker-Jones to the Montreal Canadiens organization, head coach Kevin Hamelin has kept his team contending.
Western Mustangs transfer Anthony Stefano has proven a strong addition, leading the team with eight goals and 26 points this season. At the same time, goaltender Nathan Torchia has continued to ride his hot streak in net with a monstrous .941 save percentage over his 19 games.
Although Windsor’s special teams have struggled, they’ve navigated smartly at even strength, generating 18.3 chances per game, which helps balance out their defence-first playing identity.
The Lancers are continuing a strong season this year, and don’t look like they’ll slow down any time soon. However, any setback to Torchia or the top defenders could be catastrophic to their hopes. Strong team, but they’ve just not got the same depth as the others programs on this list.
7 – TMU Bold
The TMU Bold are building towards the 2024 U CUP when they host the tournament at Maple Leaf Gardens, yet they’ve got hopes of hoisting the trophy this season at UPEI. Really, they’re warranted, too, after qualifying for the semifinals and downing UNB at last year’s tournament, led by a group of strong rookies.
The Bold took a slight step back during the FISU Games, with rookie starting netminder taking Canada’s crease and leading scorer Kyle Bollers playing significant special team minutes. Yet, the team is staying a contender with Edmonds back and clipping along at a .927 save percentage and Bollers nearing a return from injury.
Outside of their FISU stars, head coach Johnny Duco has also seen strong campaigns from the captain and senior Jesse Barwell, enjoying a career year with 21 points thus far, in addition to Kevin Gursoy, who hasn’t slowed down after a positive rookie season.
Through January, however, versatile defenceman/forward Elijah Roberts has stepped up his game offensively, scoring nine points through the month, the same month in which he became a father.
TMU’s special teams have been a boost as well, with their 92% penalty kill the best in U SPORTS, and a powerplay of 23.2% ranking eighth in the country. They also don’t often lose possession in the defensive zone, as they rank second in the OUA with a 58% success rate on defensive zone faceoffs.
The Bold are in a good position to succeed this season and will be pushed by virtue of competing in an ultra-competitive OUA West. Yet, with a group that holds 2022 U CUP and FISU experience, the goals are sky-high for the downtown Toronto school.
8 – Lakehead Thunderwolves
The Lakehead Thunderwolves have been a consistent playoff presence over the last several seasons. Still, they’ve burst into contender conversations in 2022-23, sitting second in the OUA West heading into the season’s final month.
It’s been an offensively-guided year for the Thunderwolves, scoring the second most in the OUA West while creating 20.2 high-quality scoring chances each night, ranking them sixth in U SPORTS.
As well, the Thunderwolves have been a dynamic team to play against, with their top three lines consistently scoring and nine players all over 14 points or more. While Griffen Fox and Spencer Blackwell lead the team with 24 and 22 points, respectively, the scoring depth has been key to Lakehead’s success.
Head coach Andrew Wilkins is getting the best out of the Thunderwolves this season, and they’re putting dreams of hosting a Queen’s Cup in Thunder Bay within reach of reality. Yet, there’s still aways to go, and they’ll have to keep a level of form that they’ve seldom seen before.
9 – Concordia Stingers
The Concordia Stingers women’s hockey team is the defending U SPORTS champions, and it seems as though some of their winning qualities have transferred over to the men’s team this season. Heading into the final month, the Stingers sit comfortably in second in the OUA East and look set to hold the first-round home-ice advantage at the Ed Meagher Arena.
Using a hard-forechecking style, the Stingers physically impose themselves on the opposition, with the likes of Kyle Havlena shutting down the backend and forward Tyler Hylland putting in tireless efforts as a two-way player.
Although Isaiah Campbell and Alexander Katerinakis are leading the group in scoring, it’s a well-built and balanced system for the Montreal-based program and one that could bring them success come playoff time.
There are a lot of reasons to be positive about the Stingers group, most notably the fact that they’re actually getting a little bit unlucky right now offensively, despite putting up strong numbers. Concordia holds an xG per game of 4.7, only trailing UNB, while they translate an average of just 3.9 goals per game.
Through time, those two numbers get closer to a similar value, meaning that Concordia’s play may be able to stay at the same level and actually reap greater returns.
The Concordia Stingers may not be running away with the OUA right now. They’ll still have to get rid of UQTR if they want to play in a Queen’s Cup, but there’s a clear purpose to how the group approaches each game and some telling signs about just how competitive they can be amongst the best in U SPORTS.
10 – UPEI Panthers
The UPEI Panthers don’t have to be up to speed just yet, but they’re putting together a strong season heading into the final month. Of course, the Panthers do have a spot clinched at the U CUP as hosts, but as the Acadia Axemen showed last year, that’s not a tournament a team should limp into.
Sitting third in the AUS behind UNB and SMU, the Panthers have been led by a physical style of play this season, leading U SPORTS in hits per game with an average of 16.2, alongside a fierce penalty kill of 87%.
With the four of Troy Lajeunesse, Matt Brassard, TJ Shea and Kyle Maskimovich leading the way offensively with over a point per game each, there’s spread out scoring at the top of their roster, while Brassard pots his points from the blueline.
Brassard and Shea recently won gold with Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games.
Head coach Forbes MacPherson is getting some of the best hockey from his group, with the second-best goal differential in the AUS, as they continue to heat up ahead of the AUS Playoffs and an already clinched berth at the U CUP.
Stats provided by InStat and HockeyTech
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