TORONTO, ON – The final weekend of January is in the books in OUA men’s hockey, and the contenders are truly becoming clear as playoff season approaches.
With the full cohort back from representing Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, the best players are shining as teams look to gain form in the season’s final weeks.
As the Queen’s Cup Playoffs approach, the final weekend of January was extremely telling.
MHKY: Thundering into the playoffs
The Lakehead Thunderwolves have often been a playoff team in the OUA, but this year, they’re making a case to not just be in the running for the Queen’s Cup but be potential championship game hosts.
This weekend, the Thunderwolves packed their Thunder Bay barn and downed the Western Mustangs 2-1, rebounding from their previous loss to a Laurier Golden Hawks team scraping away for every point.
With the victory, the Thunderwolves put themselves among the four OUA West teams that have clinched a post-season berth while also placing them within the top two that would earn a bye past the first round. As long as they hold onto top four, their intense gameday atmosphere will get to welcome home ice advantage.
Although the Thunderwolves may not offer the speed and skill seen by some of the other OUA teams, they’ve found a cohesive and deep style of play, benefitting from hard forechecking and spurts of puck possession. They’re one of the deepest teams as well in terms of their scoring spread, with nine players posting 14 points or more.
At the top of their lineup, Griffen Fox and Spencer Blackwell have been a revelation this season, leading the team as they both play out at a point-per-game pace, thriving in a division that former Junior A players don’t often dominate. Fox spent time in the MHL and OJHL, while Blackwell had just 43 games in major junior.
It may be a challenge for them to go deep in the playoffs, but the Thunderwolves showed their ability to adjust and grind out a result in their last game and finished the month of January with six wins of eight games.
Heading into the final stretch, head coach Andrew Wilkins will need to emphasize consistency to his group, as they approach the challenging opposition of Brock and York, two teams fighting for playoff seeding, and current OUA West #1, Windsor, who haven’t hit much of any setback this season.
MHKY: Simon LaFrance returns with vengeance
UQTR forward Simon LaFrance ended his 2021-22 U SPORTS season with the overtime-winning goal to give the UQTR Patriotes the U CUP in Wolfville, Nova Scotia. Since then, he’s not slowed down, and has overtaken the OUA scoring lead after winning a gold medal with Team Canada.
Since returning from national team duties, LaFrance has been on a tear. He scored two goals and two assists against uOttawa in his first game back, while adding another goal and two assists against Carleton. His total on the year vaulted to 15 goals and 35 points in 25 games, building a buffer between him and the rest of the OUA.
The Patriotes weathered the storm playing without three of their best players, with LaFrance, Justin Bergeron and Zachary Lavigne away with Team Canada. Yet, now as they’ve returned, UQTR looks as destined for the Queen’s Cup as they did last season.
The defending OUA champions have just two games remaining in their regular season schedule, facing the RMC Paladins twice, both home and away, as they look to continue their fine form into the post-season.
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