Toronto, ON – The OUA Men’s hockey playoffs are set and there are some incredible first-round matchups waiting in the Western Conference. Let’s analyze each team’s form ahead of the playoffs, their strengths and weaknesses in the regular season and their journey to the playoffs.
Firstly, the Western Conference title came down to the wire and was decided on the final day of the regular season. Lakehead University finished first place in the west with a record of 18-6-2-1 for 39 points. They ended ahead of the University of Windsor who finished 18-6-3 also for 39 points solely on goal difference as Windsor’s goal difference was +22 and Lakehead’s goal difference was two higher at +24. Regardless, both teams clinched first round byes in the west playoffs.
#1 – Lakehead Thunderwolves
Lakehead finished the season on a tear, winning eight of their final ten games. They boasted the best offence in the western conference that scored 103 goals – three more than third seed Brock University – and the second most in the entire OUA, only behind UQTR’s 105. Despite being a physical and talented unit, their defence conceded 79 goals, the fifth most in the conference, but their offence was so lethal they could comfortably win games anyway. Lakehead was 10-7-1 in games when they gave up three or more goals and 4-5-1 when giving up four or more goals.
Despite conceding goals in bunches, their offence is talented enough to make a comeback. They got consistent production from all four of their lines, and 14 players recorded double-digit points. Despite their offensive success at even strength, their powerplay was quite underwhelming, scoring 23 goals on 129 opportunities, clicking at a 17.8 percent rate, fourth best in the conference. Their penalty kill was solid, killing 83.2 percent of their penalties thanks to good defensive tactics, which emphasized taking away the opponents’ passing and shooting lanes with their zone coverage and controlling as much of the puck as possible with their counterattack.
#2 – Windsor Lancers
The Lancers finished the year with a 6-3-1 record in their final ten games, but two straight losses to end the year against Lakehead and Western cost them the number one seed. Regardless, their defence and goaltenders played well all season, and they conceded the third-fewest goals in the West and fifth-fewest overall at only 69. Goaltender Nathan Torchia had a phenomenal season: in 23 games played, he finished with a 16-3-3 record and gave up only 45 goals. Torchia posted a .936 save percentage which led the entire OUA, and posted a goals against average of 2.04, which ranks fourth best of all goalies. The Lancers’ goaltender Dakota Lund-Cornish, struggled, conceding 19 goals in seven games.
Windsor’s defence was a physical unit that forechecked aggressively, created a lot of turnovers in the offensive and neutral zone and did a great job limiting how much time opponents spend in the offensive zone and the quality scoring chances they’re able to create. Their penalty kill has been a spectacular part of their success; they killed 88.2 percent of their penalties, the second-best in the West and the entire OUA. Windsor’s offence is excellent, they recorded 91 goals, third most in the West, but Windsor’s defensive identity and goaltending have sparked their success.
#3 – Brock Badgers
Brock finished third in the West with a 17-9-0-1 record (35 points), including winning five of their last ten games, but three consecutive losses to end the season cost them a first-round bye. Their offence was as good as anyone’s this season, scoring 100 goals in 27 games, a whopping 3.7 goals per game. The Badgers’ ability to move the puck efficiently and accurately in the offensive zone to find open space to generate scoring chances, their excellent playmaking and their tendency to control possession time to tire out opposing defences has been a critical part of the success of their offence and the ability to put pucks in the net.
Forward Jacob Roach scored ten goals and tied for 2nd most in the OUA with 22 assists. He finished as the third-highest scorer with 32 points, including two goals and 11 points on a Brock man advantage that scored 25 times on 99 powerplay opportunities, clicking at a rate above 25 percent, the best mark in the West. Their ability to control and move the puck in the offensive zone for almost their entire powerplay is a significant factor in their success heading into the playoffs. Opposing penalty kill units will be tested.
#4 – TMU Bold
Toronto Metropolitan University has plenty of talent and depth in every position. However, three losses in four games to end the season prevented them from climbing up the standings. TMU posted a 16-9-2-0 record (34 points). They could score goals, but at the same time, they were physical and tough to score against. Forward Kyle Bollers recorded 12 goals, 18 assists and 30 points, including 15 points on special teams. Their offence didn’t exclusively run through Bollers, however. The Bold had three players, including Bollers, with 23 or more points, 11 players with ten or more and six with 15 or more.
TMU’s strong defence, which regularly creates turnovers in the defensive and neutral zone with their strong forecheck and exploits teams in transition with their speed and accurate passing, and goaltender Kai Edmond’s strong season in which he recorded a 2.00 goals against average and a 0.934 save percentage in 19 games – both metrics ranked second in the OUA – were considerable factors in TMU only allowing 65 goals, the fewest of all teams in the West. TMU’s significant advantage is on special teams, though. Their powerplay operated at a 20.8 percent efficiency this season, ranked second-best in the western conference. Their penalty kill killed 91.1 percent of the penalties they took, the best in the West and the entire OUA.
#5 – Toronto Varsity Blues
Just below TMU sits the University of Toronto, who finished with a 14-10-3 record (31 points) and locked up the fifth seed in the final weekend of the regular season and will play – you guessed it – TMU in the first round of the playoffs which will be a thrilling matchup. Toronto’s offence received consistent production from all four lines, which was crucial to their goal-scoring success this season. The Varsity Blues had ten players scoring double-digit points, including three defensemen. When a team can get its defensemen involved offensively, it forces the opposing defenders to spread out to cover all five players on the ice rather than only the three forwards, which opens up spaces in the offensive zone.
Toronto had three defensemen over 10 points, including Ryan Barbosa, who recorded 18, contributing heavily to Toronto’s offence. They are also tough to break down defensively; they like to control possession and aren’t afraid to throw the body around to make a play. They stick to their formation and are resilient, with six of their 14 wins being comeback victories. Toronto can get pucks to the net consistently, but in the playoffs, they will have to bury more of those chances.
Laurier Golden Hawks
Last but not least, Wilfrid Laurier University claimed the final playoff spot in the western conference this past weekend and finished the season with a 13-13-1 record (27 points), including winning five of their last ten games, which proved critical in their playoff race down the stretch. Laurier beat out Western and Guelph – who both finished the season on 27 points – for the final playoff spot on goal difference. Western’s goal difference was -9, and Guelph’s was -22. Laurier’s goal difference was -8, which makes them the only playoff team in the west to make the playoffs without a positive goal differential.
Laurier gets consistent production from all four lines, like every other playoff team. They had 12 players record over 10 points and three with 15 or more. Depth scoring outside your first line is critical to any team’s success, and Laurier has had that this year. Laurier also relied on its special teams to win games. They scored 19 goals on 93 powerplay chances (20.4 percent) thanks to excellent puck control and playmaking in the man advantage. Their penalty kills killed almost 87 percent of their penalties which was vital in helping them keep momentum in close games. Despite the negative goal difference, they still have talent and are in the playoffs for a reason.
Lakehead and Windsor will enjoy their first-round byes, while sixth seed Laurier will face third-seed Brock in a best-of-three series, and Toronto will face their cross-town rival TMU in what is sure to be an action-packed, back-and-forth series. Playoff games start on Feb. 15