TORONTO, ON – The OUA Playoffs are here, and for the first time since the 2019-20 season, so are full-length playoff series.
While 49 Sports previewed the OUA East first-round playoffs in this article, the OUA West first-round features two intriguing rivalry matchups, both on the ice and behind the bench.
After the shortened and COVID-impacted 2021-22 season, which featured single-game knockout playoffs, the best-of-three series return to the OUA this season, running all the way through to a one-game knockoff final for the Queen’s Cup.
The structure has also changed, with the top six from the OUA West and OUA East earning their way to the playoffs, with the top two in each conference earning byes through to the second round.
With the puck set to drop on the playoffs, 49 Sports gets you prepped for the opening round of the Queen’s Cup postseason.
The OUA West matchups:
OUA West Byes: Lakehead, Windsor
OUA West first round: Brock v Laurier, TMU v Toronto
READ THE OUA EAST PREVIEW HERE
OUA WEST: TMU Bold vs Toronto Varsity Blues
Could you draw up anything better? The Toronto Varsity Blues and TMU Bold, two schools separated by just a 20-minute walk, are battling in the playoffs for the first time since 2019. It’s pretty darn perfect.
The Bold were the story of last season, making it all the way to the U CUP semifinals for the first time in their history, and snapping a long streak of second-round exits. Yet this season, it hasn’t quite been the same, and they didn’t reach their goal of a top-two bye. Still, they’re determined that they can win the Queen’s Cup.
Led by head coach Johnny Duco, it’s been a refreshed TMU team this season, backstopped by one of the top rookie goaltenders in the nation, Kai Edmonds, who finished the regular season second among OUA netminders in save percentage with a .934, behind only Windsor’s Nathan Torchia.
At the same time, they’ve seen growth from sophomore defenders Elijah Roberts and Ryan Wells, while veteran blueliners Zach Shankar and Aaron Hyman have continued to hold their spots defensively.
Up front, injuries dealt a brutal blow to the Bold in the second half, with leading scorer Kyle Bollers forced out of the lineup due to a lingering upper-body injury. Yet, they have managed to keep themselves competitive, finishing the season with a 5-0 win over Waterloo. Although Bollers may be able to return in the playoffs, the Bold have gotten production from Jesse Barwell and Kevin Gursoy, who both scored 23 points in career-best seasons.
Duco ensures his team plays in a highly structured style that is conducive to a deep lineup, which led the Bold to an OUA and U SPORTS-leading 91 percent penalty kill and a powerplay that delivered at a 21 percent success rate, second best in the OUA West.
The playoffs, however, see them face a formidable opponent at a time where the team has been on a slide. TMU won two of three matchups with Toronto this season, but none of their head-to-head matchups were easy affairs.
The Varsity Blues are very capable of winning this matchup, even though it may be an upset. Keep an eye on Cole Purboo and Owen Guy, who led the team in scoring this season and play a hard-hitting style that could benefit Toronto in the postseason. At the same time, Guy made a run with the Brock Badgers last season, reaching the Queen’s Cup Final and U CUP quarterfinal, before transferring to Toronto.
“We expect this to be a close and tight-checking series,” said Toronto head coach Ryan Medel, who is in his sixth season with the team. “We’ve had some games down the stretch here in the regular season that have helped prepare us for the playoffs. Now it’s about being able to raise our game to a new level. It’s a new season with new opportunity and we’re excited to get started.”
The TMU Bold host the first game of the series at the Mattamy Athletic Centre on Thursday night, with the second game set for Toronto’s Varsity Arena on Friday. Should the teams split, the deciding matchup would be Saturday back at the former Maple Leaf Gardens.
OUA WEST: Brock Badgers vs Laurier Golden Hawks
There are a few familiar faces, but they’re in new places. That’s the front and central story between the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks and Brock Badgers, as former Brock head coach, turned Laurier bench boss Kevin Forrest, takes on his former team.
Brock brought in first-year coach TJ Manastersky to replace interim head coach Forrest, who had led them to a U CUP berth last season. Meanwhile, Forrest took up the role at Laurier after the departure of longtime Golden Hawks head coach Greg Puhalski.
Talk about a little bit of drama in the postseason.
On the ice, the matchup is Brock’s to lose. The Badgers just missed out on a top-two bye by four points, but consistently pushed teams in the OUA in each game, scoring 3.7 goals per outing, while generating 3.4 xG per game, the 12th-best in Canada.
Amid the coaching change, the 2022-23 season has been defined by Jacob Roach’s breakout, as the second-year forward burst into the OUA top scorers this season, leading the team with 32 points in 26 games, the most for an OUA West player. He’s spent time with veteran forward Adam Berg as well, with Berg also scoring above a point-per-game pace, with 15 goals and 29 points in 27 games.
Brock’s approach this year is more structured and organized compared to 2021-22’s hard-hitting, fast-checking style that suited them well, yet it’s been a season where they’ve quickly clicked under Manastersky’s systems.
For Laurier, it came down to the final day to clinch a playoff spot, but a stroke of luck from the Guelph Gryphons against the York Lions punched their postseason ticket, and they’re set to drive for upsets.
While Sam Rhodes has been a consistent offensive contributor, and Christian Propp’s .908 save percentage gives them a chance, the Hawks will have to hope for several pieces to fall into place to put themselves through to the next round. Still, if there’s any coach to pull that off with a group that may not quite stack up on paper, it’s Kevin Forrest, so don’t count out the purple and gold.
Either way, the two teams provide ample storylines for a heated series over the weekend, getting started on Wednesday night at Brock’s Canada Games Park before moving to Kitchener for Game 2 and back to Brock for a potential Game 3.