TORONTO, ON – The first round of the OUA men’s hockey Queen’s Cup Playoffs is in the rearview, and It would be hard to create two series closer than those that showcased the OUA West.
After winning OUA bronze last season and qualifying for the University Cup, the TMU Bold fell to the Toronto Varsity Blues. At the same time, the Brock Badgers just pushed past a hard-working Laurier team that nearly pulled off a sixth-seed upset.
As the schedule progresses, 49 Sports looks ahead to the upcoming OUA West semifinals, which welcome the top-seeded Lakehead Thunderwolves and Windsor Lancers to the knockout stages.
OUA WEST SF: Lakhead Thunderwolves vs Toronto Varsity Blues
The Lakehead Thunderwolves enter the fold in the second round of the OUA Queen’s Cup Playoffs and look like they could challenge for the Queen’s Cup. Yet standing in their way of an OUA West final is the Toronto Varsity Blues, a program brimming with momentum after their opening-round win over the TMU Bold.
For the Varsity Blues, it’s their first berth to the second round since 2016, and the first since head coach Ryan Medel took over the program. Meanwhile, the Lakehead Thunderwolves are the divisional champions through the regular season and will host the two potential series-winning games, with Game 1 in Toronto.
As the Varsity Blues build on their first round, three players, in particular, will look to carry on their strong playoffs. Goaltender Jett Alexander was critical in the three-game series, stopping 92 shots and keeping the Varsity Blues in contention despite allowing five goals. Meanwhile, Nick Wong and Ben Woodhouse, both of whom struggled to produce offensively in the regular season, had two-goal games against TMU, with Woodhouse scoring a pair in the winning third affair.
On the Thunderwolves’ side, gritty hockey must continue. It’s no secret that Lakehead doesn’t have the most skilled players in the league, yet their cohesive style this season and hard-pressure play has helped them get to within a series of the U CUP.
Yet, it isn’t through physical means that Lakehead has pushed through this season; instead, they’ve limited space on their opponent’s breakout chances and cashed in on their opportunities, jumping on turnovers and often maintaining possession from then.
The Thunderwolves are among the few teams in U SPORTS overachieving their expected goals (xG), scoring 3.8 goals per game while only posting an xG of 3.3. To this point, that is positive and something that could buoy them upwards — yet, it could point towards receding goals per game.
Led by head coach Andrew Wilkins, Lakehead gets contributions from nearly every player on their roster. However, Toronto will have to keep an eye on Griffen Fox and Spencer Blackwell, the two players who scored above a point per game this season for the Thunder Bay squad. Although neither found much success against the Varsity Blues in their two games this season, they’re players to watch to be sure.
In net, Max Wright and Christian Cicigoi have split starts, and both offered strong goaltenders, giving the Thunderewolvres depth should one have a poor performance.
The series will no doubt be a close one, and it all gets underway on Wednesday night at Toronto’s Varsity Arena before heading up to Thunder Bay for the weekend’s Game 2 and potential Game 3.
OUA WEST SF: Windsor Lancers vs Brock Badgers
The Windsor Lancers have high hopes as a program. From the moment they came together helping Indigenous communities last summer to their upcoming playoff test, there’s a cohesion and unique bond with the group, a factor head coach Kevin Hamlin will hope leads them to a deep Queen’s Cup run.
At the same time, last year’s Queen’s Cup runner-up Brock Badgers are brimming with confidence and drive in their first year under new head coach TJ Manastersky and coming off a hard-fought three-game series win over the Laurier Golden Hawks.
While both teams feature exciting offensive talent and players built for the post-season, the spotlight will shine on goaltenders as OUA’s top netminder Nathan Tochia of the Lancers, goes head to head with Brock’s Roman Basran, a late-season addition.
Through 23 games this season, Torchia led the conference with a .936 save percentage. In comparison, Basran posted a .917 through seven regular season games before heating up against Laurier with a .956, the best through the OUA West’s opening round.
Led by leading scorer and Western Mustangs transfer Anthony Stefano, the Lancers are a dynamic team that features a quick breakout and transition while getting offensive contributions throughout their lineup.
However, they’ve significantly overachieved their xG this season, scoring 3.4 goals per game while averaging less than three goals on the xG. It’s a worrying stat for the Lancers, as it points towards potential regression, especially against a strong goaltender like Basran.
For the Badgers, keep an eye on the veteran leaders through the second round, notably Jared Marino, Adam Berg and Justin Brack, who all featured prominently in the opening round and carry experience from making the final last season.
As well, leading scorer Jacob Roach, who suffered a knock in the Laurier series, is expected to return midway through the series with Windsor, Manastersky told 49 Sports.
Although It will be a goaltending battle between Windsor and Brock, another explicit identifier of the series will be the limited time on the puck, with both teams playing a hard-pressing style, limiting space despite not always going through with full contact.
The Lancers open the series at home on Wednesday, while Game 2 shifts to Brock’s Canada Games Park before a potential third game returns to Windsor to decide who will advance to the OUA West Final.