TORONTO, ON – The OUA Queen’s Cup Playoffs never fail to disappoint, and they’re finally reaching fever pitch.
Just weeks ago, 19 OUA men’s hockey programs were jockeying for playoff spots, striving for success in 2022-23. Just four remain, with UQTR, Concordia, Lakehead and Windsor still fighting for OUA glory.
The teams that advance past the semifinal round will compete for the 111th Queen’s Cup on March 11 while punching their ticket to the U SPORTS National Championships on Prince Edward Island. The losers will face off in a bronze medal game, with the winner of that also qualifying for nationals.
OUA East: UQTR Patriotes vs Concordia Stingers
The UQTR Patriotes and Concordia Stingers were two of the strongest teams in the OUA in 2022-23, mainly down the final stretch of the regular season. As they sit on the brink of the OUA Queen’s Cup Final, they look to eliminate each other.
For the Patriotes, experience under pressure and in big games will be their advantage. UQTR comes into the series having led the division and off a year in which they won the OUA and U SPORTS. Meanwhile, Concordia hasn’t reached the semi-final stage since 2020, where they lost the critical rounds that saw them miss out on OUA hardware and a national championship berth.
Against the Carleton Ravens, the Patriotes picked apart a top-heavy team and got past a solid goaltender in Mark Grametbauer. Yet, they face a far different test up against a deep Concordia roster that doesn’t feature many weak points.
As is often the case for UQTR, their success will rely upon goaltender Alexis Gravel, who is well on his way to replicating his 2022 playoff form and offensive leaders Simon LaFrance, Julien Tessier and Zachary Lavigne.
Although the Stingers don’t quite pack the offensive punch of UQTR, their key to success will be implementing themselves physically, primarily with players like Kyle Havlena and Simon Lavigne on the backend and Tyler Hylland up front.
That trio always depended on to play difficult minutes will be critical for Concordia to limit spaces for UQTR’s offensive weapons. At the same time, they’ll call upon goaltender Jonathan Lemieux, who finished the regular season with a .933 save percentage and posted a .945 through the quarter-finals against McGill.
With talented forwards throughout, expect a lot of goals in this series as well. While UQTR won three of the four matchups this season, games between the two Quebec schools averaged over six goals each.
The Stingers visit UQTR for the series-opening game on Wednesday night before hosting Game 2 ahead of a potential return to Trois-Riviers for a decisive Game 3.
OUA West: Lakehead Thunderwolves vs Windsor Lancers
The top two seeds in the OUA West are set to battle it out as the Lakehead Thunderwolves look to keep writing their unique underdog story as the top seed. Although technical favourites in the series, Windsor remains a more studded and experienced team on paper, yet that hasn’t mattered to Lakehead this season.
The winner of this series will host the 111th Queen’s Cup on March 11, regardless of which team wins the OUA East Final.
Led by head coach Andrew Wilkiins, the Thunderwolves have the ability to roll all four lines and six defensive pairs, with every player on the roster contributing. Although the group hadn’t won a playoff series in recent years, they worked out their issues against the Toronto Varsity Blues and are prepared to continue thriving against Windsor.
On the Lancers’ side, head coach Kevin Hamlin has emphasized the bond that his group holds. To start the season, he brought the group to British Columbia to help out Indigenous communities in the province while also playing a couple of games against the UBC Thunderbirds. From then, the group’s cohesiveness has pushed them to play among the OUA’s best.
For Lakehead, look for rookie Olivier Pouliot to ride his wave of confidence after scoring a hat trick in Game 2 against Toronto, matching his total regular season goal tally. While at the same time, fellow first-year Keighan Gerrie also turned up his game in the opening round.
While rookies are leading the charge for Lakehead thus far, their potential naivety to the national championship hunt is proving to be an advantage. Yet, they’ve also got veterans in Spencer Blackwell, Griffen Fox, Ben Badalmenti and Tyler Jette, who are able to keep the group in check come challenging moments.
Their offensive talents, headed by Blackwell and Fox, will be tested to their extremes against Windsor, with Nathan Torchia backstopping the Lancers through this post-season. Torchia, a former Junior A player like many of the Thunderwolves, has been the conference’s hottest goalie, leading the regular season with a .936 save percentage.
Although Windsor is sorted out in the crease, they’ll need offence too, led by former Western Mustang Anthony Stefano, who potted nine goals and 27 points through the regular season, adding another four points in the OUA playoffs.
With a chance to hoist a trophy on home ice should they win the series, the pressure inside both arenas will be incredibly high. Lakehead won two of three matchups this season, including a 6-2 win in their final regular season game.
The Thunderwolves head to Windsor to open the series before hosting the remainder of the OUA West Final in Thunder Bay at the Fort Williams Gardens.