CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – The UQTR Patriotes are not anything but determined as they head into the 2023 U SPORTS men’s hockey championships.
Defending their title from 2022, they enter the U CUP among the favourites while enjoying strong form coming off their second OUA Queen’s Cup in as many seasons and an energizing triple overtime win over the Windsor Lancers in the final.
Despite a less dominant OUA playoff run, this season has seen a more complete and cohesive effort from the Patriotes compared to 2022. Yet, with absences due to team reasons and the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, they haven’t had the chance to click as much for as long as they’d have hoped.
The Patriotes enter the U CUP with their full complement of players and confidence, which should help them play to their potential. As well, they’ve got the experience that no other teams in the tournament have.
The Patriotes face the AUS runner-up SMU Huskies in the first round of the U CUP, kicking off the tournament at 11:00 am ET. Should they win, they’d face the UNB Reds or Concordia Stingers.
While some teams rebuild seemingly from year to year, the Patriotes have been the hallmark of consistency, once again enjoying a season led by veteran skaters Simon LaFrance, Zachary Lavigne, Justin Bergeron and Julien Tessier. Meanwhile, second-year goaltender Alexis Gravel will look to replicate his 66-save performance that led the Patriotes to the U CUP Final win a year ago.
LaFrance’s offensive output was enough to lead U SPORTS in scoring, despite his absences at the FISU Games. He finished the season with 16 goals and 38 points in just 23 games. Although he’s slowed down to just two goals and four points in the playoffs, the rest of the team has elevated their game to his level.
In net, Gravel has maintained his level despite being absent from the team for some of the fall season. In six playoff games, he’s kept a .929 save percentage, while he posted a .932 through 19 regular season games.
For the Patriotes, elevating everyone’s level to match that of their top players has been critical and something that they’ve proved when the moments have gotten tough this season. Head coach Marc-Ettiene Hubert has stressed as much as the team has navigated through challenging times but still managed to succeed.
“We have a group of players who are committed to the success of the program and who want to do well. Our group of guys proved that he was able to get up in great moments,” Hubert told La Nouvelliste. “We have won victories in overtime and following big comebacks. We have a little bit of everything. It’s part of the history of our program. The guys are resilient.”
They’ve also kept things unexpected, recently rolling out diversified scoring lines with a two-way first line and a thoroughly offensive second line. Rookie Connor Frennete centers the top line, flanked by Lavigne and Olivier Garneau, offering a tough match to any team sending a skilled top line. Meanwhile, the Lafrance duo of Simon and Felix flank the second line, powering a quick offensive kick with Tessier leading the push up the middle.
Coming into the PEI-hosted U CUP, the Patriotes will again lean on their experience this season and last. While winning in the Maritimes isn’t a foreign idea for them, winning away from home ice isn’t an issue either.
Being a Quebec school, the program hasn’t ever hosted the OUA Queen’s Cup championship game but has still won the trophy 11 times. “As a team representing Quebec, we know very well that a hostile environment awaits us,” Hubert told RDS before the OUA final. Still, they’ve not let that deter them.
When the Patriotes are at 100%, they’re the best in the country, and even when they’re not quite at their full potential, the group can still compete with the best. The Patriotes are a deep team coming to the U CUP, and they’re not just visiting PEI for the red sand, either.