TORONTO, ON – For the second straight season a year ago, the OUA Queen’s Cup ran through Trois-Rivières as the UQTR Patriotes, although ultimately unable to defend their U SPORTS title, took down the Windsor Lancers to win their 12th Queen’s Cup.
Now, as puck drop on the OUA East hockey draws closer, each team in the division looks to believe that they have a reason to be the ones to beat the back-to-back champions.
The playoff system:
On Feb. 11, a play-in game will hit the ice between the West Division’s No. 6 and No. 7 seed. The winner of that game will then join the best-of-three opening-round matchups taking place from Feb. 12-18. Those series will see the No. 3 seeds play the lowest seeds (i.e., No. 6 seed in the East and play-in winner in the West), respectively, while the fourth and fifth-ranked teams will also face off.
From there, the series victors will advance to play the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, respectively, each of whom receive byes in the opening round of play. Those best-of-three quarter-finals will run from Feb. 19-2, with winners then advancing to the semifinal series from Feb. 26 – March 3.
Division winners then play for the 112th Queen’s Cup
Nipissing Lakers switch to OUA West division, while the York Lions shift to OUA East
With the nuts and bolts of the season out of the way, 49 Sports looks at each team in the OUA East for 2023-24.
The Carleton Ravens started and ended in 2022-2023 with Parker AuCoin and Nick McCarry. With AuCoin picking up a goal a game with 24 in 24 and Nick McCarry, his wingman, with 22 assists and 28 points, the duo helped carry the Ravens to the East semifinal before they fell to UQTR.
As he has eligibility but is not listed on the Ravens roster, AuCoin’s status for 2023-2024 is up in the air, leaving sophomore Nick McCarry the role of stepping up on both sides of the scoresheet. A goal a game is hard to replace, but someone to watch for the Ravens would be sophomore Keiran Craig, who bagged 10 goals for Carleton a year ago to finish second on the team in scoring.
With longtime defenceman Aaron Boyd now a graduate, a recruit to watch would be former Owen Sound Attack defender Nolan Seed. A former OHL first-rounder, Seed picked up 33 points in 65 games for the Attack a season ago.
Key player: Nick McCarry
After playing their way to the 2023 University Cup as OUA bronze medalists, the Concordia Stingers have high expectations in 2023-24, especially with a roster featuring many key returnees.
The Stingers’ top five scorers are all returning for the upcoming season, led by Isaiah Campbell, who had a breakout year in 2022-23, scoring a team-high 10 goals and 24 points, a nine-point improvement from his rookie season.
As well they also retained defensively responsible forward Tyler Hylland for another season, and he will remain with the team for the full year, having also missed a chunk of the season with the FISU Games.
In net, there will be a transition as 2022-23 starting goaltender Jonathan Lemieux has signed with the AHL’s Abbotsford Canucks, leaving an open competition between Jordan Naylor and Jacob Delorme for starting duties.
While the U Cup dream ended in a quarter-final loss to the eventual champion UNB Reds last season, head coach Marc-André Element has instilled a hard-working attitude in all facets of the game and will hope to bring the Stingers back to similar heights.
As a bonus, they have also been together for a few weeks longer than other OUA programs, having taken a trip to Europe to face professional teams from Italy and Austria.
Key player: Tyler Hylland
The McGill Redbirds are still trying to find their way back to the top after last winning the Queen’s Cup in 2018, but with a core just rounding into form, the Redbirds could be a serious team to watch these next couple of seasons.
The key thing for McGill? Youth. Three of four of McGill’s top offensive players a season ago are only entering their third year of eligibility this season. All the while, William Rouleau, who led the team with 26 points in 26 games, is just entering his sophomore season.
The headline recruit for the Redbirds is former Detroit Red Wings third-round pick Zach Gallant, who joins McGill after a year off the ice. Despite just 13 points in 53 games with the AHL’s San Jose Barracuda the last time he skated, Gallant brings the pedigree of leadership as former captain of the Peterborough Petes and offense with a pair of point-per-game seasons in the OHL.
Key player: Zach Gallant
Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Having only missed the Queen’s Cup playoffs once since 2010, the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks have also seemed to find themselves right smack dab in the middle of the OUA East Division. In 2023, though, with long-time starter Leif Hertz graduating, the most significant question mark to returning there is in net.
The odds on replacement for Hertz would likely be last year’s backup, William Desmarais, who had a 5-1-0 record across nine appearances in his rookie season. Still, the Ridgebacks’ recruits present some intriguing possibilities. On one hand, is Samuel Ivanov, the 2023 starting goalie of the Soo Greyhounds but who put up just a .856 save percentage in 42 games a season ago. On the other side is Alexis Giroux, who split time in three leagues in 2022-2023 but, in eight games in the Quebec Junior Hockey League, went 8-0-0 with a .915 save percentage.
Up front, it was James White who had a breakout sophomore season for the Ridgebacks with 24 points and will look to build upon it, while Alex Drover, who put up 27 points in 31 games as an overager with the St John SeaDogs, looks to be a recruit to watch for Ontario Tech.
Key player: William Desmarais
The 2022-23 season was a learning experience for the Ottawa Gee-Gees, despite making the first round of the Queen’s Cup Playoffs, bowing out in a sweep against the McGill Redbirds.
While they finished the season with a 13-11-2 record, few moments highlighted championship caliber or bottom-tier play. In most categories, the Gee-Gees were a mid-tier, albeit younger team last season.
This year, much of the progress will have to come from within. Under head coach Patrick Grandmaitre, the group will look to the likes of Mathieu Desganges and Max Grondin to keep improving. Desgagnes, in particular, experienced a quick rise last season, bringing his stat line to 13 goals and 24 points, up from just 12 points the year prior.
On the back end, expect to see elevated responsibilities for Liam Markhauser and Peter Stratis as the duo enter their third season with the Gee-Gees.
The 2023-24 season represents the seventh year since the return of men’s hockey at the University of Ottawa, with the cyclical nature of U SPORTS hockey suggesting it should be an improved season for the group. All before they do whatever they can to win a U Cup as hosts in 2024-25.
Key player: Max Grondin
For the first time since 2009, the Queen’s Cup did not see a challenge from Queen’s as the Gaels missed the playoffs by just two points to the Ottawa Gee-Gees.
It was a case of vanishing offense for the Gaels as a group that put up 87 goals in 19 games two seasons ago saw their total drop to 66 in 26 games last season. Heading into their third season in Kingston, both Holden Katzalay, who went from 29 to 15 points, and Jonathan Yantsis, who went from 26 to nine, will be looked upon to fire things back up offensively.
On the back end, watch for former Nashville Predators prospect Jacob Paquette to play significant minutes once again, while he will also play the entire season, unlike last year, where he missed several games due to Team Canada duty at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games
A recruit to watch for the Gaels in 2023-2024 would have to be Cameron Tolnai. The former Ottawa 67 put up 73 points in 64 games to lead his OHL team a season ago, as the Gaels hope to push into the playoffs once again under determined head coach Brett Gibson.
Another major difference for Queen’s is the reality of no FISU Games and the ability to not only turn to Gibson full-time, but also key players such as Yantsis and Paquette.
Key player: Jonathan Yantsis
The best way to describe the Paladins in 2022-2023 was all over the place.
They started the season 3-3-0 in six games but included a 7-6 overtime comeback win over McGill and 9-2 and 6-1 losses to Ottawa and Ontario Tech. RMC proceeded to lose eight of ten to close the fall semester, though and despite splitting their first four games of the winter, dropped their next six to finish 7-17-2 and in eighth in the division.
Austin Saint and Isaac Pascoal lead the offense as freshmen for the Paladins with 19 and 17 points, respectively and will be looking to grow this season. Perhaps the biggest offensive question for the Paladins is whether Chris Paquette will recapture the form that saw him pick up 15 goals and 32 points in 2019-2020 and earn OUA East MVP and Rookie of the Year.
In net, Micheal Davis looks to have the keys to the crease after serving as backup to Joey May a season ago, while new recruit Ulrick Roussel joins the RMC net after posting a .918 save percentage in 22 games with the Northern Colorado Eagles of the USPHL.
Key player: Austin Saint
The UQTR Patriotes enter the season as the two-time defending Queen’s Cup champions and reigning U SPORTS bronze medalists. However, they’re unrecognizable.
Outside of leading goalscorer and 2023 U SPORTS and OUA MVP Simon LaFrance and goaltender Alexis Gravel, the Patriotes have nearly replaced their entire roster.
Not to discount LaFrance’s 16 goals and 38 points in 23 games or Gravel’s tendency to steal results, the Patriotes will need a lot to go their way this season to experience anywhere near the levels achieved since university hockey returned from COVID-19.
The Patriotes saw a large recruiting class and welcome 15 new players to the program for the upcoming season. Among them, 13 come from the QMJHL, the top division of junior hockey in Quebec.
Among the top recruits is forward Pier-Olivier Roy, who joins UQTR after a 26-goal, 74-point season with the Quebec Remparts. Meanwhile, Zach Gravel, brother of Alexis, also joins, having posted 23 goals and 45 points with the Chicoutimi Sagueneens last season.
Marc-Étienne Hubert has a tumultuous task on his hands to get the group hitting on all cylinders as quickly as possible, but with his team-building abilities and the skill of the new recruits, it could be a quick turnaround for UQTR.
Either way, it will be an intriguing season for the two-time defending champions, with extremities seeming most likely — it just depends on what side of the standings it ends up being.
Key player: Simon LaFrance
The York Lions will take on a significantly more testing travel schedule this season as they make the switch over to the OUA East. Meanwhile, head coach Russ Herrington and the group will only have one game against each of their local rivals, TMU and Toronto.
It’s the first time the Lions will play in the OUA East, having participated in the OUA West since the two division setup was introduced in 2009-10.
The Lions finished the 2022-23 season second last in the West with a record of 12-13-2, but move to an east division that may suit them better, playing programs that often are closer in quality.
Still, the Lions will hope to improve on their penalty kill, which ranked the worst in their previous division but would have been middle of the pack in the east. While killing 77 percent of penalties isn’t a lofty goal, matching or exceeding that mark could significantly impact York’s season.
At the same time, the group has introduced a recruiting class of mostly Junior A players and will hope to get the best out of them while also turning to veterans such as Brock McLeod, who scored seven goals and 18 points last season.
In net, Carter Serhyenko will hope to carry his rookie success into his second season, having posted a .916 save percentage in 13 games as a first-year.
Potentially, the most intriguing additions to the 2023-24 Lions have been on the bench, with experienced coach Cyril Bollers joining as an assistant, having helped Team Ontario at the Canada Games and the Jamaican Hockey Federation while taking on several other roles. Alongside him as a new assistant will also be Jessi Turi, who held a similar role with the now-defunct Toronto Six, who won the Premier Hockey Federation’s Isobel Cup in 2023.
The newest season is a year of adjustments for the York Lions, but one that could pay off for the group as they prepare for a new adventure in OUA hockey.
Key player: Carter Serhyenko
By Richard Coffey/Ben Steiner