With the winter break now in the rearview mirror, CIS teams enter the second half of the season with an eye towards the University Cup. Here’s a look at the top 10 CIS hockey teams as the 2014 portion of the schedule gets underway.
There hasn’t been a more impressive story thus far in CIS hockey than this young Dinos squad. The only blemish on their record is a double overtime loss to interprovincial rival, University of Alberta. Calgary head coach Mark Howell has his players buying into a more up-tempo style of play and the results are speaking for themselves.
The unofficial mid-season break could not have come at a better time for the defending Canada West champions. The Golden Bears were defeated twice in their past four contests and look to get back on track in the New Year. This should not be a problem when you score at the pace the Bears do. They’ve outscored their opponents 76-29 in the first half of the season.
Acadia finds itself once again atop the AUS conference. In the 2012-2013 campaign, Acadia was ranked second in the country at the mid-season break before falling flat on its face. The Axemen lost seven of their last 12 games and lost in the second round of the playoffs. Returning, however, are 18 players including new captain Liam Heelis. Heelis has already surpassed his point totals from last season and leads the CIS in goals with 16. I wouldn’t expect to see a repeat of last year’s meltdown.
It’s been an interesting first half for the defending National Champions, to say the least. The V-Reds have long held a firm position near the top of the national rankings but change is in the air in Fredericton. UNB graduated 12 players last season, making it tough for so many new faces to adapt to the Varsity Red’s unique culture they’ve had for so many years. They have yet to beat the Axemen, have lost to cross-town foes St. Thomas Tommies for the first time in seven seasons and were recently thumped 7-2 by St. FX. Despite the change, the talent pool is too deep to not still consider this team a national contender. We’ll see if they sink or swim down the stretch.
Gone are Lessard and Petit, both CIS First-Team All-Canadians, but back is a deep UQTR team. Adding to that depth are two mid-season recruits from the professional ranks — Guillaume Asselin and Martin Lefebvre. It’s hard to imagine they could repeat the success of the aforementioned All-Stars, but if they do, expect them to again be looking at a Queen’s Cup Championship.
Rebounding from last season’s first-round upset, McGill is once again contending in the OUA East. Captain Ryan McKeirnan leads the team in points and quarterbacks one of the most fearful power plays in the country. That being said, McGill’s main concern has nothing to do with offence. Their sloppy play in their defensive zone must be cleaned up if they want to find themselves in Saskatoon for the University Cup in March.
Speaking of offence, Ryerson averages over a whopping five goals a game. Consider the fact there is only a handful of teams in the country that average over four. Veteran CIS coach Graham Wise has greatly benefitted from his son’s output thus far. Jamie, the younger Wise, leads the scoring race in his freshman campaign. But the bigger story has been their pre-season trip to New Jersey. The crime: consumption of alcohol in their hotels during the road trip. The punishment: suspending the team for seven days — including two forfeited games, suspending coach Wise for four games and relieving part-time assistant coach Lawrence Smith.
They rank 24th in goals scored nationally, have only tallied 11 power-play goals all season and do not have a single player averaging over a point-per-game. What they do have is the third fewest goals against in the CIS, one of the best-ranked penalty kill percentages and have not lost a game in regulation. Yes, they are unbeaten in regulation in 17 straight games, which is a remarkable feat for any program. It should be noted they have yet to play McGill or UQTR, and won by default versus Ryerson.
Hard to get a good read on this Lakehead team. They’ve lost four of their top five scorers from last season but like the better part of the last decade they find themselves at the top of the OUA West. They certainly ice a formidable lineup and trips into For William Garden are not highlighted on anyone’s calendars, but the Thunderwolves benefit from having by far the easiest schedule in the entire CIS.
It’s a bit of a flyer, but I like the X-Men rounding out the top 10. It’s been a bit of Jekyll and Hyde the last couple of years in Antigonish. Depending on the night, they show a mix of skill and sandpaper but other nights appear disinterested in even getting on the ice. Returning this year is essentially every major piece from last season. They play in arguably the most difficult conference in Canada and lately have shown promise that they are ready to contend with the V-Reds and Axemens of the division.
Colby Pridham is a two-time CIS National Champion, having played for St. Mary’s University and University of New Brunswick. He also spent time in the QMJHL as a member of the Halifax Mooseheads. Colby will file regular blogs on CIS hockey leading up to the University Cup in March.