One way to beat the injury bug is by forming a large roster.
The men’s hockey team took precautionary measures in the off-season to ensure last season’s injury plague doesn’t creep into 2013. Gaels head coach Brett Gibson added 12 rookie players to form a 29-man roster — 15 forwards, 10 defencemen and three goaltenders.
Injuries snowballed from bad to worse last season, contributing to an eighth-place finish in the OUA East. They faced the McGill Redmen in the first round, the eventual CIS champions.
“Obviously depth and size were two factors I needed to address during recruiting season,” Gibson said.
Former Brampton Battalion defenceman Jordan Auld is one rookie looking to make an instant impact. Auld brings a 6’2, 195 lb frame and two years of Ontario Hockey League (OHL) experience.
“We’re going to be a much bigger team, that’s for sure.” Gibson said. “A lot of [the recruits] are over the 6’2’’ range.”
Ironically, a trio of players standing 5’10’’ and under led the Gaels in scoring last year. Returning forwards Kelly Jackson, Tyler Moore and Corey Bureau combined for 30 of the team’s 79 goals.
Bureau, a second-year forward, has been assigned the team captaincy following the retirement of four-year captain Jon Lawrance.
“He’s not going to be able to replace [Lawrance] right away — it’s going to take time,” Gibson said. “But it took [Lawrance] a year or two to develop too, and that’s what it takes.”
Bureau spent four years with the Mississauga St. Michael’s Majors (now the Mississauga Steelheads) in the OHL, before joining the Gaels last season.
He notched 11 goals and eight assists as a rookie, logging regular power play and penalty kill minutes as a centre.
“I threw him into the fires because I think he has leadership qualities,” Gibson said.
Lawrance’s presence will shift from the ice to the bench, where he’ll serve as assistant coach to Gibson, alongside returning coaches Andrew Haussler and Tony Cimellaro.
“[Lawrance] remains part of the connection with the players — I think he’ll help in that respect.”
Beyond Lawrance, the Gaels will be without the high-scoring Payton Liske, former assistant captain Scott Kenway, forward David Chubb and defencemen Ben Munroe and Brendan Bureau.
Last year’s goaltender tandem of Riley Whitlock and backup David Aime remains intact.
“The team’s finally going to start playing for points,” Gibson said. “I’m excited to see how things work.”
The women’s hockey team is looking to prove they’re better than their OUA quarterfinal loss last season.
After starting last season off strong, winning five of their first six games, the Gaels slumped into the post-season, winning only six total games in 2012. The lower-seeded York Lions knocked them out of the playoffs in three games.
Despite the end result, last season gives the Gaels ample reason to remain positive going forward.
2011-12 saw veterans and newcomers alike come into their own. With 38 points, third-year centre Morgan McHaffie captured the top spot in the OUA scoring race and the conference’s player of the year title. Her twin, Brittany, battled injuries last season but scored 25 points in 23 games.
Centre Shawna Griffin and left winger Taryn Pilon enjoyed breakout seasons last year. Alex Cieslowski will join the McHaffie twins on the Gaels’ top line, while high-scoring defender Katie Duncan will provide offense from the back end.
“We’re finding out that we’ve got a good balance of scoring across all three lines,” said head coach Matt Holmberg. “I’m really happy with that sort of balanced attack.”
On the other end of the ice, the Gaels are as solid as ever in net. Mel Dodd-Moher and Karissa Savage split starting duties last year, ending with save percentages of .910 and .915, respectively.
Queen’s netminders conceded just seven goals in six exhibition games, combining for two shutouts.
“Both [goalies] have played phenomenal out of training — probably the best I’ve ever seen Queen’s goalies out of camp,” Holmberg said.
The Gaels opened the regular season last weekend, falling 1-0 to the Toronto Varsity Blues in a shootout and topping the Ryerson Rams 6-0.
Queen’s greatest competition this season will be the heavyweight Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks, who look unbeatable once again.
The Gaels lost all three contests versus the Golden Hawks last season, including a 7-0 loss on Feb. 3.
If the Gaels can avoid slumping into the post-season and meeting up with Laurier in early rounds, there’s no reason why they can’t hope for a deep playoff run. But the Golden Hawks remain the favourites, and if Queen’s can’t find a way to beat them, they’ll likely repeat as OUA champions.
In order to compete with the country’s top teams, Holmberg has emphasized greater tempo and puck control.
“Our passing has been much better [so far],” he said. “The players know the pace they need to play at to compete at nationals.”
— With files from Nick Faris
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