While the pandemic has created a quiet year for men’s hockey, one aspect of the game has remained busy: recruiting.
Coming off their Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championship in 2019, the Gaels’ shortened season last year was lacklustre. The team ranked poorly with only 69 goals and a power-play conversion rate of 13 per cent, both putting them in the bottom 25 per cent in the league. However, men’s hockey is looking to return to its winning ways when university athletics resume. The team has picked up some offensive firepower in Nolan Hutcheson and defensive depth in Owen Lalonde and Trevor Longo, and are looking to revamp special teams while also building strong team culture in the aftermath of the pandemic.
Hailing from the Kingston area, Hutcheson is a hometown story. For the Gaels, he’s set to be an option to consistently put the puck in the back of the net.
Coming from the Ontario Hockey League’s (OHL) Sudbury Wolves, Hutcheson had 89 points in 183 career games. While in Sudbury, Hutcheson had a breakout 2018-19 year, recording 44 points in 66 games and seven points in eight playoff appearances. He also won the Most Improved Player of the year that season.
Head Coach Brett Gibson highlighted Hutcheson’s connection to the area, noting their shared connection as “Gan’ guys.” Gibson is confident the Gananoque native will hit the ground running at Queen’s.
“He’s a full-grown man, a big body out there,” Gibson said. “We think he’ll come out there and make an impact in that way and we’re really happy to have him playing here.”
Lalonde, originally from Windsor, has already had the experience of winning an OHL championship alongside his soon-to-be Gaels teammate, Anthony Popovich, when the two played for the Guelph Storm in in 2019. Lalonde was critical in that championship campaign, providing a career-high 34 assists and seven goals while pocketing another 10 points during the playoffs.
After his banner season, he moved on to the Flint Firebirds and had the second-best season of his OHL career, recording 25 points in 56 games in the 2019-2020 season. Gibson was quick to mention Lalonde’s past success and believes the 21-year-old will fill some gaps on the team.
“Second overall pick in the OHL Draft, champion with the Guelph Storm, he’s got a lot of talent and experience coming in and a great offensive ability with a right-shot,” Gibson said.
From the west coast, Trevor Longo joins Queen’s from the Vancouver Giants of the Western Hockey League (WHL). In 135 games played in the WHL, Longo recorded 11 goals and 22 assists.
His best season in the WHL came while he was a member of the Medicine Hat Tigers in 2018-19, recording 13 points in 61 games. However, Longo appears to be built for the playoffs, having earned four points in six career playoff games. At 6’3”, Longo should continue to provide a solid presence on the blue line for a team that ranked near the bottom in goals against last season.
“Longo will work his way into the lineup, it’ll just take some time,” Gibson said. “It’s really good to get him here, we always love when we can get guys that really want to come to Queen’s and he’s been wanting this for three years.”
Aside from the recruiting class, Gibson also mentioned the need to work on special teams and the challenge of creating a strong team culture after a long period of separation. When asked about the power-play, Gibson mentioned the youth of the team and their relative inexperience playing on special teams, which put his players in a difficult position to succeed.
Gibson also talked about the challenges that he foresees returning to the Memorial Centre for the 2021-22 season and the effects of the pandemic on the team.
“Our culture is unique and it’s about trust and relationships and that’s hard when the players can only skate for an hour and then leave,” Gibson said.
However, one positive will be the return of team captain Patrick Sanvido, who was accepted to Queen’s Teacher’s College, who Gibson called “another coach in the room.”
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