Last weekend, men’s hockey head coach Brett Gibson tweeted, “Whole month to stew over last night’s debacle! Recruiting starts today… to find guys that want to compete.”
Gibson’s tweet on Sunday followed the Gaels’ 10-1 loss to the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivières Patriotes on Saturday night at the Memorial Centre. The blowout loss capped off a disastrous November that saw the Gaels go 1-5-1. Backup goalie Steele De Fazio quit the team and the number of players on Queen’s injury list rose to nine.
Gibson was on a recruiting trip in Newmarket on Sunday.
“We’ve got a month now … and all I’ve got to think about is this 10-1 loss,” he told the Journal. “This job never ends because now I’ve got to find players that are willing to compete.”
At the halfway point of the OUA regular season, the Gaels are ninth-place in the Eastern conference with a 6-7-1 record, ahead of only the Royal Military College Paladins. According to Gibson, the team is struggling to overcome injuries.
“It’s not my grinders or third-liners who are injured, it’s my top players,” Gibson said. “Once they’re healthy, things will get better.”
The Gaels’ top 10-point scorers from last season are all on this year’s roster — but five are currently out of the lineup.
Forwards Jordan Mirwaldt, Payton Liske, Jordan Soquila, Brock Ouellet and Joey Derochie are missing. Defencemen Robert Stellick and Patrick McEachen — the team’s only two defencemen with Ontario Hockey League (OHL) experience — are injured.
“We have guys playing positions they probably shouldn’t even be playing right now,” Gibson said, adding that defenceman Keenan Murray is currently playing on a forward line with captain Jon Lawrance.
“With the amount of guys we have out of the lineup, we have to play near-perfect hockey.”
Certain healthy players aren’t producing like they did last season. Defenceman Alexi Pianosi — who led Gaels defencemen with 20 points last season — has been scoreless in 14 games this season, while Lawrance is on pace for only half of his 25-point total last season.
The goaltending position has also seen major changes from last season. Even though De Fazio and David Aime are both returning players, Gibson recruited Riley Whitlock — a first-year law student who played junior hockey in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Whitlock also played with the Ottawa Gee-Gees for the past three seasons.
Whitlock has started 13 of 14 games this season. Backup goalie De Fazio — who started in 20 games last season — played his only game for the Gaels this season against the Brock Badgers on Oct. 8.
“He’s decided to leave the team because he didn’t see himself as a backup goalie and he wanted to concentrate on school,” Gibson said. “If that’s the decision he made, than who am I to go against it?”
De Fazio declined to comment to the Journal.
Lawrance said the team was surprised that Whitlock started so many games.
“We thought maybe there would be a three-man rotation,” he said. “We definitely did not expect things to work out like they have.”
Lawrance said it was tough to see De Fazio quit after having played with him since 2009.
“He’s pretty good friends with everyone and he’s been a great teammate,” he said.
In 13 starts this season, Whitlock has a .907 save percentage, a 3.43 goals against average and one shutout.
“[Whitlock]’s given us stability back there,” Lawrance said. “We’ve hung him out to dry a couple times, but he’s been good, and whenever we’ve had to call on Aime, he’s been great too.”
Second-year backup Aime said his role has been reduced since Whitlock joined the Gaels.
“Last year, [De Fazio and I] split the games about 65-35,” Aime said. “This year, [Whitlock]’s playing really well, so it’s tough to get minutes.”
Whitlock was pulled after allowing five goals in the first two periods of a 5-3 loss to the Ottawa Gee-Gees last Friday. Aime recorded a scoreless third period. But when Whitlock allowed five goals against the Patriotes the next day, Aime let in five more when he came in.
Aime also declined to talk about De Fazio’s departure from the team.
Even though the Gaels ended 2011 with three straight losses, they have over a month until their next game. When they play the Paladins on Jan. 3, up to five injured players should be back in the lineup. Gibson said his team won’t have any more excuses at that point.
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