Homeless hockey still has hope

Teams prepare for their first season without Jock Harty Arena

Pat McDonough checks a McGill forward last season. Men’s hockey opens their season at home Oct. 6 against Western.
Pat McDonough checks a McGill forward last season. Men’s hockey opens their season at home Oct. 6 against Western.
Journal File Photo

It’s shaping up to be an interesting year for the Queen’s ice hockey teams, who are looking forward to the first of several seasons without home ice.

With the Jock Harty Arena no longer available, they will play their home games in two different arenas. The teams will travel to Napanee for half of their home games and the Kingston Memorial Centre for the other half.

The women’s hockey team, OUA runners-up last year, are hoping to build off that performance for this season. They had a successful pair of pre-season games last weekend, defeating the Carleton Ravens 6-0 and the Ottawa Gee-Gees 2-1.

One big change for the Gaels this season will be a new face behind the bench, or, more appropriately, an old face in a different position. Rob Lalonde is entering his fifth season of coaching with the Gaels, but his first as head coach. He replaces Harold Parsons, who will be handling more of the team’s administrative work this year. Parsons is returning as the head coach for the 2008-09 season.

Lalonde said he’s excited to have the chance to work as a head coach.

“It certainly is a great opportunity for me,” he said. “I’ve got some big shoes to fill: Mr. Parsons has had a very successful program in the last six years, but I think that all the pieces are in place, and we’ll be strong again this year.”

His familiarity with the team from his years as an assistant coach will be a big asset for him, Lalonde said.

“All the present players have been with the program for as long as I’ve been here,” he said.

Lalonde said the team hopes to continue their recent run of success.

“We’ve medaled in five of the last six years,” he said.

Lalonde said depth will be a strong asset to his team, particularly in goal.

“We have a fairly well-rounded team. We’ve got lines that can score, [and] we have very good goaltending,” he said. “I feel that we probably have the best one-two tandem in the whole OUA. We’ve got two very good goaltenders capable of doing the number one job.” The team’s goaltenders are veteran Melissa John and Katie Boyd, who’s coming off a strong rookie season.

Lalonde also cited defence as a strength for the Gaels.

“Our defence is very solid. We’re going to be very mobile, we’ll be able to move the puck, and also have our defence contributing offensively.” Lalonde said the Gaels’ recent success hasn’t put pressure on them to repeat.

“Personally, I don’t feel a lot of pressure. We’re going into it feeling quite confident, and I don’t think the girls feel a lot of pressure either.”

The women kick off their season Saturday night at the Memorial Centre, where they will face Windsor at 8:30 p.m. They play in Napanee against the Western Mustangs at 11:30 a.m. the next morning.

The men’s team, meanwhile, is also hoping to build on its breakthrough season.

After the team reached the playoffs for the first time in four seasons last year, the roster received a number of upgrades.

Brett Gibson, entering his second season as head coach, said this year his team refuses to make excuses.

“I can honestly say this group of kids is the most dedicated one I’ve had in four years of coaching,” he said. “I haven’t heard one complaint; the guys have committed to me.”

Gibson said he hopes the Queen’s community still supports the team despite their lack of a home.

“We need the fan support playing a neutral site game every game,” he said.

“Just don’t forget about us.”

Fifth-year forward Jeff Ovens, the team’s new captain, said it has been hard not having a home in the exhibition season.

“It’s been tough, but guys have been showing up and I think it speaks volumes for the commitment level of the guys that are coming back as well as the rookies,” he said.

Forward Brady Olsen said there could be some positives about playing home games in different rinks.

“It’s almost a good thing because we’ll treat every game like a road game and keep it simple,” he said.

The team’s goaltending is stronger than ever with OUA East Rookie of the Year Ryan Gibb returning and new recruit Brady Morrison, a veteran of 74 OHL games, pushing him for playing time.

“Ryan Gibb’s the best goalie in the league bar none,” Gibson said. “But Brady Morrison’s every bit as good as I knew he was going to be. Ryan can’t get comfortable this year.”

The team’s largest improvement comes on the back end, with new recruits Marcus Halcro and Mike Bushby joining Alex Archibald, Ben Heersink and Grant Horvath and Pat McDonough in a much-improved defensive corps. The new recruits will allow Gibson to reduce the ice time of Heersink and McDonough so they won’t be as tired.

“I think defence was our weakness last year; now it’s our strength,” Gibson said.

Ovens said he hopes the team will have to rely less on Gibb.

“Last year I thought our goaltending held us in a lot of games, but now our defence is really strong,” he said.

Gibson said he expects more from Olsen, who was the team’s leading scorer last year.

“I expect more out of Brady Olsen,” he said. “I felt he had a sub-par year … he needs to be our best player every night.”

Olsen knows he has to fill a large role.

“I’m aware of the expectations [Gibson] has of me,” Olsen said. “I think we’re at the point where he doesn’t even have to say anything.”

Newcomer Jon Lawrence is expected to fill former captain Brad Walford’s shoes on offence.

Along with his role as captain, Ovens, typically a defensive forward, will also be counted on offensively this year.

Ovens said he’s excited to have a larger role.

“Having to learn the power play for the first time after four years has been a struggle, but I’m excited,” he said.

Gibson said discipline has been the team’s biggest problem throughout exhibition play.

“Our best players are also our penalty killers, and if I play them too much they get exhausted,”

he said.

Ovens said the Gaels will look to build on last year’s playoff berth.

“We’ll be a traveling circus, but we have the most potential out of any year that I’ve been here,” Ovens said. “I think some people will be surprised in the OUA.”

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