What is & what could be

Queen’s forward Billy Burke is pursued by McGill’s Louis-Simon Allaire (left) and Chris Churchill-Smith Saturday.
Queen’s forward Billy Burke is pursued by McGill’s Louis-Simon Allaire (left) and Chris Churchill-Smith Saturday.
Andrew Bucholtz
Andrew Bucholtz

Saturday’s men’s hockey game between Queen’s and the McGill Redmen simultaneously provided despair and hope for Gaels fans. The Gaels lost their ninth straight game to the Redmen by a score of 3-0 and were outclassed for most of the night. But, unlike past years, this wasn’t an inevitable outcome.

Throughout the game, Queen’s provided tantalizing glimpses of the hockey program that could be with a few outstanding plays and a couple flashes of brilliance. The Gaels’ eventual lapse into the drudgery of recent years doesn’t diminish the progress that has been made or the hope for the future. However, that hope requires more investment and more commitment from Queen’s to eventually bear fruit. In order to compete with strong programs such as McGill’s, the Gaels need a new facility on main campus, increased scholarship funding and a full-time head coach.

The new arena is key and it needs to be on main campus. Facilities are an important part of selling recruits on a program, and a sparkling new rink in the heart of the Queen’s Centre will do far more to promote a team to potential players than an ugly pre-fabricated structure on west campus or the ancient Memorial Centre.

Fan support is also important; it motivates the team and it can also serve as a recruiting draw. On Saturday night, we got a glimpse of the support Queen’s students can show for hockey when the conditions are right, with hundreds of them making the trek out to the Memorial Centre to cheer on their team. It was a great, festive atmosphere to make anyone proud. When the team played in Jock Harty Arena only a few years ago, such scenes were the norm rather than the exception. McGill gets this; McConnell Arena isn’t perfect, but it’s better than either the Memorial Centre or a proposed pre-fabricated west campus arena.

Increased scholarship funding is also important. The Gaels have taken important steps in this direction since the OUA decided to permit athletic scholarships last year. They have brought in top recruits such as Jon Lawrance and Brandon Perry, both recipients of the Lou Jeffries Award. However, they aren’t able to offer as much scholarship funding as other OUA programs, which puts them at a recruiting disadvantage, one that is further aggravated by Queen’s high academic standards. More funding would help the Gaels overcome this disadvantage.

The lack of a full-time head coach is another element holding the Gaels back. Head coach Brett Gibson is doing a great job of recruiting an impressive group of players and assistant coaches and developing them into a cohesive team, but he’s currently expected to do so on a part-time basis while maintaining another job. Running a men’s hockey program at the CIS level requires full-time hours; Queen’s and Windsor are the only OUA programs that don’t currently have full-time coaches, and Windsor’s program has struggled in recent years. Queen’s has done better, largely because Gibson pours himself into his job and puts in far more hours than required by his part-time status, all for the good of the team. Unlike many of Queen’s coaches, his other job isn’t even in the athletics department, which makes it still harder for him to juggle the two positions. That situation needs to be addressed for the team to compete down the road.

This team is coming along. It’s a slow process and it’s not an easy one. The nature of university sports in general means that there’s a vast turnover from year to year and that has especially hurt the hockey team this year with the loss of leading scorer Brady Olsen, captain Jeff Ovens and OUA East Most Outstanding Player Ryan Gibb. They’ve been replaced by a lot of up-and-coming talent, including Lawrance, a second-year forward and the new team captain, as well as rookies such as Perry and Scott Kenway, but those prospects need time to blossom.

If given enough time and support, this program could turn into a perennial powerhouse and one of the jewels in the crown of Queen’s Athletics. Until then, we’ll have to be content with occasional glimpses of brilliance against a background of mediocrity.

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