Adding Blocks to the Foundation

New hockey recruits look to bolster a rapidly improving Gaels team in 2010-2011 season.

Although their playoff dreams ended in a first-round exit, the future looks bright for the Queen’s men’s hockey team. With major talents emerging last season in the Gaels lineup, Head Coach Brett Gibson looked to strengthen the lineup for the upcoming season.

The Gaels’ goaltending issues seemed cured once Steele De Fazio took over for Mackenzie Ball. De Fazio marched through the New Year with a .907 save percentage and elevated his game in a big way during the post season with a .947 save percentage. Top scorers Payton Liske and Jordan Mirwaldt led the Gaels’ offense to finish third in goals in the East.

By the nature of university sport, growth is only sustainable with consistent recruiting classes. With the ebb and flow of fourth and fifth years moving out of the program, the talent pool has to be filled up with developed rookies who understand the game. Gibson said recruiting is a year-long process. “I start recruiting for next year [in October],”he said. “You start real early [as] you want to see where guys are leaning towards. You talk to coaches and put out some feelers just to see what these guys are thinking”. Gibson said that academic standards change the scope of the process.

“For me, I’m not necessarily looking for the top skater,” he said. “I’m looking for the top student athletes because of the Queen’s academic standards.”

Gibson has assembled a very strong group of rookies for the 2010-2011 season. Leading the group are three experienced players.

Alexi Pianosi, a defenseman with experience in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League played last season with the Aurora Tigers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League, shooting a fifty-point season from the blue line.

Jordan Soquila, a forward from the British Columbia Hockey League, captained the Merritt Centennials and scored forty-five points last season.

Finally, David Aime is a 6’5” goalie with experience in the Western Hockey League and received the Goalie of the Year award last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League.

Gibson said he feels especially excited about the new game-style Pianosi will be able to bring to his defensive core. “We needed an offensive defenseman and we got that in Pianosi,” he said. “[We] lacked everything that he brings as a player; he’s played over 200 games in the Quebec league, he’ll be ready to quarterback the team on the power play,” he said.

Soquila provides the team with the intangible qualities necessary for deep playoff runs.

“Jordan is just a great kid,” Gibson said. “He’s been a leader on every team he’s ever played on, and so I’m looking for him to be an important figure in the locker-room.” The addition of the new goaltender Aime will challenge Steele’s established position in net and force him to improve. “I told Steele that it’s his job to lose coming into it,” Gibson said. “He played unbelievable in the playoffs, he deserves it. If he takes it and runs with it then great for us. But we are in a market for winning; if Steele starts to slip up and [Aime] plays well, David will get the job.”

There will also be competition outside the pipes. Gibson has added several forwards who will come to training camp looking to steal spots on the lineup from last year’s team. Citing a need for depth upfront, Gibson said he intends to test the veteran Gaels and reward those who show a good work ethic during camp.

Each of the recruits appears just as excited as their coach to get the season rolling.

David Aime told the Journal in an email that he credits Gibson for selling him on the Gaels hockey program. The reputation of Queen’s and the city of Kingston also had a big impact on his decision.

“The fact that Queen’s is also one of the top academic schools in Canada was also very appealing to me,” he said. “I look forward to coming to Kingston as I’ve only heard great things about the city.”

In an e-mail with the Journal Alexi Pianosi expressed optimism for the hockey team’s chances this year.

“Of course like every year I’m looking forward to training camp and another season working towards a championship on the ice, and meeting all the guys,” he said. “I’ve met a few of them and they were great guys so I’m really looking forward to getting to know them and being a part of their team.”

The word “championship” seems to be floating in the air already. With a strong formula in place, no one should be surprised if the wins start piling up in the fall.

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