Puck drops for Gaels

Sports Editor Gilbert Coyle examines the hockey teams' chances this season

Forward Jonathon Lawrance is captain for the fourth straight season.
Forward Jonathon Lawrance is captain for the fourth straight season.
Photo: 
Photo: 

Men's hockey

Last season, the Gaels finished fifth in the OUA East and were knocked out of the playoffs by the Nipissing Lakers in a two-game sweep. But this year’s combination of veteran leadership and explosive offensive talent should lead to better results. Head coach Brett Gibson said the current squad is “the best team I’ve had here at Queen’s.”

Forward Kelly Jackson said the team’s goal is to win 16 games, finish in the top four in the OUA East and advance past the second round of the playoffs. Given the quality across the roster, it’s realistic. The Gaels are already hampered by the same injury crisis that affected them last season. Defenceman Rob Stellick and forward Jordan Mirwaldt are both out until at least Jan. 1 with lower body injuries, while forward Brock Ouellet will miss the entire season with a hamstring tear. But if the Gaels can hold out until Stellick and Mirwaldt return and avoid other serious injuries, they should still meet their goals.

The team started the season with a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Varsity Blues and a 7-3 win over the Brock Badgers on the road last weekend. Jackson, who registered seven points in two games, said the team entered the Toronto game expecting to win.

Gibson said the win over the Badgers was a better performance, with the Gaels using their speed to wear down a bigger opponent.

Fifth-year forward Jonathon Lawrance will be the captain for the fourth straight season. Jackson and forward Payton Liske, who Gibson called the OUA’s best player, will lead the team’s offence. Stephane Chabot and Patrick McEachen are the team’s top defence pairing. And goaltender Riley Whitlock will start in net.

Men’s hockey can’t be an average team if they want to contend in the OUA East. Lawrance graduates at the end of the season. It’s the team’s last chance in the foreseeable future.

Coach

This is Gibson’s seventh season with the team and sixth as head coach. In those six seasons, the team has gone 61-63-16 under the Gananoque-native.

Key player

Lawrance has been the centrepiece of the program since he arrived in 2007 and Gibson said his team will only go as far as his captain takes them.

Can’t-miss game

Jan. 21 vs. Nipissing Lakers: This late-season game might determine if Gaels have home-ice in the playoffs

Women's hockey

Don’t expect a repeat from the defending OUA champions this season. Last year’s women’s hockey team won 18 of their final 21 games, including six straight overtime playoff games en route to a provincial title. They set a North American record for a six-period overtime win over Guelph in the OUA final and followed it up with a third-place finish at nationals.

This year’s roster has a different look. Star players Kelsey Thompson, Becky Conroy and Elizabeth Kench have graduated and head coach Matthew Holmberg has 10 rookies in his lineup. But he said it won’t be a rebuilding year.

Goalies Mel Dodd-Moher and Karissa Savage are back to share the duties in net. Fourth-year Katie Duncan will be the team’s leading defender. Forwards Alex Cieslowski, Shawna Griffin, and Brittany and Morgan McHaffie will be leaned on to score goals.

The Gaels split their first two games last weekend, beating the Brock Badgers 2-1 and losing to the Guelph Gryphons 3-2 in a rematch of last year’s OUA final.

Holmberg said the team is “ultimately aiming at repeating as OUA champions” — but it’ll be difficult to replicate last year’s success. After losing so much veteran talent, he’s had to make too many changes to his line-up. And after last season’s exploits, the Gaels won’t take anyone by surprise this time.

This team will be competitive and will challenge for home-ice advantage in the playoffs. But a repeat of last season is too much to ask.

Coach

Holmberg is entering his sixth year with the team and third as head coach. In the past two seasons, he’s gone 41-16-7, won OUA women’s hockey coach of the year in 2010 and earned the OUA male coach of the year award last season. Queen’s Athletics upgraded Holmberg from part-time to full-time coach in September.

Key player

Cieslowski led the team with two goals in two games last weekend. The second-year forward plays on a line with the McHaffie twins. That trio will need to score goals for the Gaels to win games.

Can’t-miss games

Jan. 21-22 vs. Guelph Gryphons and Brock Badgers: Two important home games against rivals late in the season will likely have a significant impact on OUA standings going into the playoffs.

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.