First in league, but rivals ahead

Biggest test to come for cruising pucksters

Captain Corey Bureau netted in Queen’s 3-1 win over Laurier last Saturday.
Captain Corey Bureau netted in Queen’s 3-1 win over Laurier last Saturday.

It was the perfect way to ring in the new year for the men’s hockey team.

The Gaels started off 2014 last weekend with a pair of road victories over the UOIT Ridgebacks and the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks.

Winning has become somewhat of a habit for this Gaels team — they’re now on a six-game win streak and have won nine of their past 10, improving to 12-0-5 on the season. They remain first in the OUA with 29 points.

“There’s a bit of rust not playing a game in about a month,” said head coach Brett Gibson. “But the boys found a way to win both games.

“It’s been a good ride,” added Gibson, who’s coaching the most successful men’s hockey team in his nine seasons as head coach. “We’re not blowing guys out, but we’re playing a strong, structured game.”

Queen’s is currently holding onto seventh place in the national rankings, their highest this season and the first time they’ve been in that position since 1982. Still, they find themselves ranked behind OUA rivals McGill (sixth at 12-4-1) and Lakehead (fifth at 13-3-0).

Gibson said CIS rankings may not be as important as overall standings, but they’re still a key inspiring factor for his club.

“I think our motivation right now is seeing that there’s still two teams in Ontario ranked higher than us,” Gibson said. “Every day, day in and day out we’re looking to get better.”

Rookie forward Harrison Hendrix scored the overtime winner on Friday against UOIT — his fourth goal of the season — to lead the Gaels to a 3-2 win.

Meanwhile, forward Patrick McGillis was a prime performer on the weekend, picking up a pair of goals and adding an assist to earn Queen’s Male Athlete of the Week honours.

“McGillis is a guy who we look to produce and he showed that this weekend,” Gibson said.

Other goal scorers on the weekend for the Gaels included Braeden Corbeth and Tyler Moore against UOIT, as well as Jordan Coccimiglio and Corey Bureau on Saturday in Queen’s 3-1 victory over Laurier.

While they scored six goals over the two games, it was strong play in net that the Gaels have grown accustomed to this season that helped seal the wins.

Netminder Kevin Bailie got the win on Friday with 23 saves, while backup Chris Clarke impressed on Saturday, stopping 33 of 34 en route to a victory of his own.

Both goaltenders continue to perform well, as Bailie improved to 8-0-4 while Clarke moved to a record of 4-0-1. The pair has combined to give up just 34 goals in 17 games, the lowest total in the OUA.

In the next two weeks, the Gaels will face what may end up being their toughest three-game stretch of the season. They host the perennial contender Carleton Ravens tonight, followed by a two game home-and-away series with the third-place McGill Redmen starting tomorrow and concluding next Friday in Montreal.

Gibson made no attempt to belittle the importance of the upcoming matchups.

“Absolutely, it’s our biggest test of the year,” he said. “McGill’s the measuring stick for every team in the OUA — they’ve won a national championship recently. Carleton’s no slouch either.

“Those are two of the top teams in the league.”

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