Breakthrough season

Strong recruiting class has men’s squad on cusp of a playoff run

Kevin Bailie was named the CIS Rookie of the Year and OUA East MVP after posting a 1.98 goals against average and a league-best .934 save percentage.
Kevin Bailie was named the CIS Rookie of the Year and OUA East MVP after posting a 1.98 goals against average and a league-best .934 save percentage.

Queen’s men’s hockey team is heading into the upcoming season with high expectations.

The Gaels are looking to build on one of their strongest seasons ever, where they tied a team record for wins in a season and were ranked multiple times among the country’s top 10.

The squad was bounced out in the second round of the OUA playoffs to the Carleton Ravens, but appear ready to enter this season as a championship contender.

Head coach Brett Gibson — the reigning CIS Coach of the Year — has developed a positive reputation for himself and the program. Off-season recruiting saw Gibson dip into several different junior leagues across Canada, highlighted by the pickups of four Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players, including two 30-goal scorers in forwards Darcy Greenaway and Eric Ming.

“We’ve got game-changing players now,” Gibson said. “In a close game, those guys can make all the difference.”

Close games were a staple of last year’s season. The Gaels were the league’s premier defensive squad, giving up an OUA-low 54 goals, but often struggled to score, losing 2-0 to Carleton in the decisive game of their playoff series.

While Gibson has high hopes for the season, he said he’s aware that it’ll take time before his team performs how he wants them to.

“They have to learn to adapt to my systems,” he said. “We’re bringing in guys from 10 different hockey programs running 10 different systems, but they have to learn my systems because we’ve proven that those systems can match up with any team in the country.

“It’ll look good when they’re playing well and there’ll be some growing pains when they’re not.”

Despite the talent of his recruits, Gibson said the physicality of the OUA can be a learning curve for first-year players.

“They have to learn to play against men,” he said. “Most of these guys were playing against mostly 16- and 17-year-olds in junior and now they’re playing against 20- to 25-year-old players.”

Several first-year players played significant roles last year, including goaltenders Kevin Bailie, who was named OUA East MVP and CIS Rookie of the Year, and Chris Clarke, who posted a .934 save percentage as Bailie’s backup.

“They’re the best goaltending tandem in the country and I wouldn’t trade them for anyone,” Gibson said. “They’ve been our two best players during the pre-season.”

Forwards Patrick McGillis, Tyler Moore and Kelly Jackson and defenceman Pat Downe have been named assistant captains for the upcoming year, with forward Corey Bureau entering his third year as captain.

Besides Queen’s, Gibson said Carleton, the UQTR Patriotes, the McGill Redmen and the 2013-14 league champion Windsor Lancers are the teams to beat in the OUA this year.

“You have to go through one of those teams if you want to win,” he said.

The Gaels open their regular season against McGill tomorrow at the Memorial Centre. They’ll look to avenge a pair of one-goal losses to the Redmen last season.

“McGill’s the pinnacle of the OUA and historically they’ve been our biggest rival,” Gibson said. “Those are the games you look forward to — why not start off at home against them?”

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