Puck Set to Drop on New AUS Hockey Season
The conference includes the defending National Champions, last year’s regular season champs who were at the top of the national rankings for most of last year, two other teams consistently in the National top 10 and younger teams that have improved their rosters and gained another year of experience.
SMU will be without a couple of players that were instrumental in their run to the CIS title last year, but still possess a strong squad. Dalhousie has a young team, but has added a number of skilled players coming out of the Major Junior hockey ranks and looks to be a tougher to team to play.
AUS Hockey is somewhat underappreciated. The quality of hockey is at the highest level and features a lot very skilled players that have graduated from Major Junior. Remember if you can’t get out to the game check us out online at SSN Canada.
Glen MacDonald from the Chronicle Herald offered a nice little look of the AUHC clubs and what to expect in this upcoming season.
The Huskies, who finished third during the 2009-10 regular season with a 16-8-4 record, graduated two significant pieces to their championship squad — captain Marc Rancourt and sniper Cody Thornton. But the forward lines still feature the likes of Cam Fergus, Colby Pridham, Justin Munden and, of course, ex-NHLer Mike Danton. Stienburg has been pleased with recruits Lucas Bloodoff and Michael Stickland up front.
The blue-line is anchored by Andrew Hotham and David MacDonald and Neil Conway should get the bulk of the minutes in goal.
Here’s a look at the other three Nova Scotia teams (in order of last season’s finish):
Acadia Axemen (19-6-3, second place, lost 3-1 to SMU in AUHC semifinal): After winning only one playoff game, head coach Darren Burns spent the off-season shoring up the blue-line and adding some rugged forwards.
“We needed to address the ability to move the puck and create offence from the blue-line and add some toughness and grittiness up front,” Burns said.
His recruits on defence include Maritime junior league MVP Chris Owens, Cullen Morin of the Red Deer Rebels, Michael Ward of the Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and Leo Jenner of the Plymouth Whalers.
“All four will play a ton,” Burns said. “Each can move the puck very well. Our transition game was not strong the past few years and it was something we needed to change.”
Acadia will be without bruising blue-liner Beau Prokopetz, who hasn’t skated since suffering a concussion in the playoffs.
Leading scorers Jonathan Laberge, Spencer Jezegou, Andrew Clark, Philippe Bertrand and Chris Bruton and goalies Michael Chiasson and Kris Westblom return.
St. Francis Xavier X-Men (11-12-5, fifth place, lost 3-0 to SMU in AUHC final): The X-Men pulled off the stunner of the regular season and the biggest upset of the playoffs, each at the expense of UNB.
St. F.X. defeated the previously-unbeaten Varsity Reds on the final weekend of the regular season and then swept the CIS top-ranked team in three games in the conference semifinals.
Head coach Brad Peddle said to come within one series of reaching the national championship will serve as extra motivation for his returnees.
“That certainly fuelled the fire for the guys over the summer,” Peddle said of his team’s Cinderella playoff run. “It was a great learning experience for a relatively young team. They can build on that.”
The core of last year’s squad remains intact, including leading scorers Bryce Swan, Phil Mangan and Brett Morrison. The goaltending tandem of Joey Perricone and Bryan Gillis are a year wiser.
Peddle brought in New Glasgow native Scott Brannon of the QMJHL champion Moncton Wildcats and Western Hockey League veterans Jason Bast of the Moose Jaw Warriors and Derek Claffey of the Swift Current Broncos during the off-season. Each were captains of their respective major junior clubs.
Dalhousie Tigers (8-16-4, seventh place, out of playoffs): In Pete Belliveau’s second season behind the bench, Dal improved by four wins and finished one point back of its first playoff berth since 2004.
Former QMJHL sniper Benjamin Breault, last season’s team MVP after joining the Tigers in January, has been their top forward during exhibition play. Daniel Bartek, Trevor MacKenzie and Brendon MacDonald will help provide the offence up front.
Belliveau said former Western Hockey League defenceman Brett Plouffe has been an anchor on blue-line. Fifth-year Ryan Jenner and sophomore Benoit Gervais give Dal a solid defensive corps.
Bobby Nadeau should carry the workload in goal. Nadeau is one of 21 Tigers either in their first or second year.
“We are very young but we have a lot more skill than we ever had,” said Belliveau, who recruited former major junior forwards Pierre-Alexandre Vandall, Patrick Daley and Brett Theberge during the summer. “We think we can qualify (for the playoffs) this year.”
Also from the Herald: Little Certainty in the AUHC