The Varsity Blues men’s hockey team is anxiously preparing to take to the ice in their season opener this coming Sunday.
The team is looking to avenge their fourth place finish in the OUA playoffs last season. Toronto was eliminated in the quarterfinals in a heartbreaking, double overtime 4–3 loss to the Carleton Ravens.
This year’s group, consisting of both experienced players and fresh recruits, is ready to build upon last season’s success and move forward with a new strategy.
“I think last season our team lacked depth and this year we have a really solid lineup from top to bottom,” defenseman Matt Walters said. “We had a tight knit team last year and I think we have become even closer this year and that will translate into better teamwork on the ice.”
Walters, who led all Blues blue-liners in scoring last season and has been recognized as the team’s top defenseman, is one of the returning players expected to provide leadership. Teammate and fellow veteran Tyler Turcotte will also be returning on defense, and will be asked to play a shut down role.
The team has added seven promising new recruits to compensate for the players who have graduated. “We’ve added a great group of first-year players this year that are going to be able to contribute to the team from day one,” says Walters. “All of the first year players fit in perfectly and are on board with what we are trying to accomplish as a team.”
Forward Cassidy Preston expressed similar sentiments. “We have a strong crop of first year players. We added some size on defense with [Matthew] Oakley and a couple of smart heads-up defensemen with [Dylan] Heide and [Lane] Werbowski.”
“Upfront we added some solid size and skill with [Tanner] Waldvogel and [Andrew] Doyle; [Ernesto] Valente is a shifty player with a great shot, and I think [Jeff] Brown will be an impact player for us all season with his intensity and skill.”
Preston is embarking on his fifth and final year with the Blues with optimism. “Playing for U of T might be my favourite team because it is right in the heart of Toronto. The environment around the Varsity Blues is a lot of fun and excitement. I’m very proud to represent U of T.”
U of T has a rich hockey tradition. Since it began competing over a century ago, in 1891, the team has captured 10 national titles and been honoured by the presence of hockey legends, including Conn Symthe and Tom Watt. This season’s men are looking to continue to add to the team’s rich reputation.
“The team is going to have to manage their time and bring their best effort to the ice every night. If everyone on the team can bring their best effort night in and night out, we will be very successful,” says Walters.
Cassidy Preston echoed those sentiments. “Defensively we need to keep playing our team-first approach. We have a lot of good players, and when we all buy into our ‘team-first’ mentality and play good defensive hockey we have a chance to win every night, even against the top teams in the nation.
“Offensively, I think our team will need to score more by committee this season.”
The team got off to a winning start over the weekend, beating the RMC Paladins 4–1 on Friday and Nipissing University 5– on Sunday. The Blues held a 3-0 advantage over RMC until the Paladins spoiled the shutout with only two minutes left in the game. Forward Cassidy Preston led the team with three goals, including a hat trick to open the game and an empty netter to close it. The Blues return to the Varsity Arena on Thursday to take on Carleton Ravens.