With the conclusion of the fall semester, many teams are prepping for upcoming playoff seasons — kicking practices and remaining pre-season games into overdrive. For the Varsity Blues men and women’s hockey teams, January spells the imminence of the postseason, with both teams vying for spots in the playoffs. In preparation for what looks liken an up-hill battle to the OUA championships, we take a look at the fall season, and preview the upcoming winter postseason.
Women’s Team (6-3-3)
The Blues women picked up right where they left off this season, despite a number of key off-season graduations and departures — speaking to the consistency of the team’s coaching. The coaching staff, headed by Olympic gold medalist Vicky Sunohara, has the team playing a disciplined, effective style.
Inexperienced goaltending was a major cause for concern going into the season. During training camp team captain Kristi Riseley stated that the team was confident with their new players, and the rookies have certainly proved her right. Thirteen games into the season, dynamic goaltending duo Hailey Farrelly and Valencia Yordanov have posted phenomenal numbers, including save percentages of 0.953 and 0.941 respectively. So far, the Blues’defensive numbers have improved over last year, which in a stingy defensive-minded league makes quite a bit of difference.
With a number of veterans leading the way, the Blues have also improved offensively. Fourth-year forward Taylor Day, who had a difficult offensive season in 2014-15, has bounced back and emerged as the team’s leading scorer. Fellow upper-years Sonja Weidenfelder and Riseley have also stepped up their output this season. While the rookies have been mostly used in defensive and energy-line roles by Sunohara, it wouldn’t be surprising to see a few — like Jessica Robichaud — break out in 2016.
Men’s Team (6-9-2)
The 2015-16 season has been an inconsistent one for the men’s team. Their offensive firepower remains largely intact despite key graduations last summer, however, it has occasionally exploded during two six-goal and three five-goal performances. The top teams in the OUA have regularly frustrated the Blues offensively and often blown them out on the scoreboard. The goaltending hasn’t met the standard exhibited in the past several seasons; it once again is team defence and discipline that continue to thwart the Blues.
The Blues’ run-and-gun offensive-minded style has been extremely exciting to watch over the years, and this season is no different. Creative players like veteran Christian Finch and standout rookie Matt Campagna have thrived in scoring roles, and players like captain Andrew Doyle and third-year Dean Klomp have responded well to increased ice time. However, the team’s overall scoring has still decreased and the defence hasn’t tightened up to account for it. Special teams have been another huge concern for the Blues. Despite their skill, the Blues’powerplay has only scored six goals so far this season and they have struggled even more with killing penalties. These issues have largely accounted for the team’s goal differential problems, although the Blues allow far too many scoring chances at even strength, getting outshot on average 37 to 28.
The Blues find themselves in a very similar position to New Years Day last year. The team will have to completely re-evaluate its playing style, and possibly sacrifice offensive flair in favour of a tighter defensive scheme. To maintain any hope of making the playoffs they will at have to play disciplined, conservative hockey.