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Looking back, moving forward: recapping the 2019–2020 men’s hockey season

A promising season unravels in the first round, but positives abound for Blues
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The men’s hockey team had a strong regular season, but it came to a swift end in the quarterfinal. COURTESY OF SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES
The men’s hockey team had a strong regular season, but it came to a swift end in the quarterfinal. COURTESY OF SEYRAN MAMMADOV/VARSITY BLUES

Coming into the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) playoffs, the Toronto Varsity Blues were the team to beat. They clinched the division title, had the fewest goals scored against them, and boasted some of the league’s top offensive players. At one point, they had gone on a 14-game winning streak, the team’s longest since the early ’70s. Despite the Blues’ in-season and early playoff successes, they trounced the Western University Mustangs 6–2 in their first playoff match — their season came to a whimpering conclusion as they dropped two games to the Mustangs, leading them to exit in the quarterfinals.

However, the Blues should not be disparaged by their losses, nor should we painstakingly analyze what could have been. That has already happened time and time again, most dominantly in the heads of the players who have surely already replayed every second of the series. We should celebrate the victory that was Toronto’s stunning season and look ahead to their promising future, all while respectfully and realistically considering their upset loss.

The good

Toronto had their most successful season in recent history this year. They finished the season with a 21-7 record, which secured them first place in OUA West conference, including their glorious 14-game win streak. Of the team’s 24 skaters, 22 recorded at least two points from an assist or goal throughout the season, showcasing the depth of talent on the Blues.

Sophomore goalie Alex Bishop had the second-highest regular season win percentage in the OUA, and David Thomson finished within the top five players in the league for points, goals, assists, and power-play goals, topping all others in the power-play goals category with his seven-goal total. Four Blues notched double-digit goal seasons — Thomson’s team-leading 17 goals were complemented by 14 from Joey Manchurek, 12 from Oliver Benwell, and 11 from Kyle Potts.

This offensive combination led to the Blues finishing second in their division for scoring. Such scoring was only made possible by assists, and once again, Thomson led his team with 23 of those. Manchurek finished close behind him with 22 of his own, and Nathan Hudgin rounded out the team’s top three assists with 19. Finally, numerous Blues picked up postseason accolades — Thomson was named the most valuable player of the division and an OUA First Team All-Star, and Ryan Medel was named Coach of the Year. Brendan Bornstein was named both an OUA First Team All-Star and member of the OUA All-Rookie Team. Manchurek and Bishop were both named to the OUA Second Team.

The bad

Regular season success did not translate into postseason success for Toronto. Despite a promising start to game one of the series, Toronto dropped their next two 3–1, leading to a shocking first-round exit. Western had just barely snuck into the playoffs in the final spot, and had provided Toronto some challenges during the season — despite winning two of their three meetings, the games were all tight, high-scoring affairs.

“[In] a best of three series anything can happen… we felt we played well and we had our chances. Western had some timely scoring. Their goalie played really well, their special teams were a little better than ours… in a short series, that can be the difference,” Medel said in an interview with The Varsity.

The Blues will also play next season without three key players. Defensive veterans Willy Paul, Evan MacEachern, and Josh Hanson are graduating and moving on from the Blues. All together, the three scored for eight goals and 21 assists over the regular season, and provided valuable leadership and a relentless work ethic on and off the ice. Such losses, though expected and normal for Varsity programs, are sure to leave a big gap in Toronto’s lineup for next year.

The future

Despite the losses of Paul, MacEachern, and Hanson, every other player is slated to stay on so far. That includes Thomson, Manchurek, Bishop, and Bornstein. Blues fans should keep an eye on Bornstein — despite being a rookie, he garnered the coveted First-Team All Star Award, signifying that he has potential to develop in the years to come. Also of note is returning player Scott Kirton, whose hat trick in the first series match against Western was a delight to watch. Thomson will surely be looking to repeat his illustrious season, and having Bishop in net once more will certainly bring a sense of security and reliability to the Blues blueline.

No recruits have been announced yet for the 2020–2021 season, but Toronto will be sure to have several top-notch players eyeing U of T after the team’s regular season success — Medel noted that they already have interest expressed from “quality hockey players and students.” Finally, the Blues will surely look to not only repeat their regular season success, but to improve upon their quarterfinal exit and challenge for an OUA banner and ticket to nationals.