BURLINGTON, Ont. – While the men's hockey regular season has come to an end, the quest for the 105th Queen's Cup has not. The top eight teams in each division will enter playoffs, each one destined to etch their name on the prized trophy as 2016 OUA champions. The puck will drop Feb.17 for quarter-final play.
East Division Quarter-Final Matchups
(1) UQTR Patriotes (24-3-1) vs. (8) Laurentian Voyageurs (7-15-6)
This year's postseason for the Patriotes serves as an act of reprisal, as they were ousted in last year's Queen's Cup final. They will be coming in hot, having won their last nine games, while holding the No. 2 seed in the CIS Top 10.
The Patriotes were an offensive juggernaut this season, averaging five goals per game, almost a whole goal better than the closest competitor. They are spearheaded by the country's leader scorer, Guillaume Asselin (Quebec, Que.), who had 27 goals and 47 points, as well as the nation's fifth ranked player in points, Tommy Giroux (Quebec, Que.), who had 41.
With the lowest mark for goals per game among playoff teams, the Voyageurs will rely heavily upon goaltender Alain Valiquette (Sudbury, Ont.), who amassed a .913 save percentage, good for sixth among goalies who started in 20 games or more.
The Voyageurs are looking to make their first ever appearance in a Queen's Cup final, and despite going 0-2 in the season series against the Patriotes, the last matchup between the two ended in a double overtime thriller.
(2) McGill Redmen (21-6-1) vs. (7) Concordia Stingers (10-12-6)
In a rematch of one of last year's quarter-finals, the Stingers are hoping for a better fate, after being eliminated by the Redmen in the first round. The Redmen won the season series 2-1, but the Stingers won the most recent matchup, a 4-2 victory in the Corey Cup.
The Redmen have appeared in seven of the last 10 Queen's Cup finals, winning four of those, and are looking to return to the big stage, as they enter playoffs as the seventh ranked team in the country. They feature four players in the top 10 in OUA scoring, led by the talented backend duo of Samuel Labrecque (Granby, Que.) and Dominic Talbot-Tassi (Mascouche, Que.).
After allowing the second most goals against per game, the Stingers are hoping their fifth-ranked offence can serve as a balancing factor, led by Olivier Hinse (Sherbrooke, Que.), who recorded 35 points in 28 games, good for 11th in OUA.
(3) Carleton Ravens (20-7-1) vs. (6) Nipissing Lakers (12-12-4)
The Ravens are the third and final OUA team ranked inside the CIS Top 10, locked in at the No. 8 seed. They averaged a league-best 2.15 goals against per game during the regular season, with goaltenders Francis Dupuis (Ottawa, Ont.) and Patrick Killeen (Corkery, Ont.) owning the No. 1 and No. 2 spots in the league for goals against average, 1.96 and 2.06 respectively. Showcasing a balanced attack, the Ravens own the third best mark for goals per game, with 4.11, featuring the CIS leader in assists, rookie Brett Welychka (London, Ont.), who had 32 assists in 27 games played.
The Lakers, averaging the fourth lowest goals per game total in the league, will need leading point getters Erik Robichaud (Timmins, Ont.), Colin Campbell (Strathroy, Ont.) and Mackenzie Keirstead (Saint John, N.B.), to maintain or improve their pace to give their team a fighting shot to take down the Ravens.
Though unbalanced on paper, the teams did split the season series at one apiece, with the home team winning in both contests.
(4) UOIT Ridgebacks (18-8-2) vs. (5) Queen's Gaels (17-7-4)
The Ridgebacks posted their best regular season record to date and are in search of their first playoff series victory in the school's history. They are hoping to keep the ball rolling (or puck sliding) as one of OUA's hottest teams of late, having won seven of their last 10 matchups. Newcomer and the team's leading scorer, Ben Blasko (Kingston, Ont.), has provided a boost to the Ridgebacks offence, as they have moved up nine spots in goals per game, averaging over a half goal more than a year ago. UOIT's Jesse Stoughton (Bobcaygeon, Ont.) also had a successful campaign, with 23 points in 28 games.
While the Ridgebacks enter the series as the "favourite," the fact of the matter is, the matchup is about as even as they come. The two teams finishd the regular season tied with 38 points, were just a single goal apart in total goals for and they split the season series 1-1.
An impressive Gaels season is thanks in large part to goaltender and 2013-14 CIS Rookie of the Year, Kevin Bailie (Belleville, Ont.), who recorded the league's top save percentage, with a .942 mark. Leading the way for the Gaels in points were Eric Ming (Williamstown, Ont.), with 32 and Spencer Abraham (Campbellville, Ont.), with 28.
West Division Quarter-Final Matchups
(1) York Lions (16-7-5) vs. (8) Toronto Varsity Blues (11-15-2)
Comprising the second-worst offence in the league a year ago, and being outside of the playoff picture after finishing last in the division, the York Lions find themselves atop the West division, for the first time ever since the two-division format was introduced. With 18 players returning this season, the drastic turnaround can be contributed to an overhaul in coaching personnel, after Chris Dennis and his assistant coaching crew were hired on after last year's disappointing season.
The Lions allow the fifth-least goals per game, thanks in part to netminder Chris Perugini (King City, Ont.), who owns a .920 save percentage. Having appeared in all but three of the Lions' games, the workhorse is aided by a very stable blueline, fronted by Derek Sheppard (Ajax, Ont.), who is fourth in scoring among defensemen with 30 points in 28 games. The Lions also have the sixth leading goal scorer in OUA, Trevor Petersen (Thornhill, Ont.), who potted 17 goals in 27 games.
If the Blues hope to knock off the top seed in the division, they will have to stay out of the penalty box, as they had the second-worst penalty kill in OUA, at 74.1%. They will also need leading goal scorer Patrick Marsh (Oakville, Ont.), who netted 14 and leading point getter Christian Finch (Markham, Ont.), who racked up 31, to be at their best.
The teams split the season series 1-1, but one thing the Blues do have on their side is history, as they have gone 6-2-2 against the Lions in postseason play, dating back to 1972. The last time the two teams met in the playoffs was in the 1985-86 season.
(2) Western Mustangs (18-10-0) vs. (7) Laurier Golden Hawks (14-14-0)
The Mustangs have appeared in three of the past seven Queen's Cup finals, having last hoisted the trophy in 2009. This season they boast a well-balanced, depth-filled offence, as they finished fourth in OUA in goals per game with 3.68, yet not one player hit double digits. Matt Marantz (Calgary, Alta.) led the offence for the Mustangs, tallying five goals and 21 assists, for 26 points in 28 games.
They will enter playoffs as the West's hottest team, having gone 8-2 over their last 10 games.
Derek Schoenmakers (Kitchener, Ont.) scored three goals in the final two games of the regular season for the Golden Hawks, to establish a new personal best of 17, good for sixth in OUA.
The Mustangs swept the season series 2-0, outscoring the Golden Hawks 8-2 in the process.
(3) Waterloo Warriors (16-11-1) vs. (6) Ryerson Rams (14-13-1)
Waterloo is looking to return to Ontario university men's hockey's big dance after losing out to UQTR in 2013, while Ryerson will be looking to make the final for the first time in their history.
The Warriors won the season series 2-0, with the final game played between the two being a tightknit affair, ending in a 3-2 final score.
One thing the Warriors will hope to approve upon is their total of 535 PIM, which ranks as the third highest total in OUA. Discipline will be key for them, as their penalty kill ranks No. 13 in the league. Forward Colin Behenna (Waterloo, Ont.) led the division in scoring, with 21 goals and 23 assists, for 44 points in 27 games, which ranks third in Canada.
With their offence ranking in the bottom half of the league, the Rams chances of victory will depend on the play of goaltender Troy Passingham (Mississauga, Ont.), who had the league's second-best save percentage at .933.
(4) Guelph Gryphons (16-11-1) vs. (5) Windsor Lancers (14-11-3)
This serves as one of the more interesting quarter-final matchups, as it features the last two champions of the Queen's Cup. The Gryphons defeated the UQTR Patriotes in last year's final, and the Lancers overcame the McGill Redmen in the 2014 final.
Special teams proved to be the Achilles heel for the Gryphons this season, as they posted the third-worst powerplay in the league, while displaying a mediocre penalty kill at 82.5%. Forward Rob De Fulviis (Toronto, Ont.) and defenceman Nick Trecapelli (Guelph, Ont.), tied for the team lead in points with 23, while goaltender Andrew D'Agostini (Scarborough, Ont.) finished tied for third in OUA in save percentage with a mark of .927.
The Lancers will enter playoffs on an emotional high, after taking down the division leading York Lions in overtime in their final game of the season. They also feature an offence that saw eight players record 15 points or more, led by Dylan Denomme (Windsor, Ont.) and Justice Dundas (Richmond Hill, Ont.), both with 29 points on the year.
Similar to the No. 4 vs. No. 5 series on the East side, this appears to be a very even matchup, with the teams finishing a mere two points apart, splitting the season series 1-1.
Each series leading up to the final is a best-of-three format, with the Queen's Cup game being a one game championship.
Catch the action beginning Wednesday night, live on OUA.tv, as the quest for the 105th Queen's Cup continues.