©Jason Malloy/The Guardian
UNB returns 21 players from national championship squad but has watched AUS rivals load up during the off-season
The Atlantic University Sport (AUS) men’s hockey season began Wednesday with the UPEI Panthers travelling to Moncton to play the Aigles Bleus.
The AUS is down to seven teams this season with St. Thomas folding its program in the spring. Teams will play a 30-game regular season and playoffs to determine the conference’s two teams that will join host UNB at this year’s Canadian Interuniversity Sport (CIS) championship in Fredericton, N.B.
Here’s a look at the conference’s seven teams.
UNB Varsity Reds
Coach - Gardiner MacDougall.
AUS championships - 14 (last one in 2014-15).
CIS championships - 6 (last one in 2015-16).
2015-16 record - 23-3-2.
Playoffs - Lost best-of-three AUS final 2-0 to St. FX after sweeping UPEI 3-0 in the best-of-five semifinal.
Nationals - Defeated St. FX 3-1 in the gold medal game.
Key losses - D Alex Wall and forwards Taylor MacDougall and Tyler Carroll all graduated.
Key additions - D Matt Murphy and forwards Oliver Cooper, the former Charlottetown Islanders captain, and Mark Simpson.
Player to watch - Fourth-year defenceman Jordan Murray returns from the Tampa Bay Lightning camp after being named the CIS top defenceman in 2015-16.
Coach's outlook - "We have a good foundation and a good group back. We have 21 players returning from last season. I think anytime you get that it gives you a great opportunity to get better and I think that's the whole secret of our group, is finding ways to get better everyday we're at the rink," he said.
"This year the league is parity-packed and as competitive it's ever been. I think there's going to being valuable lessons every time you play and we hope most of those lessons are positive."
St. FX X-Men
Coach - Brad Peddle.
AUS championships - 25 (last one in 2015-16).
CIS championships - 1 (2003-04).
2015-16 record - 18-6-4.
Playoffs - Swept UNB in the best-of-three AUS final after defeating Saint Mary's 3-1 in the semifinal.
Nationals - Lost 3-1 to UNB in the gold medal game.
Key losses - G Drew Owsley, D Bronson Maschmeyer and Nathan Chiarlitti, who was the MVP of the AUS playoff and the team's backbone on defence. While the team returns a lot of its offence upfront, it lost a lot of sandpaper, grit and character in the likes Steven Kuhn, Zack MacQueen, Cuzner and Cole Grbavac.
Key additions - Two defencemen from western Canada are stay-at-home blue-liner Mitch Wheaton and puck-moving rear-guard Cole MacDonald.
It added six forwards including Bryson Cianfrone, Sam Studnicka, Anthony Difruscia and Matt Needham, who were all captains of their major junior teams.
Chase Marchand, fresh off a Memorial Cup appearance with Rouyn-Noranda, joins returnee Brandon Hope as the X-Men goalies.
Players to watch - AUS MVP Eric Locke is the team's new captain.
Jagger Drik and Craig Duininick will be key on the back end while the team is looking for sophomores Michael Clarke, Holden Cook, Nathan Pancel and Mark Tremaine to take the next step in their progression.
Coach's outlook - "We have high expectations. We got very close to a national championship last year and it's certainly something that's motivating this group. At the same time we recognize it's a very tough league and everyone I've seen have improved their team. We have to make sure our first-year guys can adjust to the league quickly, that's going to be the difference maker for us."
Saint Mary's Huskies
Coach - Trevor Stienburg.
AUS championships - 13 (last one in 2009-10).
CIS championships - 1 (2009-10).
2015-16 record - 17-8-3.
Playoffs - Lost 3-1 in the semifinal to St. FX after defeating Moncton 2-0 in the quarter-final.
Nationals - Defeated Saskatchewan 5-2 in the bronze medal game.
Key losses - Fs Stephen MacAulay, Matt Tipoff, Stephen Johnson, Stephen Beyers, Gerrad Grant, Mitch Maynard and Brad Greene as well as D Mike D'Orazio and Jamie Doornbosch.
Key additions - G Eric Brassard, a former Charlottetown Islander, D Adam Bateman and Mark Trickett, a former P.E.I. Rocket, Fs Hunter Garlent, Bronson Beaton, Thomas Stavert, a Kensington native, Brad Latour, Stephen Johnson, Conor McGlynn and Noah Zilbert.
Players to watch - The returnees include G Cole Cheveldave, D Kyle Periera and F Ben Duffy, the P.E.I. Rocket all-time point leader.
Coach's outlook - "We have recruited 10 new players and it will take time to let them adjust. I am confident we will be competitive but know the rest of the league is very good. The fans will see CIS hockey at its best this year."
Coach - Darren Burns.
AUS championships - 9 (last one in 2013-14).
CIS championships - 2 (last one in 1995-96).
2015-16 record - 19-7-2.
Playoffs - Lost 2-0 in the best-of-three quarter-final to UPEI.
Key losses - Mike Cazzola, Travis Randal and Dylan Anderson.
Key additions - G Devin Williams (Erie), D Alex Lepkowski (pro, Buffalo draft pick), Mark McNalty (Moosejaw), F Stephen Harper (Niagara), Nick Betz (Erie), Brendan Childerley (St. Thomas) and Kris Hodge (Woodstock).
Players to watch - "We feel short of expectations last year and we're not really used to that here," Burns said. "We kind of met with guys, who we felt didn't have as good of a year last year and kind of challenged them to better their year this year."
Coach's outlook - "We're not a team that's accustomed to underachieving. Last year, us getting beat out in the first round, I've got to look in the mirror and, obviously, it's my fault and we fell short of expectations. . . It was a slow burn all summer. . . You can fade off into the sunset in a lot of places in Canada, not in Wolfville. People love this hockey team, and we're very fortunate to have the following we have. People are used to watching hockey into late March, and we know we disappointed a lot of people. . . I like our guys' focus early on (this year)."
Coach - Forbes MacPherson
AUS championships - 6 (last one in 1990-91).
CIS championships - None.
2015-16 record - 11-14-3.
Playoffs - Eliminated by UNB 3-0 in semifinal after sweeping Acadia in the quarter-final.
Key losses - Forwards Mason Wilgosh, the team's captain, and Cole MacMillan are playing pro while Nick Czinder and Darcy Ashley are done playing due to concussions.
Key additions - D Austin Levi, forwards J.C. Campagna, Cody Payne, Gabe Guertler, Kurt Etchegary, Beau McCue and Riley Whittingham.
Player to watch - Campagna transferred to UPEI after playing two seasons with St. Thomas. "He's a quick strike, high-skilled player that we probably haven't had, as far as a scoring threat, since Matt Carter left," MacPherson said.
Coach's outlook - "For this team, this year, there is additional excitement and more of a buzz. We know that this is a very tough conference and every team seemed to have a very good recruiting year. It never gets easier, but we feel like we'll be battling for a playoff spot and then three teams go to the nationals. Ultimately, our goal would be to be one of those teams."
Moncton Aigles Bleus
Coach - Serge Bourgeois
AUS championships - 11 (last one in 2006-07).
CIS championships - 4 (last one in 1994-95).
2015-16 record - 13-13-2.
Playoffs - Swept by Saint Mary's in the quarter-final.
Key losses - Captain Alex Emond, G Adrien LeMay and F Pier-Antoine Dion. Fs Alex Noel, Thierry Comtois and Danny Chiasson decided not to return during the summer.
Key additions - D Justin Guinet (Drummondville), F Carl Marois (Victoriaville) , who is hurt until Christmas, F Sam LeBlanc (Summerside) and G Alexi Thibaudeau (Notre Dame Hounds).
Player to watch - Twin brothers Alex and Allain Saulnier led the conference in scoring last year with 38 and 36 points, respectively. Jean-Francois Plante completes the top line with the Saulniers. Defencemen Pierre Durepos and Sebastien Gauthier, who is injured until Christmas, are also keys for the squad.
Coach's outlook - "We lost some players at the last minute. . . Losing them at the end of the year like that, it's tough to recruit (replacements as they) were already committed. We're still working. I think if we can reach Christmas time with the addition of Gauthier and Carl Marois, we're also talking to a couple of guys that might be able to come in at Christmas time as well. I think we've got the tools to be good, but we're going to need some help at Christmas time to fill in spots."
Coach - Chris Donnelly.
AUS championships - 1.
CIS championships - None.
2015-16 record - 9-15-4.
Playoffs - Did not qualify.
Key losses - D Matt English and G Wendell Vye.
Key additions - G Jacob Fancy, Ds Zach Taylor and Gareth Nicholson, Fs Josh Worthen, Kelly Bent, a former P.E.I. Rocket, and Alex Pawelczyk.
Player to watch - G Corbin Boes, AUS first all-star, Fs Fabian Walsh and Phil Gadoury, AUS rookie of the year.
Coach's outlook - "We hope that the combination of our experience and new players will provide us with more scoring depth this year. If we can improve our offensive output, then we will have a chance to move up in the standings."
A look back at recent Atlantic University Sport men’s hockey champs:
2016 St. FX
2010 Saint Mary’s
2009 Saint Mary’s