Mustang Men's Hockey -- Season Preview
The Western men’s hockey team had a historic season in 2016-17, but for the wrong reasons.
The team won just eight out of 28 games last season, their lowest win total since the 1978-79 season when the team won only seven games (they went 7-5-4 that season). The team finished under 0.500 for the first time since 1971, the year before the OUA was formed. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in head coach Clarke Singer’s 18 years behind the bench. And if all of that was not bad enough, Western gave up more goals than any of the 20 teams in the league, which is simply unheard of. They even gave up more goals than the RMC Paladins.
Last Year's Impact on the Mustangs
What did the team learn from last year? If you can learn from losing, then they learned a lot. According to head coach Singer, despite the team’s record, many of the games were close and it was a lack of depth that was part of the problem.
“Any time you go through a difficult year, you learn from it. We learned a lot as we went through last year,” said Singer after practice on Wednesday. “We have tried to address a number of the areas where we thought we had some weaknesses, both in our off season recruiting as well as in our season plan for this year.”
“Almost every game we played last year was close going into the last five minutes. Unfortunately, because of a lack of depth and a bunch of different reasons, we were on the wrong end of the final score. Hopefully we can turn that around this year as we progress into a new season.”
How has the new season started for the Mustangs? Well, not so great. Their first game of the OUA season was a Wednesday, October 11 contest in Waterloo against the Warriors. Western jumped out to a 3-1 lead just six and a half minutes into the game. Things were looking good. But then the wheels fell off. Western gave up eight – yes, eight – unanswered goals and lost 9-3. Not the defensive start to the season the team was looking for.
“Tough game,” said Singer about the Waterloo loss. “We had to play a goalie in that game who had never had any CIS or junior experience. So it was a tough game for him and a tough game for us. I think as we got into the third period and we got down a number of goals, we probably gave up a few at the end that we probably shouldn’t have.”
So what about the goaltending situation? Western has lost their starting goaltender from the past two seasons, Greg Dodds, to graduation. However, Luke Peresinni, who attended an AHL training camp last year, is back looking to improve on his 4.34 goals against average and 1-7 record from last year. Joining him in the crease is former Guelph Storm goalie Liam Herbst, who is in his first season of university hockey. Both goalies looked very good during training camp.
But then, both got hurt and were not available for the start of the OUA season. And each of them may be out of the lineup for several weeks. That left the coaching staff scrambling to find back up goaltenders. In came Nicholas Legallais who was the third stringer on the squad last year when the original third stringer Justin Tugwell got injured. However, Legallais never got into a game. The team also picked up Dan Davies, who was a walk-on at training camp. Davies played junior C hockey with Grimsby last season and has not played at the university level yet.
Both Davies and Legallais were called upon to play against Waterloo. Lagallais ended up getting torched for all nine goals on 36 shots in just over 44 minutes of play. He was replaced for the last 15 minutes by Davies who stopped all 10 shots he faced. Davies then played in goal this past weekend when Western made a trip to some Ivy League schools. He acquitted himself well in back-to-back 6-4 losses to Yale and Princeton and will likely be the starter until either Peresinni or Herbst return from injury.
If the goaltending situation is a bit up in the air as the season starts, then it will be up to the defence to help keep the puck out of the net. But that might be a bit of a problem. Western has only three defencemen returning from last year’s team and two of them, Rylan Bechtel and Rylan Ball, will be entering just their second season of OUA hockey. The Mustangs lost towering D-man Jed Rusk to graduation and also lost Sean Callaghan and Mike DiPaolo, both of whom have decided to not play hockey this year so that they can concentrate on school. Both had three more years of eligibility. That just leaves third-year man Jonathan Laser as the veteran and anchor on defence this year. The newly appointed captain will be counted on to help with the four new defencemen the team has this year.
“Our d-core is young and mobile. I think it is much improved from last year,” Singer said. “Jonathan Laser is one of the best defencemen in the league. I think he had to play 35 minutes a game last year for us because of our lack of depth at that position. But I think we have addressed that with our new recruits.”
The forward position may be where this year’s team has shown the most improvement and where the most potential lies. Western has six new first year players and three of them have OHL experience. Cordell James (Owen Sound Attack), Kyle Petit (Erie Otters) and Anthony Stefano (Barrie Colts) have the potential to add a lot of punch to an offensive attack that last year was ranked only 14th in the 20 team league. Both James and Petit were at NHL camps in September, James with Phoenix and Petit with the New York Rangers.
There are two other new faces, one of which long time fans of the Mustangs may remember. Chris Corbeil returns to Western in the Ivey MBA program and returns to the team after spending the last 5 season playing full time in the National Lacrosse League. He last played for Western in the 2011-12 season. His grit and veteran leadership will be much welcomed this season. The other new face is Steven Beyers who is a transfer student who played three seasons for the St. Mary’s Huskies.
Although it looks like there will be nothing but new players on the forward lines this season, there are many returning players that Clarke Singer and his coaching staff will be counting on to put pucks into the opposing team’s goal. Rob Polesello returns. He led the team last year with 10 goals and 11 assists. Ray Huether (10 goals last year), Spenser Cobbold (14 points) and Scott Teskey (14 points) will all be counted on to produce a bit more than they did last year. And then there is Cody Brown. He is entering his fourth year with the team, but the question is whether he can stay healthy and be fully recovered from the shoulder surgery he had last year. Brown has only appeared in 18 games (out of a possible 84) in his first three seasons.
“I think that’s where our real depth is. And last year I think we did not have a lot of depth at any of the positions. This year we have a ton of depth at forward, probably more than any other position. We are four, maybe five lines deep up front. The mix up front, along with our veteran guys, we really really like.”
What is the goal of the Western Mustangs this year? Yes, they want to make the playoffs, because at that point anything can happen. But according to head coach Clarke Singer, a more important goal is to get better as a team every day.
“The most important thing is that we keep getting better every day. Last year we stopped getting better. So that’s our most important goal. If we keep progressing and keep getting better, you know, I like our team. As you look at the last 5 or 6 years in the playoffs in the OUA, it does not matter where you finish, 1 to 8, as long as you’re in the playoffs, you’ve got an opportunity to move on.”
And so it begins for the men’s hockey team. The long march to a playoff berth has started, although it did not get off to a great start. And things do not get any easier. Next up are two home games, both against tough eastern division teams. The Mustangs have their home opener on Friday, October 20 against the Carleton Ravens. That game can be heard live on CHRW, Radio Western with a crew of Steve Kopp, Everett Hanmer, Greg Bowman and Dan Soden. Broadcast time is 6:50 pm. Then it is the Ottawa Gee-Gees that visit on Saturday, a night where the team will honour former Mustang (and London Knight) Chris Macauley, who passed away earlier this year. His number will be retired by the team in a pre-game ceremony. Game time is 7 pm at Thompson Arena.