Centerspread: Puck off

(Kelsey Pye/AQ)
(Kelsey Pye/AQ)

Men’s

It’s been a mixed season at best for the Tommies. A new coach, a broken record, and a morale boost had everyone excited early in the season. But that hasn’t stopped the team from facing some serious issues this year.

The Tommies started the year off right with new head coach Pat Powers. Powers, a STU alumnus, joined the crew after previous coach Troy Ryan resigned in June. After two seasons under his guidance, the program was in bad shape and the players weren’t happy. But with a fresh face who had both STU ties and elite hockey experience, morale was at an all-time high and the feeling was good.
Preseason was a good indication of the season so far. Losing four out of five games, the Tommies struggled to get off the ground, but not for lack of trying. They lost their home opener but the first win of the season came from a 4-3 victory over Dalhousie – the current last-place team.

The Tommies did have a few season highlights, one right after the other. STU goaltender Jonathan Groenheyde was selected to be one of three goalies to play on Team Canada at Winter Universaide 2013 in Trentino, Italy. Groenheyde didn’t play any games, but the team brought home gold.

The week after getting the news of Groenheyde’s accolade, the Tommies beat their biggest rivals. STU took down the UNB Varsity Reds at the Aikten Centre for their first Battle of the Hill victory since 2006. The Tommies hadn’t won on VReds turf since 2003. The win came as a huge surprise since UNB is ranked nationally while STU is in second-last place in the AUS. The most recent instalment of the Battle of the Hill saw STU playing an impressive game for the first two periods, and the Tommies were up 2- four minutes in. A rough third period saw STU fall apart and drop the decision 6-4.

That’s one of the main problems with the team this season. Consistency hasn’t been their forte. Playing a full 60 minutes seems to be difficult, with more than a few third-period failures. In their third regular season game this year, the Tommies were tied at 2 heading into the third. They lost the game 7-2. That game also showcased another of the team’s issues: penalties. The Tommies accumulated 27 penalty minutes the third period alone, including goalie Jonathan Groenheyde behind suspended three games for making contact with an official.

The team has lots of raw talent. Rookie Brendan Childerly had 10 points in the first half of the semester. Randy Cameron and Jonathan Bonneau are tied for 32nd spot on the leaderboard with 14 points each so far this season. And new additions to the team, like Michael Beaudry and Matt Bissonette, who both spent time in the QMJHL, have been essential to the team’s progress. Beaudry scored four goals and grabbed an assist in Friday’s 8-6 win over Dalhousie.

The Tommies haven’t made great leaps this season, but sometimes that isn’t what it’s about. During preseason, Powers said the team was just excited about the fresh start.

“They don’t want to be a last place team and I think that’s motivation enough for these guys,” he said.

STU only has four games left in the season, and although they’ve already surpassed last year’s three wins, the Tommies will once again miss out on the playoffs. But this year is still vital. The team is only now beginning to bounce back after a couple bad seasons and the transition will take time. But the team is showing improvement in areas, and with Powers at the helm, the Tommies will eventually get to where they need to be. The only question is when.

 

(Kelsey Pye/AQ)
(Kelsey Pye/AQ)

Women’s

Despite an above-average 2012-13, the Lady Tommies have had trouble getting off the ground this year. Not much has changed between seasons, but the team just isn’t putting up the numbers it has before.

This season got off to an alright start. The team split their first four games and by the end of November their record was 5-8. Currently sitting at 10-7-4, the team hasn’t been able to fully draw on the talented players they have. They’ve played relatively strong games and know how to put pressure on their opponents, but this season consistency has been an issue.

Last season the Lady Tommies finished second in the AUS with a 16-7-1 record. This year, the wins are almost half what they were. Standing in third place out of seven AUS teams, the Tommies are still in an okay position in the league. But what changed from last year?

The most notable difference between last season and this season is the absence of Kayla Blackmore. The former team captain graduated last year and took her team-leading point records with her. New captain Katie Brewster, who was just behind Blackmore in points last season, is putting forth an incredible effort to fill the position. But Blackmore’s talent and experience were a huge asset to the team, and it seems the team is taking time to adjust.

The Lady Tommies have also been having some offensive problems. Recently the team’s been working on their systems to improve forechecking and focus on getting the puck where they want it. Head coach Peter Murphy said there’s been progress but it hasn’t been fast enough for the results he wants.

But even with those issues, the Lady Tommies have been pushing hard for wins this season. Brewster has had some incredible goals, including an impressive shorthanded breakaway against UPEI early in the season. Brewster and Kelty Apperson are both in the top 10 for points this season; Brewster has 16 while Apperson has nabbed 14. Goaltender Kristin Wolfe has also been key to their game. Wolfe has a 2.35 goals against average and a .917 save percentage this season, only .01 per cent behind the top goalie.

The team is no doubt fierce when it’s called for. The Lady Tommies know how to put pressure on their opponents and have played games where they’ve outshot teams two to one. And it’s good hockey. Yet keeping that energy level for a full 60 seems to be difficult some games. That stems from the consistency issue. But when they’re good, they’re good.

A season highlight for both the program and the university will come in March, when thousands will descend upon the city for the CIS 2014 Women’s Hockey Championship. It will give great exposure to the team and the talented players in the hockey program while giving Fredericton a chance to showcase its hospitality skills. A good tournament will no doubt draw interested rookies to the school.

There are only three games left for the Lady Tommies in regular season. The team looks solid enough heading into playoffs, with several gifted players on the roster. The Lady Tommies are strong and focused when they’re on their game. Yet some troubles, like lack of consistency, offensive obstacles and a leadership change, are indicative of what the Lady Tommies have to overcome before the end of the season.

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