Recent history says the UNB Varsity Reds men’s hockey team is due.
The V-Reds have won a national championship every other year since 2007. The team won it all that year, as they did in 2009, 2011, and 2013. After having their season end in the Atlantic University Sport semi-finals last March, the pattern could keep carrying on if UNB wins the University Cup this season.
But it will be anything but easy in the parity-packed AUS.
If UNB is able to bring the University Cup back to campus this season, they’ll be doing so with plenty of new faces. The biggest storyline heading into the 2014-15 campaign is the amount of roster turnover the team has had.
“It’s an exciting opportunity ahead for the group here this year,” said head coach Gardiner MacDougall.
UNB will return just 10 players from last year’s team, a small amount even by university hockey standards where roster turnover is inevitable. But, like most seasons, the Varsity Reds have added some quality new players.
“It’s a very good group,” said MacDougall of the new recruits.
Some of the notables added to the team include defenseman Randy Gazzola who helped Val-d’Or win a QMJHL title last season, Peter Trainor who had 100 points with Rimouski during the 2012-13 season, and Colin Suellentrop who was a fourth-round pick of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2011.
Not all of the new faces will be AUS freshman. Defencemen Alex Wall and RD Chisholm transferred to UNB from UPEI and StFX, respectively. Wall was a member of Canada’s university games team — which was coached by MacDougall — that won gold in Italy last season.
“He’s first-year player at UNB but he’s a proven veteran,” MacDougall said of Wall. “I think he’s one of the top players in the league, not just defenseman. He’s a valuable acquisition for our program. He’ll bring a lot.”
MacDougall added that Chisholm is a valuable pickup not just because of his experience but because he can play both forward and defence.
“Those are veteran guys that will add something to our team.”
The Reds will also have a veteran presence in net this season with David Shantz and Chris Carrozzi.
“They both have outstanding pedigrees,” said MacDougall, noting the amount of major junior and professional playing experience each have. “Obviously the one factor is that they both didn’t play last year. So it’s a matter of getting enough mileage on and accelerating that process where they’re back and feeling in top physical and mental condition to be No. 1 goalies.”
Although their 2013-14 season ended earlier than they would have liked, the V-Reds had another impressive year. With a 24-3-1 record, the Reds finished first in the AUS regular season standings for a seventh straight year.
After a first round playoff bye, the Reds took on the rival Saint Mary’s Huskies in the semis. The Huskies won the best-of-five series 3-1 with all three of their wins being decided by one goal — including two in double overtime.
UNB may have fallen short of winning their fourth consecutive AUS championship, but MacDougall said there are positives to take away from last season, especially when looking ahead to the upcoming campaign.
“We had some outstanding performances from some of our young guys,” said MacDougall, pointing out the play of Phil Maillet, Phil Halley and Jordan Murray.
“It was a pretty strong year for our group,” the coach added. “With that being said, it sets up a pretty strong foundation for the coming year.”
There are always high expectations placed upon the men’s hockey team by its followers, but MacDougall wants his team take things day-by-day.
“The goal of the group is to find ways to get better each day at practice and take those lessons that we learned and put them into games on the weekends.
“Our goal is to be the most improved team in our league. I think we play in the top league in the country and if we can execute that goal everything else will take care of itself.”
UNB’s home opener takes place on Friday night at 7 p.m. against the Dalhousie Tigers. The Reds also host the StFX X-Men on Saturday night and the St. Thomas Tommies on Wednesday.