Heading into the 2017-18 AUS men’s hockey season, fans of the Varsity Reds weren’t quite sure what to expect.
On the one hand, the Varsity Reds entered the season as two-time defending national champions. They were sure to be highly motivated by the fact that they would be hosting the USports championships for the second straight year and by the possibility of winning a historic third straight UCup.
On the other hand, the team had lost much of its core from the 2016-17 season due to players graduating or receiving professional contracts. It was clear that if the team was to meet its lofty expectations, it would need returning players to step into bigger roles and for rookies to make an immediate impact.
At the regular season’s midpoint, both of those needs have certainly been met. Not only does the team lead the AUS in most major statistical categories, but they have also entered the holiday break with a better record (15-0-3) than they had in the first half of either of the past two seasons. While their offensive numbers are not quite as good as they were last year, the team remains incredibly well rounded.
The Varsity Reds have been led by third-year forwards Stephen Anderson and Christopher Clapperton, as well as rookie Kris Bennett. Anderson is tied for first on the team in goals (11) and total points (20); he also leads the entire conference with a rating of +19.
Remarkably, Clapperton is not far behind—despite having missed a month due to injury—putting up eight goals and 19 points in only 11 games played. He is arguably the V-Reds’ most valuable player heading into the latter half of the 2017-18 season, because there is nobody else on the team who can fully replicate his goal scoring ability.
If there is one player who exemplifies what makes the V-Reds as good as they are, it is Bennett. The first-year forward out of Brampton, Ontario has impressed fans, his teammates, coaches and opposing teams with his high-end skating, nonstop work ethic and well-rounded game.
Not only is he tied with Anderson for first on the team in scoring, he is second in the conference in shots on goal. He has also been a consistent contributor on their powerplay and penalty killing units, while his speed and tenacity cause problems for opponents in all facets of the game.
If there is any room for improvement on a team that has yet to lose in regulation, it is on the powerplay and in goal. Only 17 of UNB’s 80 goals this season have come with the man advantage and their powerplay percentage of 17.2 is ranked fifth in the seven team conference.
Goaltending has not been a major strength for the team this season either, as they are ranked fourth in the conference in save percentage. However, it is worth noting that the Varsity Reds tend to give up far fewer shots on goal than other teams in the conference, meaning their goalies often face long periods of inactivity during games—which some argue could actually makes their job more difficult.
One X-factor heading into the second half of the season is the possibility of the team adding to its already diverse lineup. With open spots on the team’s roster, it is expected that coach Gardiner MacDougall will add at least one (but possibly more), players by the end of the month. If they are able to add another quality goal-scorer and possibly add depth to their defense, this team could be well on their way to bringing home another national title.