Men’s Hockey turn attention to next season in hopes of playoff return

Going back to the Steel Blade Classic in September against the Guelph Gryphons, it was apparent the Brock men’s hockey team was going to have an interesting year. After coming off an abysmal 6-22 season, the Badgers needed to get things turned around. In the Steel Blade Classic, which was sold out at the Meridian Centre, the Badgers looked like a tough team both offensively and physically as they started an all out ice-brawl after a questionable hit by Guelph’s Josh McFadden.

After a thrilling 4-3 victory over a team that finished 17-12 last year, the speculation was that Brock might be able to turn things around this year. The OUA regular season didn’t start off as hoped, however, as the team started by losing three of their first four games. Then, after a six game win streak that turned heads of many U Sports top ten voters, we would ultimately be witnessing what would foreshadow the rest of the Badgers’ season — a lot of streakiness.

Brock would lose their next six games, washing away everything they had just built in their winning streak. They would follow that losing up with a three game win streak, then a loss, followed by a win. The Badgers couldn’t manage to put together a consistent streak of wins without finding themselves on the other end for a while. This kept them from contending with the big teams of the West Division such as the Ryerson Rams and York Lions.

Brock head coach, Murray Nystrom, talked about how long winning streaks and losing streaks can affect the morale in the locker room in such a short season.

“We tried to focus on our performance, and what we needed to do to play well, and less on the outcome,” Nystrom said. “The challenge with such a short season is that you don’t get to make up for off nights.”

Not ironically, the Badgers finished with an even 14-14 record, placed fifth in their division and got set to take on the Guelph Gryphons, the team they had some bad blood with, in the first round of the playoffs.

The Gryphons made no mistake with the Badgers on home ice, as a four goal third period outburst led the Gryphons past the Badgers 5-1 in the first game of the three game playoff series. After travelling back to play game two at the Seymour-Hannah Centre in St. Catharines, the Badgers were in a do-or-die situation. Win and go back to Guelph or lose and your season’s over.

The Badgers were close to pulling off the do-or-die game three, however their season ended suddenly when McFadden scored a game winning overtime goal for the Gryphons just a minute and a half in. Brock goaltender, Clint Windsor, put up 50 saves which was a season high for him.

Although 50 saves was Windsor’s best of the season, 40-plus save games were not rare for him. The junior would finish the regular season with an OUA leading .945 save percentage and a 2.15 goals against average. These numbers were outstanding and certainly helped the Badgers win close games, however Windsor had trouble staying healthy and Brock was unable to receive the same level of play from their two rookie goaltenders, Alex Brooks-Potts and Adam Beukeboom. Windsor’s play was good enough to earn him an amateur tryout with the Toronto Marlies, which was announced on February 28.

Nystrom spoke about the play of Windsor throughout the season.

“[Windsor] used this season to really establish himself as an elite university goaltender,” Nystrom said. “If not for injury, he would likely be in the conversation for all-canadian, [which is] a tough honor for a hockey player to earn.”

Nystrom also had a different take on his goaltending situation, specifically involving goaltenders Brooks-Potts and Beukeboom.

“The ‘glass is half full’ view of [Windsor’s] injury allowed for the expedited development for our other goalies,” Nystrom said. “Our goalie coach, Luc Lobsinger, did an amazing job preparing and guiding Beukeboom and Brooks-Potts to a point where we were comfortable giving either one of them the net.”

Brock arguably had the best goaltender in the OUA in Windsor when healthy, and the play of Beukeboom and Brooks-Potts in his place proved that they will be ready to fill that role again next year if needed, and both have shown that they will be ready for that starting job when Windsor’s university career comes to an end. The Badgers might find themselves in a goaltending battle for the starting position in the future, and that competitiveness is surely going to be beneficial for Nystrom and his coaching staff.

Looking ahead to next season offensively, the Badgers are losing two key scorers — captain Andrew Radjenovic and Sammy Banga. Banga finished first on Brock’s roster in goal scoring, and Radjenovic finished third. Brock is losing a combined 26 goals between the two of them — 14 for Banga, and 12 for Radjenovic.

The Badgers have added a high quality prospect for next season, however, in Nate Looysen. The 6’2” forward has put up 20 goals and 29 assists in 54 games for the Victoria Grizzlies of the British Columbia Hockey League this season. Nystrom is hopeful that the addition of Looysen will help replace the scoring touch of the two key players they are losing. He also mentioned that his coaching staff is still in pursuit of other help.

“Obviously we’ll need to replace the scoring that Radjenovic and Banga provided and we feel that we have taken a step towards that with the commitment of Looysen,” Nystrom said. “We’ll be adding a few more players over the spring and summer to create quality depth in our forward group.”

It was ultimately a good season for the Brock men’s hockey team this year, taking a big step forward and proving they are ready to start competing for the top spots in the OUA. With a healthy season from Windsor and some key additions to go along with Looysen to replace Radjenovic and Banga, the Badgers should find themselves back in the playoffs as soon as next season.

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