Men’s hockey faces tough roster changes next season

MBB-Mar15-2

After a playoff run for the ages, the X-Men of St. Francis Xavier surged in the third period of their quarterfinal matchup against Brock, winning 6-2 and putting an end to the Badgers’ season. Though the Badgers ended the year losing two games in a row (Queen’s Cup to McGill and their national quarterfinal), their appearance at the national stage was their first in ten years. This accomplishment was a fitting way to cap off an unexpected success story this season.

While the Badgers were one of the more veteran rosters in the OUA, their group of graduating seniors had never won a playoff series until this year.

The Badgers picked up plenty of accolades during the postseason, both on and off the ice. First year head coach Marty Williamson was awarded OUA West division coach of the year, and senior goaltender Clint Windsor was awarded OUA West division goaltender of the year.

The success for the Badgers didn’t come without their fair share of hardship. After a rough start — losing six of their first eight regular season games — the Badgers won six of their final eight games in 2017 to sit at .500 going into the winter break. Things took off for the Badgers when they returned in January, with wins over York, Guelph and Ryerson, and sweeping their final regular season weekend of games heading into playoffs.

Their playoff run was a Cinderella story. The fifth-seeded Badgers swept fourth-seeded Laurier with a 3-0 win in game one and a 2-1 in game two at home. The second round didn’t get any easier for Brock, who would find themselves up against then-nationally ranked Guelph, a team they had gone 1-3 against in the regular season. The Badgers were able to outscore one of the hottest offensive teams in the division, taking game one 4-3 in overtime and game two 5-4 in overtime.

After their sweep of the Gryphons, the Badgers had caught the attention of the rest of the league and U SPORTS hockey. Brock entered the OUA West division finals ranked nationally for the first time during the season — against the York Lions, who at the time were ranked ninth. After a 6-2 beat down of York in game one, Brock came home looking to sweep their third series in a row. Needing overtime to decide the game, the Lions forced a game three in their barn notting the overtime winner midway through the extra frame. When the two teams returned to Toronto the next day, York jumped to a quick 2-0 lead in the first period. Clint Windsor was perfect the rest of the way though, and the Badgers scored three goals to win the game and series.

That would be the end of the Badgers winning ways, however. When they returned to the Seymour-Hannah Centre to host the Queen’s Cup against McGill, the Redmen took it to them the entire game. A 5-1 loss left a bitter taste in the Badgers mouths heading into the national tournament in Fredericton, New Brunswick, and despite hanging with St. Francis Xavier for two periods of the game, fell 6-2 to the eventual national runner-up.

Though it didn’t end the way they wanted, the accomplishments of the 2017-18 Badger men’s hockey players and coaches were huge. No one would have pegged Brock to end up in the third round of the OUA playoffs, no one would have believed they could sweep Guelph and knock off York to make the Queen’s Cup. No one would have thought they’d see Brock at the national tournament in New Brunswick. They proved everyone wrong.

Where do things go from here? Do the Badgers return to the national tournament next season? Do they finish higher than fifth in the West division? Do they crack the national rankings prior to February?

Most of these questions are up in the air. The Badgers are graduating 11 players, ten of whom played regularly, including star goaltender Clint Windsor. It will be hard to know what the Badgers will look like next season with such huge roster turnover. The Steel Blade Classic in September of 2018 may be one of the most interesting yet. Though the exhibition game is months away — being a returning Queen’s Cup finalist and national tournament attendee — fans will be eager to see next year’s team in action against their rivals from Guelph.

The last question to ask heading into this off season is: will Marty Williamson will be back behind the bench? If he is, will the interim tag be lifted?

Marty Williamson was hired in August on an interim basis, and will have to reapply to be the head coach when the job is posted again in the next few weeks. However, after the team’s successes this postseason, it would be surprising to see anyone but Williamson leading the team next season. The program reached heights this year that they haven’t seen in a decade. Williamson came in just a month before the Badgers first exhibition game, and six months later found himself preparing his team for a national tournament game.

Though the 2018-19 Badger men’s team will see plenty of new faces filling important roles, the excitement from this season will last a lifetime.

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