Brock men’s hockey gets set for 20th Steel Blade Classic

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Six months ago, the Brock Badgers men’s hockey team gave the students, alumni and fans a glimpse of success they hadn’t seen from the program in over a decade. With a roster full of seniors and a brand new coach behind the bench, the Badgers managed to catch their stride at just the right time last season. They entered the OUA playoffs as the fifth seed and swept the Laurier Golden Hawks to begin their successful playoff run.

In second round of playoffs the Badgers would also sweep the first seeded Guelph Gryphons, which put the Badgers in the OUA West division versus York. The Badgers and Lions would split road games before a deciding third game that saw the Badgers win 3-2 to advance to the OUA Queen’s Cup.

The story all season long for the Badgers, through the good and the bad, was the goaltending from Clint Windsor. The senior goaltender amassed some of the best statistics in the entire OUA, leading goalies in many categories. Throughout the playoffs, even when the Badgers struggled, Windsor was there to keep them in it, especially in their final game against York.

The Badgers would fall to McGill in the Queen’s Cup 5-1, before their appearance at the U Sports Final 8 for the first time in 10 years. It was an early exist for the Badgers falling to St. Francis Xavier in the first round of the one-and-done tournament.

Head coach Marty Williamson — whose interim tag was removed this summer after he signed a three-year contract to remain at Brock — emphasized how thankful he was for his group last year.

“That was the message when we lost that game to St. FX,” Williamson said. “[The graduating class had] done so much for this program, I was so thankful for the effort — it was a tough loss, but how they’ve set the bar for the guys coming in, we fully expect to defend our title.”

Though the Badgers group of seniors last season capped off their Brock careers with a run that will be remembered for years, it left a tall task for Williamson and his coaching staff this summer in filling the holes. While Williamson believes they’ve added the skill needed to replace last seasons roster, he notes that there are still some things they won’t know until the season gets going.

“You never know about the character and the in-battle,” said Williamson. “That’s why I was so proud of that team last year, they never quit. They battled to the end — when things didn’t look good, they had great perseverance in them. That’s what I don’t know about this group right now. They haven’t earned that respect right now.”

Perhaps the most pivotal position for the Badgers recruitment this season was finding someone to replace Clint Windsor. Which they may have done with Logan Thompson, who is currently at a NHL training camp with the Washington Capitals.

“Probably the biggest recruit we had was Thompson,” Williamson said. “We’re hoping to get him back, but if he signs with Washington that’s fantastic for him. If we get him back, we think we do have our replacement [for Windsor].”

Thompson, a native of Calgary, Alberta, spent the previous four seasons with the Brandon Wheat Kings of the Western Hockey League, and in his final two seasons played in a combined 95 games.

“[Windsor] was phenomenal for us, I don’t know how you replace that — for the next goalie coming in the standard is very high, but [Thompson’s] not overwhelmed by anything. He played five years in the WHL, he was a second team All-Star, and his credentials are extremely good,” Williamson said.

Though Thompson certainly brings a wealth of experience at a high level of hockey, Williamson emphasized that as of right now he’s not with the Badgers, but feels confident in his other two goaltenders should Thompson be signed to an NHL contract.

“Alex Brooks-Potts did a phenomenal job for us last year whenever we called him in, his numbers are through the roof,” said Thompson. “We [also] brought in Mario Cavaliere, he played in the BCHL and we think he’s a real good goalie,” said Williamson.

Brooks-Potts played three games for the Badgers last season, allowing only two goals on 91 shots.

Of course, with having so many graduating players, the Badgers also lost a lot of their leaders from last season. With the expectations to return to the playoffs this season, Williamson believes they have the right leaders.

“We think the returning guys have a big part in that [leadership]. [Brody] Silk went through a tough year last year coming back from the injury. I think he really played on one shoulder last year, he’s healthy and we expect a lot from him.,” said Williamson.

He also mentioned Jeff Corbett and Brandon O’Quinn as two veteran pieces. The Badgers have also added Jake Ringuette, who played a couple years at Lakehead.

“I think we have a lot of leaders on this team, and that’s the chemistry that you’ve got to develop with the group,” said Williamson. “Sometimes it takes years, we’re hoping it’s going to be faster. But that’s what that last group developed. They developed that tightness and that’s what we need with this group.”

When asked whether or not he feels more comfortable starting this season than last season, Williamson noted that having a year under his belt is certainly helpful, but with so many new players, there are a lot of similarities to last season.

“We’ve got 13 or 14 new players, so it’s a lot like last year, getting to know these guys and nicknames and all that stuff. [When] you have 17 or 18 returning players, they know your lingo and all that, [but] they’ve got to get to learn me,” said the coach.

“I see a lot of similarities to our start last year, maybe a little slower than you want it, but it’s a real good group here that I’m really happy about.”

Of course, for all incoming Badger players, they have a short period of time before they’re put in the spotlight of the students, alumni and fans. With the Steel Blade Classic just days away, the Badgers will be playing in front of a sold out crowd at the Meridian Centre to kick off homecoming weekend against Guelph.

“The guys who we’ve recruited, one of the things when they check out Brock, they see highlights of the [Steel Blade] game. So for us it’s an exhibition game and we’re trying to learn about our guys, but you put 5,000 fans in a packed arena and the whole atmosphere changes,” said Williamson. “It’s great to see our guys under that kind of pressure [and] atmosphere. I think it’s a great exhibition game [but] it’s more than an exhibition game,” said Williamson.

Though the game on September 21 is merely an exhibition game for the Brock community, it is just the beginning of the Badgers’ road back to the OUA playoffs, but Williamson expects his team to defend their title as OUA West champions.

“Whether it takes us five games to get under our belt or 1- games, we think come playoff time that we’re going to be a very good hockey team and have a shot for a repeat.”

While the Badgers fan base will be hoping for a Steel Blade victory, the team hopes that come March, they’ll have come full-circle to a sold-out crowd in Lethbridge for the U Sports championships.

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