Even talented teams can’t escape all the lessons that have to be learned in the span of a season. The Brock Badgers men’s hockey team fell 4-1 to the Guelph Gryphons on Friday night in the 21st annual Steel Blade Classic game at the Meridian Centre. In front of a sold-out crowd of 4,752 fans, the Badgers struggled to find the chances offensively that they’ve been used to the past two seasons.
“I just thought the chemistry wasn’t really good. We put lines together, two guys showed up yesterday basically to jump into this game. We build on chemistry, build on units and just get better at it,” said Brock head coach Marty Williamson.
With the game being a week earlier this year, the Badgers lost a week’s worth of time to practice prior to the game. The Steel Blade was the Badgers’ first exhibition game, compared to last season where the Badgers were able to play two games prior to the matchup with Guelph.
A common element of the Steel Blade is often the ‘extra-curriculars’ that go on between whistles, with plenty of penalties to both teams throughout the game.
“We gave up four goals, and when you take penalties, you give up scoring chances. You just give the other team opportunities, [it] puts you on your heels. We had momentum and then took penalties and lost our momentum. It’s a lesson. We have a month before our season starts, and we’ve got a lot of lessons to learn,” said Williamson.
“I think the emotions are really high in the Steel Blade, in the regular season it’s a bit more comfortable, everyone’s trying to win and is focussed on that,” said defenceman Ethan Spaxman.
In terms of goaltending, Mario Cavaliere started the game, and after giving up just one goal, Zack Bowman went in for the second half of the game.
“I thought both guys did a real good job, they gave us an opportunity, we just need to play better defence in front of them,” said Williamson.
Bowman, who was lacing up for his first game since 2018, was optimistic that the team would regroup after the loss.
“I had fun, the score wasn’t what I wanted but goals are part of hockey, I have to control my mindset. [There were] bad bounces here and there.”
When asked how the team can improve prior to the regular season starting in October, his answer was simple.
“Just pure, good old fashioned hard work at practice.”
While the Badgers roster is quite talented on paper, the result on Friday showed just how strong the OUA is, and how important it is for teams to work up to hitting their stride at the right time. For those who were playing in their first U Sports game, Williamson echoed the importance of recognizing how good each opponent is going to be throughout the season.
“Understand how good the league is. It’s one of the things that [players] learn very quickly, sometimes guys come back from the OHL or [professional] and they think it’s going to be easy — it’s never easy.”
Though the scoresheet may not have showed it, there were aspects of the game that Williamson liked, and he still believes the team has a high ceiling.
“I thought our work ethic was pretty good, there’s a lot of talent, we’ll be there at the end.”
“We just need to have fun. We’ve only practiced for two weeks, nothing too serious, we’re not going to let [this game] get us down,” said Spaxman.
The Badgers continue their exhibition game schedule this week, with games against Waterloo (Sep. 19), Guelph (Sep. 21), as well as an exhibition game against Laurier on Sep. 26. The Badgers will host Windsor on Friday, Oct. 4 at 7:15 p.m. in their home opener, before finishing their exhibition schedule in the United States against RPI and Quinnipiac — both NCAA Division I teams.