The McGill Redmen hockey team is currently six games into the pre-season, and have gone 2-4 against some tough competition. Last year, the Redmen finished at the top of the OUA East and nearly made it all the way to Nationals. Many of the players from that team have graduated, including the team’s leading scorer and OUA East MVP, Cedric McNicoll.
The team will look a lot different this year with 10 new players joining. The freshman class includes players from the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League and Ontario Hockey League, as well as transfer students from other CIS schools. The young team is still adjusting to the league and playing with new faces, Redmen Assistant Coach David Urquhart explained after the team’s trip to the Maritimes two weekends ago.
“We still have a lot to learn [about] systems and structure in terms of the way we play,” Urquhart said. “A lot of guys got to play in new situations, which is good for them, and we played against two of the top teams in Canada.”
The Redmen lost the two games they played by wide margins, dropping the first game 3-6 and the second 1-7.
“The trip wasn’t designed to be easy for us,” Urquhart continued. “We were on the bus for 24 hours this weekend. We wanted the guys to face some adversity early in the season and to set the bar, see where they need to be, see what type of talent we’re going to face at Nationals. So, I think we achieved that.”
It’s wrong to read too much into these pre-season box scores. Exhibition games are often more about process and learning rather than results.Although the Redmen have lost a lot of players up front, much of the their defence is returning, as are netminders Jacob Gervais-Chouinard and Karel St-Laurent. The pair were by far the best goaltending tandem in CIS last season; their combined regular season save percentage was .935 per cent, 10 percentage points better than the next best school. In addition, Urquhart believes that the blueline has a good mix of size, skill, and experience, making it one of the team’s biggest strengths.
“We’re strong on the back end,” Urquhart claimed. “We have some big guys […] but we also have some high end skill on the back end as well.”
To some extent, every CIS team has to deal with a large amount of roster turnover every year due to graduation. For McGill, this situation is exacerbated by the fact that most players coming from Quebec only play three years before graduating. Still, it’s tough to lose players of McNicoll’s calibre and maintain a productive offence. Adding players like Liam Heelis, the former captain of the Acadia Axemen, should help, but whether they can replace the offence they’ve lost is the biggest question heading into the season.
For the freshmen, jumping into a different league with an unfamiliar team comes with a steep learning curve. Nonetheless, Urquhart believes that the players are adjusting well and picking up the systems quickly.
“They’re sharp,” Urquhart said. “These guys are all quick studies, they’re really good to work with.”
The Redmen aren’t just quick learners on the ice. The players on this team are also academically successful, something that Urquhart is proud of.
“Last year we had 13 academic All-Canadians—that’s guys with a GPA of over 3.7,” he explained. “They’re also successful in the classroom. That’s one of our main focuses. The two go hand in hand. Being a successful student athlete means you do well in school and on the ice as well.”
Urquhart stressed the high level of hockey the team plays.
“We’d just like to see everybody come out to watch,” Urquhart said. “You’re not going to see higher quality hockey [in Montreal] outside of the Canadiens. We’ve got guys who have all played major junior and it’s the next level. They’re great hockey players and they’re great students, too.”
The Redmen home opener is on October 16 against Laurentian.