In university sports, turnover is the norm. Good teams are dismantled every year as players graduate or exhaust their eligibility.
That’s why expectations are so high for the 2010-11 McGill Redmen, who have every key player from last year’s OUA championship team returning except for physical defenceman Yan Turcotte.
After posting a 22-6-0 regular season record and capturing the Queen’s Cup as OUA Champions last season, this year’s Redmen will look to improve upon a disappointing last-place finish at the National Championship Tournament.
“These guys are hungry,” said McGill Head Coach Kelly Nobes. “There’s a sense of some unfinished business with this group.”
Nobes is entering his first season as head coach, after being hired over the summer to replace interim Head Coach Jim Webster.
Nobes plans to continue employing the uptempo offence that made McGill one of the most exciting teams in the CIS, but he stressed the importance of improving team discipline. The Redmen were the third most-penalized team in the CIS last year and had a habit of taking selfish and undisciplined penalties.
“I felt that, especially at the National Championship [where the Redmen were shorthanded 14 times in two games], there was a lack of discipline in their play,” said Nobes. “That’s one of our standards this year—we expect our players to work hard but be disciplined.”
After leading the CIS with 156 goals last season, the Redmen offence looks as dangerous as any unit in the league. Francis Verreault-Paul returns after finishing second in the CIS with 56 points and winning OUA East Player of the Year honours last season. A gifted skater with a wicked wrist shot, Verreault-Paul brings equal measure skill and grit to the team—he’s racked up 226 penalty minutes and 80 points in two years at McGill.
“A lot of times you get really skilled guys who don’t work very hard—Verreault-Paul isn’t one of those guys,” said Nobes. “He’s a very talented player, but he’s also a fierce competitor and an on-ice leader for our team.”
Joining Verreault-Paul on the top line will be centre Alexandre Picard-Hooper, who had a league-leading 38 assists last season, and junior Andrew Wright, a six-foot-two winger who had 10 goals last season.
Anchoring the blue line is smooth skating Marc-André Dorion, winner of the 2009-10 CIS Defenceman of the Year award. Dorion attended the Toronto Maple Leafs rookie camp this fall, after leading OUA defencemen in points last season.
“Dorion has the poise that those top NHL defencemen have—that ability to draw a guy towards him and then make a tape-to-tape pass,” said Nobes. “He sees the ice extremely well and makes everyone around him better.”
In goal, Hubert Morin will receive the bulk of the starts after posting a 17-3-0 record and a .917 save percentage last season.
The Redmen opened the regular season with a pair of road victories. On Friday, McGill defeated the University of Toronto Varsity Blues 3-2 in overtime. McKiernan’s first goal in Red ‘n’ White was the game-winner, while Wright and Genest chipped in with markers during regulation time. The following night, the Redmen hammered the Nipissing Lakers 9-4. Eight different Redmen scored goals, while Picard-Hooper and Maxime Langalier-Parent each tallied three assists.
The Redmen (2-0) travel to Trois-Rivieres on Thursday night to take on the perennial powerhouse UQTR Patriotes (1-1). McGill then hosts the Patriotes on Monday at 7 p.m. at McConnell Arena.