The McGill Redmen hockey team enters the 2012-2013 campaign as the defending National Champions for the first time in its 137-year history. Last year, just one season after losing in the CIS Final to the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, the Redmen hoisted the trophy in the 50th edition of the University Cup. They defeated the Western Mustangs 4-3 in overtime.
Captain Evan Vossen led by example during the game, netting the OT-winner and finishing his Redmen career with a school record of 216 games played.
This year’s edition of the Redmen looks markedly different from their championship squad. The team’s top six scorers from last season have all graduated. This group includes Vossen, league MVP and Defenseman of the Year Marc-André Dorion, two-time league leader in goals Francis Verrault-Paul, and former MVP and scoring champion Alex Picard-Hooper.
Despite a slew of new faces and the departure of the core group of leaders, Head Coach Kelly Nobes—entering his third campaign as Redmen bench boss—has the same high expectations for this year’s team.
“We’re not changing the style that we’re going to play,” Nobes said. “We’re going to play the same style that we’ve played the last two years: up-tempo, aggressive [and] in your face.”
Those are encouraging words for McGill hockey fans, who watched their team skate to a 22-4-2 record in 2011-2012. The Redmen finished with the best record in the league for the second consecutive season, but did so in the face of stiffer competition. They were very successful in tight contests, finishing with an astonishing 12-1-2 record in one-goal games.
[pullquote]“We’re all part of a big winning tradition at McGill,” Brunelle said. “It’s like the players, the individuals, don’t really matter. We’re just a big family. We feel like a group already.”[/pullquote]
This season, the title of National Champions may earn the Redmen even more attention from their opponents. The target is on their backs, making the task of repeating their historic victory that much more difficult. However, this is the sort of pressure that championship teams embrace.
“We don’t resent it, we relish it,” Nobes said. “Our standard of play has to be there, night in and night out. That’s how we approach it. At the end of the day, it makes us better.”
Though this year’s team is short on veteran experience, it is loaded with youthful speed, skill, and grit. The Redmen will lean on their increased toughness and balanced attack in the quest for another national championship. Though player turnover is a valid cause for concern, the team’s chemistry is developing much faster than Coach Nobes had anticipated. First-year winger Jonathan Brunelle is the perfect example of a rookie who has bought into the team’s system.
“We’re all part of a big winning tradition at McGill,” Brunelle said. “It’s like the players, the individuals, don’t really matter. We’re just a big family. We feel like a group already.”
With nine freshmen on the roster, the Redmen will look for leadership from the few returning players they do have.
Although not technically a returning player, defenceman Guillaume Monast hopes to be one of these leaders. Monast sat out last season in order to be eligible to play in the CIS, after splitting his time during the 2010-2011 season between the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) and American Hockey League (AHL). Though he found it difficult to sit in the press box, Monast was able to study the system and gain insight into how he can best contribute to this season’s success. Monast offered another vote of confidence for the new recruits.
“Everyone brings something to the table,” Monast said. “The new guys are young, but they are very good players. They have all been captains before, and they are smart players who know what to do.”
Despite an offseason of changes, optimism still emanates from the Redmen dressing room. The team posted a 3-1 preseason record, including a convincing 6-2 victory over Western. Coach Nobes leads his team into the 2012-2013 season with a career regular season record of 46-6-4, which only sets the bar higher for this year’s new-look team.
The McGill Redmen open the season on the road against the Concordia Stingers on Oct. 5. They will raise their championship banner at home on Oct. 6 against UQTR.