CIS OUA preview: Guelph and Western kick off season with McCaw Cup rematch

Guelph beat Western in the 2015-2016 OUA championship

Guelph Gryphons

The Guelph Gryphons finished first overall in the 2015-16 regular season, going 21-2-1 before finishing fourth at the 2016 CIS Women’s Hockey Championship.

Returning to the Gryphons are third-year goalie Valerie Lamenta, who was named 2016 CIS Player of the Year after leading the country in goals against average, save percentage and winning percentage. Also returning is team Rookie of the Year Claire Merrick, who finished last season with three goals and seven assists. Fourth-year forward and 2016 Shirley Peterson Award recipient Kelly Gribbons also returns.

Jessica Pinkerton, who graduated recently, will be greatly missed. Named as the co-MVP along with Lamenta, Pinkerton finished the 2015-16 season with 11 goals and 12 assists. Top scoring Gryphons Averi Nooren and Christine Grant also recently graduated, leaving a goal-scoring vacuum for this season’s seniors, Kelly Gribbons and Brtittany St James, to fill.

Joining the defending OUA champion Gryphons in 2016 are forwards Emma Forcey, Cyan Roepcke, Sydney Davison, Stephanie Gava and Kristen Jay; defensemen Sophie Rodenburg and Gabby Smyth; and goaltender Aurore Beaulie.

Toronto Varsity Blues

The Toronto Varsity Blues finished second in the OUA before falling to Laurier in the quarterfinals of the CIS Championship.

The Varsity Blues’ top scorer Taylor Day, who was named to the CIS First All-Star Team, returns for her final year. Day, who played all 24 games and scored 25 points, also led the team with 4 power play goals. She recorded a season-high 3 points in three games this season, including notching 2 or more points in five games.

Joining the Varsity Blues this coming season is forward Stephanie Ayres from the Stoney Creek Sabres of the PWHL, defenseman Jana Headrick from the North Bay Ice Boltz, and defenseman Shaelynn Waite from the Etobicoke Junior Dolphins. They will be looked upon this season to fill the void of graduating defensemen April Looije and Caitlin Maikawa. Other 2016-17 recruits include former RSEQ forward Mathilde De Serres and Oakville Hornets Jessica Maggioni.

Four-time Olympic gold medalist Jayna Hefford joins the coaching staff as a full-time assistant coach, having served the role in a part-time capacity under Head Coach Vicky Sunohara for the past five seasons: "I'm excited to be a part of the Varsity Blues program on a full-time basis," said Hefford. "It will be great to be around such talented and motivated athletes, while representing a university that I'm so proud to be a part of.  I hope I can help play a small part in getting the program to the next level. The commitment from the university to hire a full-time assistant shows their dedication to the program and their expectation for high performance results."

Queen’s Gaels

The Queen’s Gaels finished third in their division, going 15-7-2, finishing with a respectable 45 points before they were eliminated in the quarterfinals by Nipissing.

Queen's Gaels rookie forward Katrina Manoukarakis, who was named to the CIS All-Rookie team in 2016 after scoring 25 points, returns for a sophomore season.

With six members of the team graduating this past season, the upcoming fourth-year players will be looked at to step up. Head coach Matt Holmberg is optimistic: “The team dynamics will change a little with the loss of six graduated seniors, but we now move nine student-athletes into their fourth year. I am confident that their experience, leadership, passion, unity and hunger for an OUA championship will help our incoming players make that transition to CIS hockey much easier.”

Joining Queen's for the upcoming season are PWHL forwards Hailey Wilson from the Whitby Jr Wolves and Robin Ketcheson from the Burlington Jr Barracudas. The blue line will also get a boost with PWHL defenders Bryce Desa from the London Jr Devilettes and Devon Greenough from the Nepean Jr Wildcats.

Western University Mustangs

The Western University Mustangs finished fourth in their division and advanced to the OUA finals, where they were defeated by the Guelph Gryphons in the McCaw Cup.

Two notable Mustangs for 2016 were fourth years Katelyn Gosling and Brianna Iazzolino, both of whom were invited to Hockey Canada’s Women’s Development Camp. Over 22 games played, Iazzolino amassed 10 points and 30 PIM. Gosling showed her puck distributing abilities with 14 assists last season.

The Mustangs have an influx of rookies this season, with eight players set to debut with the team. Forwards Alyssa Chiarello, Rachael Irvine, Rachel Armstrong, Shana Alexander and Shailyn Waites; defenseman Brianna Rice; and goaltenders Shelby Ryan and Tareya Webster are all set to don the purple and white this fall. "We are very excited to be welcoming eight outstanding student-athletes to the Mustang family," said Head Coach Kelly Paton. "This is an extremely talented group of athletes who have potential to make an immediate positive impact on our program."

Nipissing Lakers

The Nipissing Lakers finished the 2015-16 season in fifth place in the OUA and suffered a heartbreaking three-overtime Game 3 loss to Western University in the semifinals of the McCaw Cup.

Lakers rookie defenseman Stacey Henshaw was named to the 2015-16 OUA All-Rookie Team after scoring 4 goals and 3 assists in 19 games played. Goaltender Jackie Rochefort was named team MVP, notching a 1.67 goals against average in 19 games played. Lakers top scorer Kaley Tienhaara returns this season as a junior. Carly Marchment is the only departing senior on the Lakers, leaving the team with most of its roster intact.

The Lakers added freshman forward Hunter Mosher to the team. Mosher is a graduate of the Prince George’s Northern Capitals and is grateful for the opportunity to join Nipissing, saying she was "thrilled to be accepted into a wonderful program. I chose Nipissing because I really like Darren [Turcotte] and his coaching style, and the school fits my academic goals greatly. I am also ecstatic to be playing with my good friend Ava [Keis]. It's comforting to know she can help me get used to university."

Waterloo Warriors

The Waterloo Warriors, who finished sixth in the OUA with 41 points, were knocked out of the quarterfinals of the McCaw Cup by the Western University Mustangs.

Forward Rachel Marriott, who co-led the team with 12 goals, and goaltender Stephanie Sluys return to the Warriors having spent part of the summer training with the Women’s National Development Team.

Forward Paula LaGamba, who led the Warriors in points (24-12-9-21), graduates, along with Kaitlyn McDonnell. However, the former captain McDonnell will return to the team in an off-ice capacity as Coordinator of Strength and Conditioning.

The addition of three forwards, one defenseman and a goaltender, who are joining the Warriors this season as freshmen, add depth to their 2016-17 roster.

Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks

The Laurier Golden Hawks finished seventh in their division, going 13-9-2 to finish with 38 points for the regular season. Having defeated Toronto Varsity Blues in a first-round upset at the McCaw Cup, they were defeated by the top-seeded Guelph Gryphons in the semifinals.

Fourth-year defenseman Guiliana Pallotta, who spent two years in the NCAA with Minnesota State before joining the Golden Hawks, has been named captain. Jacky Normandeau returns as a fourth year after being named a recipient of the 2016 Outstanding Women of Laurier award. Rookie Madison MacCulloch tied for most goals scored, with 7, and returns — where she will have plenty of opportunity to improve on her first year.

After leading the Golden Hawks in points and goals with 7 goals and 13 points in 24 games played, Jesse Hurrell leaves the Golden Hawks.

The Golden Hawks look to add to an admittedly struggling offense from last season by adding six freshman, five of whom are forwards. Emily Woodhouse and Carly Aucoin both played for the Cambridge Rivulettes, with Woodhouse leading the Rivulettes in scoring. Jaden Head and Julia Talman were instrumental on the Durham West Lightning, finishing the PWHL season in first place.

Laurentian Voyagers

The Laurentian Voyagers finished the 2015-16 regular season eighth in the OUA, with a 11-11-2 record for 32 points, making the playoffs but losing to Guelph in the first round.

Julie Herbert, departing after scoring 11 goals and 17 points in 24 games, leaves the team with a hole in their scoring depth. With Herbert’s departure, Ellery Veerman returns as the leading goal scorer, however she only scored 11 points in 24 games played, meaning Laurentian will need to add scoring depth. Laurentian was outscored 46-62 in the 2015-16 season.

The team’s rookie class has not been announced at this point, and the roster does not appear to be set for the 2016-17 season.

Brock Badgers

The Brock University Badgers finished ninth in the OUA division with a record of 19 wins, 13 losses, with one OT loss, for 28 points.

Graduating are Laura Neu, the team’s top scorer, along with Sophie Herbert and Brittany Cabral. Christina Ieradi returns as the next-highest scorer for the Badgers in 2016.

With 10 players in their first year of eligibility for the Badgers, the team will have a whole new look.

York Lions

The York University Lions finished 10th in the OUA with a 9-11-4 record.

Forward Dana Somerville and defenseman Sarah Power return to the Lions this season having spent part of the summer winning gold at the World Inline Championships for Team Canada. Lions top scorer Amy Locke, with 8 goals, is a senior, while Chelsea Tucker returns as a junior after assisting on 11 goals last season.

Defenseman Kristen Barbara leaves York University, as does starting goalie Megan Lee who started 21 of 24 games this past season.

Incoming freshmen suiting up for the Lions for the first time this fall will be forwards Kelsey McHolm, Leah Hibbert, Avery Reeves and Christina Chin; defensemen Taylor Davison and Kayla Hosegood; and netminder Lauren Dubie. Davison scored 14 points for the PWHL Burlington Barracudas in 2015-16 and also plays a physical game, as she finished second on the team with 40 penalty minutes.

The Lions start their season with five of six games being played at home, where they went 8-4 in the 2015-16 season.

Windsor Lancers

The Windsor University Lancers finished 11th in the OUA with an 8-14-2 record and finished with 25 points for the 2015-16 season.

Erinn Noseworthy, Krystin Lawrence, Natalie Barrette and Shawna Lesperance had standout performances in the 2015-16 season. Noseworthy finished the season with 13 goals and 17 assists in 24 games, while defenseman Barrette, who returns this season as a fifth year, finished second in points by defenseman with 17. Krystin Lawrence also returns to the Lancers in 2016 after scoring 31 points in 22 games last year. The aforementioned three, along with Shawna Lesperance who had 30 points in 24 games, all spearheaded an offense that was second in the province in goals scored with 2.79 goals per game.

With no significant losses, and no listed incoming freshman to the team, the Lancers look to return an older, yet wiser, team.

UOIT Ridgebacks

Finishing 12th in the OUA with an 8-14-2 for 23 points in the 2015-16 season, the University of Ontario Information Technology (UIOT) Ridgebacks look to improve in 2016-17.

Named team MVP last season and awarded the UOIT’s ETS Captains Award, Mikaeli Cavall returns as part of the leadership core and one of the top-scoring Ridgebacks. Defenseman Gaberiella Lamanna, who had two assists last season in 13 games, will have the opportunity to further prove herself with more responsibility this season. Defensive player of the year, Jenna Carter, also returns for a final year with the Ridgebacks. Top scorer Sam Forchielli returns, having scored 14 points in 24 games last year.

With right wing Victoria McKenzie being drafted into the CWHL’s Toronto Furies, and the loss of two of the team’s other wingers — Zoe Battie and Jennifer Sisson — the Ridgebacks will look to their incoming freshman to fill the gaps in the roster.

Five freshmen have committed to playing for the Ridgebacks this coming season: forwards Grace Donaldson from the London Devilettes, Brampton Jr Canadettes Nicole Augello, Barrie Sharks Alex Frigon, defenseman Kassidy Ford from the Ottawa Jr Senators, Cambridge Rivulettes Nicole Zabel, and goaltender Briar Hughes from the Barrie Sharks. Hughes comes with experience in net after logging a lot of minutes in goal for the Barrie Sharks over the past two seasons and facing just over 1,000 shots in that time.

Ryerson Rams

Finishing the 2015-16 season at the bottom of the OUA division with just 3 wins, 13 losses and three overtime losses for 12 points, the Ryerson Rams will be looking for any kind of improvement in this coming season.

Top returning scorer to the offensively-limited Rams is Emma Rutherford. Rutherford scored 7 goals with only one assist; she did, however, notch two of the three game-winning goals for the Rams.

The Rams will need a new captain and assistant captain with the departures of defenseman Jessica Hartwick — 2016 Team MVP and Gold ‘R’ recipient — and forward Melissa Wronzberg. Both were drafted into the CWHL by the Brampton Thunder this past August.

Adding offense was a key for coach Lisa Haley in selecting the freshman class for the Rams this coming season. “The focus of our recruiting for this coming season was heavy on adding offensively minded players, specifically forwards, as well as experienced winners,” said Haley. “We are very happy with the class of 2016-17 because we feel we’ve addressed both of these key areas.”

Selecting six forwards, one defenseman and a goalie, the Rams should have options when it comes to their line up this coming season. The recruits include Danelle Im who, after four seasons with the two-time OUA champion Wilfred Laurier Golden Hawks, joins the Rams in her final year of eligibility.