CIS RSEQ preview: Montreal defends 2016 CIS gold

Rising offensive stars power conference favourites

Led by defending CIS champion Montreal, RSEQ teams will seek to continue a legacy of national success in 2016-17. The conference has produced medalists at all but two CIS Championships since the sport was incorporated in 1997-98, including every tournament since 2005.

Only four teams in CIS history have won the national championship more than once, and three of those are RSEQ members: Concordia (1998, 1999), McGill (2008, 2009, 2011, 2014), and Montreal (2013, 2016). The Carabins enter 2016-17 with strong potential to repeat as CIS champions, and are likely to retain their spot at the top of the conference. After UdeM, however, competition for the second nationals berth will likely be tighter than it has in recent years. Perennial favourite McGill is icing its largest-ever entering class this season, and should face a serious challenge from a rising Ottawa squad. Montreal and McGill have monopolized the league’s nationals berths for the past decade, but in a five-team league where four schools qualify to the postseason, increased parity means that anything can happen.

Université de Montréal

The 2016 national champions were 15-5 in the regular season last year before going 4-0 in the RSEQ conference playoffs and moving on to take the CIS Championship by storm. All of their five losses were by just one goal, and two of those were decided in a shootout. In the national tournament, Montreal blanked Calgary 4-0 and defeated St. Mary’s 3-2 in regulation before dominating UBC 8-0 to claim its second title in four years. In just seven years of program existence, the Carabins have qualified to the CIS Championship six times and medaled in all but one appearance.

The goal for UdeM this season is to repeat as CIS champions, something they narrowly failed to do in 2014 when they fell to archrival McGill in double overtime of the national final. Montreal will be bolstered in this quest by a strong core of returning players, including two members of the 2016 CIS tournament all-star team.

Third-year goaltender Marie-Pier Chabot had to beat out teammate Élodie Rousseau-Sirois -- who backstopped Montreal to their first national title in 2013 -- just to earn the starting place in net last season. Once she won the spot, she didn’t disappoint, posting a .945 save percentage and 1.33 GAA, which improved to .974 and .67 across the three-game CIS nationals. Chabot was named Championship MVP, in addition to making the tournament all-star team and the RSEQ first team.

Alexandra Labelle’s most notable achievement last year was scoring a hat trick and an assist in Montreal’s 8-0 blowout of UBC in the national final, but the rookie forward was a consistent offensive threat all season for the Carabins. Labelle recorded 19 points to finish third overall in league scoring -- tied with teammate Ariane Barker (who has since graduated) -- and was named to both the RSEQ all-rookie and second all-star teams. Without Barker, she will be looked upon to lead a deep Montreal offense.

Fellow rising sophomore Catherine Dubois will join Labelle in shouldering offensive responsibilities this season. Dubois was named a CIS tournament all-star in 2016, in addition to claiming spots on the RSEQ second and all-rookie teams. The 21-year-old became the first ever Carabin to progress in the Hockey Canada system when she was named to the national women’s development team last year.

Marion Allemoz, Ariane Barker, Audrey Gariépy, Maude Gélinas, and Élodie Rousseau-Sirois are the five players who will not be returning in 2016-17.

Ariane Barker’s 10 goals and 19 points in 2016 topped all Carabins in those categories, tied with rookies Dubois (goals) and Labelle (points). Barker was a first-team RSEQ all-star in each of her final three seasons, and made the all-rookie team and the second all-star team, respectively, in her opening two. She was a first-team CIS All-Canadian in 2014-15, and was named to the all-tournament team at nationals in 2013, 2014, and 2016. Barker leaves the program as one of the top-5 scorers in team history, but leaves it in good hands.

The first of a steady stream of French nationals recruited by program director (and France’s IIHF mentor-coach) Danièle Sauvageau to join the Carabins, 2016 co-captain Marion Allemoz will remain in Montreal to continue her career in the CWHL. Allemoz’ leadership will be missed, but a highly experienced UdeM roster appears well-equipped to fill the gap. As the captain of France’s national women’s team, Allemoz has helped to raise both the level and profile of her home side, and while her on-ice contributions should not be understated, her mere presence in Montreal has helped carve a legacy by strengthening connections between the school and the French team.

Seven newcomers will be looking to earn ice time with UdeM this season, including two highly-touted transfers.

Valérie Drouin was named 2014-15 CÉGEP defender of the year in her final season on the collegiate circuit, before beginning her post-secondary career at the University of Minnesota-Duluth. Drouin had one assist in 30 games last year with the Bulldogs, and has chosen to return to her home province and continue her career with the Carabins.

When she committed to the University of Maine, Estelle Duvin had planned to become the first French national team player to compete in the NCAA. Instead, issues regarding the admissibility of her French baccalaureate rendered her ineligible to play, and Duvin has opted to travel to Montreal to continue her education and career. The forward scored 13 points in just five games to help France gain promotion into the top division at the 2015 U18 Women’s World Championship, and is a member of the senior national team.

Freshman Annie Germain finished fifth in CÉGEP scoring with 30 points in 24 games last season. Emerging from the highly successful Limoilou Titans, she’ll look to make an immediate impact with the Carabins.

Montreal’s lead returning scorer is Alexandra Labelle, whose 20-8-11-19 record tied for third in the league last year alongside teammate Barker, though Barker had more goals.

McGill and Ottawa will both seek to overthrow the reigning champions, but with a strong core of returning players, the Carabins seem poised to retain their league title and defend their national championship.

McGill University

The 2016 RSEQ runners-up went 13-7 in the regular season last year to earn the league’s second berth to nationals, where they finished in 7th place. The second-most decorated program in CIS women’s hockey, McGill has qualified to 16 of 19 national championship tournaments.

The Martlets graduated a record-high eight players last year, but enter 2016-17 with their two top scorers.

Mélodie Daoust is the most high-profile player in CIS hockey, and with good reason. The 2014 Olympic champion is in her fifth and final year of eligibility at McGill, and despite having consistently performed at a high level -- she was named a CIS All-Canadian in every year except 2014-15, when she missed most of the season to injury -- she has yet to win a national title. The Martlets won the championship in 2014, but Daoust redshirted to win a gold medal with Team Canada. As captain, she’ll be looking to guide a young roster to a berth at nationals in the hopes of finally capturing the evasive trophy.

With 214 points in 161 total games, Gabrielle Davidson sits seventh on the Martlets all-time scoring list-- just behind Daoust, the only other active player in the rankings. Though she doesn’t have the recognition of her Olympian teammate, Davidson has racked up quite the resume in her university career, including being named Championship MVP after winning nationals in 2014. As one of three fifth-year seniors on the team, her experience and offensive prowess will be crucial.

Though just a freshman, netminder Tricia Deguire will be key to McGill’s chances this year. Named to the 2015-16 CÉGEP all-rookie team, Deguire has been solid in goal through the preseason and appears to have already won the starting job. With senior Brittany Smrke still recovering from an injury sustained last September, the Martlets will rely on two rookie goalies to start the season, and Deguire will have every opportunity to make her mark.

McGill lost three defenders last year, leaving a young blue line with only one senior.

Brittney Fouracres and Kelsie Moffatt alternated conference and All-Canadian honors throughout their five-year careers with the Martlets. Combined with the rookie tandem in net, the lack of veteran presence on defense could be a weak spot for McGill. Fouracres -- who scored the winning goal at 2014 nationals -- will continue her hockey with Les Canadiennes in the CWHL.

The Martlets feature 11 rookies this season, but will strive to finish top-2 for a nationals berth despite the young roster.

In front of Tricia Deguire, newcomer Cassidy Bell highlights the incoming class on defense. The 18-year-old represented British Columbia at the 2015 National Women’s U18 Championship and scored her first CIS exhibition goal against the CWHL’s Les Canadiennes de Montréal on Sept. 9.

The only current CIS player to be named to Canada’s National Women’s Development Team this year, Jade Downie-Landry is perhaps the most recognizable player entering the university circuit. She led all CÉGEP players in assists and points in 2015-16 and served as Dawson College’s team captain for two years, leading the Blues to the league championship last season.

While the Carabins are the team to beat in the conference, a young Martlet squad may find Ottawa to be its biggest competition. The Gee-Gees took McGill to double-overtime in game two of the best-of-three conference semifinals last year, and the pair will likely find themselves battling for the second RSEQ berth to nationals.

University of Ottawa

Ottawa finished third in the 2015-16 regular season with an 11-9 record, before being eliminated by McGill in two straight games in the playoffs.

CIS Rookie of the Year Mélodie Bouchard challenged Mélodie Daoust in the RSEQ scoring race last year, and has been named to the selection roster to play at the 2017 FISU Universiade. If she can stay healthy and maintain her offensive output, Bouchard has the ability to lead a talented young Gee-Gees roster to a potential nationals berth.

Fifth-year senior Carol-Ann Upshall has recorded 14 points in each of her past three seasons, making her a consistent offensive presence. She finished third on the team in scoring in 2015-16, and led all Gee-Gees the year prior. As one of just two fifth-year skaters on the roster, she’ll be relied upon in a leadership capacity.

Cynthia Whissell has been a steady force on defense in her three years, and has consistently been the team’s highest-scoring defender. She will be among the leaders of a young blue line corps in 2016-17.

Ottawa has retained the bulk of its young roster from last season.

Camille Pauck-Therrien scored at least 10 points in each year following her rookie campaign, providing depth scoring on a team that was often lacking in offensive power. Pauck-Therrien is one of just two forwards to graduate from the 2015-16 squad.

Bryanna Neuwald highlights the incoming class on the blue line. After four years (including a redshirt season) at Ohio State, Neuwald, a stay-at-home defender, is pursuing a master’s in education at uOttawa, and will be a welcome veteran presence on defense.

Freshman Taylor MacGaughey scored six points in seven games to help her midget AAA team capture the Esso Cup in 2015, and the forward has already impressed in the preseason. This year will also mark her first time facing off against twin sister Meagan, who is joining the McGill Martlets.

The Gee-Gees will probably wind up competing for the second berth to the CIS Championships. As such, the Ottawa-McGill match-up will be one to watch this season.

Concordia University

Concordia finished fourth in the conference with a 6-14 record last season. It enters 2016-17 with a coaching staff full of familiar faces, led by US Olympian Julie Chu. Canadian Olympic champs Caroline Ouellette and Lauriane Rougeau also join CWHL teammate Karell Émard as assistants.

Goaltender Katherine Purchase was the 2014-15 RSEQ rookie of the year, and her stable presence in net gives her team the ability to steal games. If the Stingers aim to win some upsets, Purchase will be crucial in achieving that.

Devon Thompson was Concordia’s highest scorer last year, and the right-handed forward will continue to be relied upon in her junior season.

Though just a freshman, Audrey Belzile has already announced her presence on the university circuit, scoring a hat trick in Concordia’s surprise 3-0 exhibition defeat of NCAA powerhouse Clarkson. She was the third-best scorer in CÉGEP in her first (and only) season last year, and if the preseason is any indication, she already has the ability to single-handedly change games against top teams.

Concordia has graduated Erica Porter, Jillian Ferguson, and Marie-Pier Cloutier, but retains the majority of its key players.

In addition to Audrey Belzile, freshman forward Marie-Pascale Bernier will be looked upon to bolster the Stingers’ offense. She scored 25 points in 24 games on a deep Limoilou squad last season, and had 34 points in 32 games the year prior as a CÉGEP rookie.

Concordia surprised when it took Montreal to double-overtime in game one of the RSEQ semifinals last season. The Stingers were unable to repeat the performance in game two, but they’ll be looking forward to a rematch against the national champions. Though the team is, on paper, a half-step behind McGill and Ottawa, Concordia has proven that in a five-team conference, peaking at the right time is what matters. No match-up is going to be easy, but overtaking Carleton to make the postseason is crucial to a Stingers side that will seek a playoff upset.

Carleton University

The Ravens, who went 5-15 in 2015-16, have populated the bottom of the standings for the past three years.

Goaltender Katelyn Steele is entering her third season at Carleton, and is perhaps the most important piece to the Ravens’ success. Twenty Ravens players are entering their freshman or sophomore years, and the young roster will rely heavily on a stable presence in net.

Nicole Miners led the team in scoring as a freshman last year, but her 10 points -- a school record for a rookie -- ranked just 23rd in the conference. With a year of CIS hockey under her belt, she’ll be looked upon to lead Carleton’s offense once again.

One of just two fifth-year players on the team (in fact, the Ravens have no fourth-year seniors this season), Tawnya Guindon’s eight points were enough for second amongst Carleton skaters last year. She’ll play an important leadership role, in addition to providing offensive depth.

Norwegian defender Hedda Gjerde, who spent four seasons at Carleton, is the most notable graduate from the 2015-16 roster.

Delaney Ross, named the top forward in the JWHL last year with Warner Hockey School, is the Ravens’ top incoming prospect. She set an Alberta Major Midget Female Hockey League record with 80 points in 2013-14, and has also won three gold and two silver medals at the National Aboriginal Hockey Championships. A proven goalscorer, she’ll be a very welcome addition up front.

Slovakian international Andrea Kollova will be the only foreign player on the Ravens this year. The 18-year-old is already a member of Slovakia’s senior team, and captained the Slovakian U18 side to a bronze medal at the Division 1 World Championships this year. Kollova has spent the past two seasons completing her high school studies at Ontario Hockey Academy after moving to Canada to pursue her hockey career. Though she initially committed to St. Lawrence of the NCAA, Kollova soon after had a change of heart and chose instead to remain in Ontario.

Carleton struggled in 2015-16, but a somewhat more experienced roster will seek to finish out tight games and qualify for the playoffs. The Ravens split their season series with Concordia last year, and overcoming the Stingers could prove key to nabbing the coveted fourth place.