Post-secondary sports teams have had to deal with the same problem since the dawn of varsity athletics: players graduate. For fans, this can be either a blessing or a curse, because every season has the chance for a new star player and resulting glory or a crippling departure and a fall from the top. It is for this reason that coaching can be such an interesting (and frustrating) job.
The Warriors men’s hockey team had to deal with the loss of several key players this year as they graduated and moved on. Waterloo’s biggest offensive weapon, assistant captain and OUA West MVP Colin Behenna is moving on to play professionally in Italy. Longtime captain and four time all-star Joe Underwood, Brett Mackie, and Chris Chappell are also leaving.
“I think our team will have a little bit of a different makeup because some of the guys have graduated … I think we’re gonna add four or five forwards who have the ability offensively, are very determined, have high, high work ethics,” head coach Brian Bourque said. “I think our identity will be what we’ve always tried to have — a very hard-working team, relentless with pressure.”
However, the off-season is also a time for new arrivals. The Warriors have announced three forwards so far in Zac Coulter, Michael Morgan, and Michael Siddall. All three have been touted as effective defensive forwards, but their offensive prowess still shows lots of promise.
Zac Coulter, the most offensively gifted of the group, potted 41 goals and 79 points in the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League for the Elmira Sugar Kings. “He’s very determined and he’s got a great work ethic. He wants to have an impact right away,” Bourque said. “Will he be able to translate [his scoring] to the CIS level? I think he will. Sometimes it happens sooner than later with guys.”
Michael Morgan is a solid two-way player coming to Waterloo from the North York Rangers of the Ontario Junior Hockey League (OJHL). He scored 21 goals and 39 points in 40 games and led their team in scoring in the 2015-2016 playoffs. “He’s contributed offensively in his junior career, he’s excellent defensively, he’s got very good hockey sense. He can play on our fourth line, he can play on our first line,” Bourque said.
Michael Siddall is a fast skater and a solid offensive player. He put up 60 points in 51 games last year for both the Toronto Jr. Canadians and Toronto Patriots of the OJHL. “Michael Siddall is a great skater, has fantastic work ethic, and has produced offensively in the top two tier level. I think he’ll be able to make the jump right away to a third line spot depending on his work ethic,” Bourque said.
As for the transition of new players coming in and older veterans leaving, Bourque isn’t too worried. “There are players that would have played a lesser role last year that are hoping to have a bigger role this year, and that would be a natural transition. Our hope is that our returning guys continue to grow.
“What happens every year is that when players come in, they bring more than you thought they would. An example for us last year was Joey Champigny. He came in and we weren’t sure where he was going to fit. We knew we liked him, he had a good work ethic, hockey sense, but we weren’t sure how he was going to adapt to higher level hockey, and he made that transition quickly. By midway last year, he was playing on our top line,” Bourque said.
Last season ended quickly for the Warriors. They were swept by the Ryerson Rams 2-0 in the best-of-three series in the OUA quarterfinals. Despite the loss, Bourque doesn’t feel that the team needs to make the loss a part of the next season’s identity.
“We want to go as far as we can. A few years back, we went to nationals and that was a great experience. We’ll have some players on our team this year that had that experience, and I know that’s something we thought about. We want to get that feeling back into our team and have that experience again.”