A new day dawns for men’s hockey

As the Laurier men’s hockey team prepares to take to the ice for their first regular season game on Oct. 7, head coach Greg Puhalski is still unsure what his final line-up will look like.

“At this stage in the season we’re still in the process of figuring out who we’re going to be,” said Puhalski after his Hawks went 1-3 in the pre-season.

Focusing on defence in the 2010-2011 season, the team finished second in the west with a 15-7-6 record, and defeated the UOIT Ridgebacks in the playoffs but bowed out to the Guelph Gryphons in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) quarter-finals, two games to one.

Ryan Daniels, the Hawks’ goaltender nominated for MVP in the Western Conference and goalie of the year last year, will remain the team’s starting tender, but the rest of the team is more up in the air in terms of healthy players to start the year.

Although Puhalski notes a marked improvement in the team’s performance during the pre-season, he is concerned about the number of players on the injured list.

“We haven’t had a chance to ice our whole squad and that’s been a little bit frustrating. We are looking for those senior defencemen to really help us,” he said.

Those senior defencemen would be Phil Magistrale, Garrett Sinfield, Zack Sheply and Kyle Van De Bospoort.

In addition to the continuing focus on defence, Puhalski must also concentrate on his offensive line-up for 2011-2012, having lost five of his six top scorers to graduation.

Gone is team captain Jean-Michel Rizk, defensive speedster Ryan Bernardi and left-winger Ryan Bellows.

“It’s something that will come with time and we’ll see who will step up and helpwith that and we’ll have to see who develops in our offence,” he said.

Left in the offensive line-up for this year is right winger Thomas Middup who scored 11 goals in regular season play last year.

Incoming former Ontario Hockey League graduates Mitch Lebar and Chad Lowry should bolster a strong contingent of newcomers to the squad.

Although Puhalski said he would like to see Laurier playing for the OUA finals this year, his current focus is not on championship dreams, but getting a strong team ready for the regular season.

“I think the focus is just on getting your team consistent and playing at a high level each and every game and each and every day,” he said adding that playoffs are “a long way away.”

New rookies Duncan Long, Frank Riddle, Dustin Punch, Brett Vandenberg, Joseph Vanni and Jonathan Veerman will try and make an immediate impact on the team as they all adjust to the OUA.

Laurier faces off against Nipissing at the Waterloo Recreational Complex this Friday at 7:30 p.m. followed by a game against Ottawa on Saturday night.

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