Hockey Hawks prepare for stiff test vs. Lakehead

Thus far the Golden Hawks men’s hockey team has been inconsistent. At times they have shown character, heart, offensive ability and depth not seen for a couple of seasons. While at others they have looked quite ordinary.

This should not be surprising to anyone, however, as with a new coach, and a vast majority of the forward corps being made up of rookies, this Hawks rendition has much ground to gain in the area of becoming a team.

And if first-year head coach Greg Puhalski was looking for a yard stick to measure the character of the men he has, this up-coming weekend is exactly that.

This weekend the purple and gold skaters will take the ever difficult trip to Thunder Bay to face the Lakehead Thunderwolves in a two-game set.

Lakehead is a team that is well-supported by their fans (perhaps because there is not much else to cheer for in Thunder Bay) and, due to the remoteness of their campus, by the referees.

A hostile crowd, the expectation of more than suspect refereeing, and a long journey by plane north aside, the Hawks have one more thing to deal with: the serious talent that the Wolves possess.

A few short years ago Lakehead was characterized by their defence-first attitude. When they came to the Waterloo Recreational Complex they trapped, and hoped to take advantage of strong counter-attacking and special teams play.

Not anymore.

Perhaps because the past two seasons they could entice recruits with the chance to play in the national championships due to Lakehead hosting the tournament; or because of the tradition and fan support of the Thunderwolves, head coach Joel Scherban and his predecessors were able to bring in a rash of high-end talent to the shores of Lake Superior.

Lakehead is loaded with players who have professional experience or potential. Their leading scorer as of the beginning of November, Matt Caria, has 14 games of East Coast Hockey League (ECHL) experience, and scored 107 points in his last Ontario Hockey League (OHL) season split between Sault Ste. Marie and Plymouth.

Fourth-year winger Kris Hogg has three seasons of 29 points or more for Lakehead, demonstrating the firepower that prompted the Calgary Flames to select him in the fourth round of the 2004 NHL Entry Draft (ahead of such current NHLers as Ryan Callahan, Kris Versteeg, Mikhail Grabovski, and Mark Streit).

Rookie Mike Quesnele was considered one of the top defencemen in the OHL for much of his time in Sault Ste. Marie, and was indispensible for that squad. In his last year for the Soo he scored 54 points in 61 games as a defenseman. As well, he played in

14 games for ECHL franchise the Cincinnati Cyclones. After only 10 games, Quesnele should already be considered one of the elite defenders in the OUA.

Other players worth noting on this deep, impressive squad include fifth-year power forward Brock McPherson whose contribution to the team include a 46-point season in 2007-2008, and big Swedish forward Victor Anilane whose pedigree includes 19 games for Rogle in the Swedish Allesvenskan League (the league right below their top Elitserien).

In net it has been second year Alex Dupuis who has been brilliant, and consequently shouldered the majority of the load for the Wolves, playing ahead of former Nashville Predators’ draft-pick third-year Kyle Moir. Dupuis is 4-2-1 in 8 starts with a shining save percentage of .943, and a GAA just above two.

Puhalski and company therefore have a lot to contend with this up-coming weekend. The good news: the Thunderwolves have had a similarly inconsistent start to their season including embarrassing losses to the Windsor Lancers and York Lions. The bad news: only one of their losses came at home, and they will be a hungry pack of Wolves as a result.

Indeed, a split series should be viewed as a Laurier victory.