Young Hawks finding their place in tough OUA west
When looking back at the first half of the regular season for the Golden Hawks men’s hockey team, there is no surprise where they are. With a record of 9-4-4 after 17 games the purple and gold skaters sit in fourth in the excruciatingly tight Ontario University Athletics (OUA) western division; tied on points with arch rivals, the Waterloo Warriors for third, but losing out so far as a result of having two less wins.
Considering the sublime talent of a Western team that pummeled the competition throughout the first half, a late surging Lakehead team, and an always stingy and difficult Warriors bunch, the young Hawks deserve to sit where they are.
And they are young.
No less than 11 men played their first game for Laurier this year, and with all that fresh infusion of blood, it is taking time for Coach Greg Puhalski (himself in his first year as Laurier’s head coach) to find cohesion, chemistry, and an identity.
The Golden Hawks are particularly fresh-faced up front, as 10 different rookie forwards have been charged in a large part with finding offence for a defense-heavy group.
The result of this infusion up front has provided mixed results, with some nights looking like the Hawks were totally grounded; while others looking like they could find the back of the net at will.
Thomas Middup has been the biggest revelation among the first-years, taking a regular shift on the team’s most productive line five-on-five, and on the power play. The Richmond Hill-native and veteran of four different Canadian Hockey League (CHL) franchises has been superb alongside team points leader Ryan Bellows. Bellows and Middup, who have played beside a plethora of centres so far this season, have been involved in a combined 37 of Laurier’s 60 goals and have found sensational chemistry together. Middup, who is only a slight 5-foot-10 and 172 pounds, is silky smooth with and without the puck and is equally precise in his passing and shooting.
With the era of the Voakes brothers, and Paul Bradley gone, coach Puhalski has been tasked with finding a new set of wingers to play alongside captain Jean-Michel Rizk. For the majority of the time it has been former Saginaw Spirit and Sudbury Wolves left winger Kain Allicock, and Ben Skinner, the older brother of the dynamic Carolina Hurricanes rookie and former Kitchener Rangers star Jeff Skinner.
Allicock, who spent parts of three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), has been effective; yet has shown a dangerous lack of discipline, posting 55 minutes in penalties in only 13 games played. The Thornhill, Ontario-native is a huge 6-foot-4 and 225 pounds, and is used to playing with highly talented guys as he played a lot of his final season in Sudbury alongside Florida second rounder John McFarland, and Buffalo fourth-round pick and Team Canada World Junior hopeful Marcus Foligno. If he can reign in his attitude, the 20-year old Allicock can be a dominant player in the OUA. His seven points thus far are good enough for second among Laurier’s rookies.
The aforementioned Benjamin Skinner might not be his younger brother in terms of skill, but at 6-foot-1 and 210-pounds the former Ranger brings a hard-working, physical force to the Hawks’ line-up. As humble, and polite as the Markham-native is off the ice, Skinner has been great checking and body slamming people on the ice. He has barely scratched the surface of his potential as a University forward, but thus far his grit and determination have proved invaluable to the youthful Hawks.
Alexander Poulter, Brendan Taylor, and James Marsden all have extensive major junior experience, yet have been on-again, off-again producers for Puhalski. Poulter, the most established offensive force of that trio, has still yet to show what he can truly do despite chipping in seven points for the Hawks. Taylor and Marsden have not shown much at all producing only seven points together thus far; yet with time they may yet blossom.
Walk-ons Matthew Reid, Zack Woolford, and Daniel Mohle have only had spot performances, but have all played ably in a low-skill, high-work-rate type of role. All three have above average skating ability to go along with slight frames (the heftiest is Reid at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds), yet have earned every one of their minutes with the type of effort that makes a difference when they get the chance.
The future of Laurier’s forward corps is solid, but they will have to continue to also be today. For the Hawks to be successful, contributions from the likes of Kain Allicock, and Alexander Poulter will have to come with more consistency to provide more depth for a team that has struggled to score on regular basis (22 of their 60 goals came against three sub-par performances by RMC and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT)). The rookies will have to learn the disciplined, simple, and blue-collar style of played that Puhalski has been preaching; finding offense from the forecheck and the cycle, while maintaining their current success on special teams.
With over half of the remaining games at home, where the Hawks lost only once in seven tries in the first half of the season, the young Hawks have a reasonable chance to finish in the top three of the OUA West.
But the rookies will have to play a big part.