Mustang Men’s Hockey Preview

Mustang Men’s Hockey Preview

Steve Kopp

The Western Mustang men’s hockey team begin the 2019-20 season on Friday night at Thompson Arena as they host the UQTR Patriotes.  And when they hit the ice, they will be the last team to begin their season as every one of the other 19 teams in the OUA have already played at least one game (four teams have already played three games).  The Patriotes, for example, have played two games so far, both of them losses, and arrive with an 0-2 record.

It will be a tough start of the new season for Western.  After two home games (Friday and Saturday) versus the always competitive, always tough team from Trois Rivieres, the Mustangs head to Ottawa next weekend for games against Ottawa and Carleton, and follow that up with home games against Ryerson and York.  That is six games to start the season against some of the top echelon teams in the OUA.

But at least the Mustangs have some home games.  Last season, they started the season with five straight games on the road.  

And speaking of last season, here a quick recap.  Western finished third in the West Division with a record of 15-12-1.  In the playoffs, Western got hot, beating Laurier in the first round, and upsetting second place Brock in the semi-finals.  After taking a 1-0 lead against Guelph in the West Division final, Western would go on to lose the last two games, including a tough double overtime loss in the deciding game 3 at home.  The Mustangs had one last chance to qualify for nationals, but lost the OUA bronze medal game, 3-0 against Carleton, despite outshooting the Ravens.

“The regular season was a little bit tumultuous and we had a challenging start,” said head coach Clarke Singer, who is starting his 21st season at the helm.  “I look back and we had a lot of growth in our group last year.  We changed our style a little bit to play with a little bit more grit, a little more jam.  We have a really good chunk of returning players and we have some promise for this coming year.”

So, what about this season?  What do the men’s hockey Mustangs look like?  Who is returning?  And who are some the new players to watch out for?

In goal, the Mustangs return all three goalies from last year.  Dan Davies returns as the third stringer, although he did not see any action last year.  Backup David Ovsjannikov, a native of Plen, Czech Republic, is back again.  He hopes to improve on his record from last season, where he lost all five of his starts and posted a rather unflattering 5.17 goals against average and a lowly 0.855 save percentage.  He has already made some starts in the exhibition season, posting a shutout against Queen’s.

But the big returnee is goalie Luke Peresinni.  The native of Nobleton, Ontario, is back for his fourth season between the pipes and the team will be counting on him to carry the bulk of the goaltending duties this season.  As Peresinni goes, so too will the Mustangs.

“What can you say about him, he’s been one of our best players the last couple of years,” said Singer when asked about Peresinni.  “If we are going to be successful this year, if any team if going to be successful, their goalie has to be their best player.  And we expect him to have a great year.”

On defence, the Mustang are returning six players from last year’s team:  Stephen Desrocher (a draft pick of the Toronto Maple Leafs back in 2015), Rylan Bechtel, Zac Core (who only played six games last year), Alex DiCarlo, Matthew Watson and David Eccles.  The defence has a lot of depth this year, but Singer admits that they will need to generate more offence from the defence this year.  

But it is the two new guys that they picked up this year that has Singer a bit excited.

Aaron Hoyles is a Financial Economics grad student who played the last four seasons for St Francis Xavier, where he appeared in four straight national championship tournaments.  He also piled up 288 minutes in penalties during his four seasons in the Atlantic conference.  The native of Gander, Newfoundland, also played 249 games for Sherbrooke and Blainville-Boisbriand of the Quebec Junior League.

The other new defenceman to watch out for is Austin Osmanski.  The six-foot-four native of East Aurora, New York, has appeared in 263 games in the OHL with Peterborough and Mississauga, and was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 7th round of the 2016 NHL draft.  

“Austin, currently, is a bit more of a shut down guy,” said Singer when ask about Osmanski.  “But one of our commitments to a lot of these young men when they come in is that we want to try to expand their roles a little bit.  We want Austin to be a little bit more involved in the play, maybe jump into the offence zone a little bit more.”

That leaves the Mustangs with 8 solid defencemen.  But with Singer and his coaching staff usually only dressing six defencemen for a game, that means two guys will have to sit out each night.

One place that the Mustangs absolutely must improve on from last year is their power play.  Two seasons ago, Western had the best power play among all 20 teams in the OUA, scoring 21 goals, or 23.3% of the time they were on the power play.  Last season, it was the exact opposite.  They scored only 12 times with the man advantage, for a success rate of only 12.1%, ranked 18th out of 20 teams (3rd worst power play in the league in other words).  That is one of the main areas of improvement that the coaching staff is looking for this season and it starts with the forwards.

The team has a solid core of 10 forwards returning this season, including Kyle Petit (a draft pick of the Vancouver Canucks back in 2014), Cordell James, Kolten Olynek, Anthony Stefano (8 goals, 11 assists last year) and Ethan Szypula who led the team in goals (10) and points (20) last year in his rookie season.

“I think when you look at the group we have, maybe (we did) not meet expectations from a goals-for perspective.  One had to do with the power play. We did not have a great year on the power play unfortunately.

“I think we have surrounded those (returning) guys with a little bit more depth and a little bit more offensive talent.  I think we are going to be able to create some more goals this year from our entire group.”

Who are these new guys that will hopefully add depth (and scoring) to the forwards?

There is Alex Turko, a London native who has spent parts of the last three years with the London Knights.  There is Franco Sproviero, who played 214 games over four seasons with his hometown Sarnia Sting.  Keep an eye on Sean Montgomery, a Calgary native who score 29 goals and added 30 assists while playing for the Prince Albert Raiders of the Western Hockey League (where he finished up with 345 career games).  Another Calgary native to watch out for is six-foot-three Reed Morrison.  He has junior experience with Kootenay, Calgary and Portland, but spent last year with the Fort McMurray Barons of the Alberta junior B league where he scored 41 goals and posted 79 points in 59 games.

Also hoping the crack the line up sometime this season are first year players Brendan Harrogate, Ethan Nother (both from London) and Riley Macrae, who has spent time with Erie of the OHL.

All in all, the Mustangs are looking pretty good heading into the 2019-20 season opener on Friday, October 11 versus the University of Quebec at Trois Riviere.  They are healthy, with no major injuries to report and they are eager to start the regular season after a pre-season exhibition stint in which they went 2-3.  

Game time is 7:00 pm at Thompson Arena, while game two versus UQTR goes on Saturday, October 12, with the puck drop at 4:00 pm.  Both games can be heard live on Radio Western, 94.9 fm or stream the games live at radiowestern.ca.