Off-season and training camp preparations have put the UOIT Ridgebacks into a good position to start the Ontario university (OUA) men’s hockey season.
UOIT opens its season Friday, Oct. 7, in Ottawa against the GeeGees. The players and coaching staff are committed to a return to the playoffs, a continuation of last season’s efforts which saw the Ridgebacks playing late into February.
For returning fifth-year players Cameron Yuill and Jake Logan, this will be their final year of OUA hockey. For incoming first-year players Jack Patterson, Malik Johnson, Josh Carrick and Kyle Locke, their tenure for the Ridgebacks is just beginning.
On a team full of leaders, the 2016-2017 iteration of the Ridgebacks is a cohesive unit where nobody seeks the spotlight, nobody is concerned about points, and everyone takes on many roles, according to third year goaltender Brendan O’Neill. The sentiment echoes across both players and the coaching staff.
Head coach Curtis Hodgins doesn’t put much stock in last year’s numbers or statistics, believing instead in the calibre of his players and his team’s willingness to work as a unit. Touting the speed and agility of his team, Hodgins acknowledges that it will take hard work game after game for the Ridgebacks to come out on top in a tough eastern division.
O’Neill, who started the majority of games last year has added competition from Tyson Teichmann, who joins the Ridgebacks from the now shuttered St. Thomas University hockey program.
“Right now we have two third-year goalies, that are going to battle head-to-head for that net. I love our situation right now I think it’ll make both those guys better, and in turn make the team better,” said Hodgins.
After starting the majority of games last year, O’Neill welcomes the battle for the net.
Despite losing two of their top three scorers from last year as Mark Petaccio and James Woodcroft have moved on, the Ridgebacks won’t be short offensively. Hodgins believes that with players like Mitch Bennett, and Danny Elser returning from injury and back to hockey after an absence, respectively, that the team has all the firepower it needs offensively.
Second-year centre Ben Blasko is also optimistic about his offensive abilities.
“I like playing with goal scorers, guys who like to shoot the puck. I feel I’m pretty crafty and smart, I see the ice really well so if we get a scorer or two scorers on my line I feel we’ll be pretty dangerous,” said Blasko.
Fifth-year centre Yuill, entering his final year of OUA hockey, has taken away many things from his time playing for the Ridgebacks but sees one as most important.
“It’s the friendships you develop, you come here and you don’t really know anyone, and the friends you make, your teammates become your best friends,” said Yuill.
With a tough 28-game schedule ahead, the Ridgebacks are set to play 14 games at the Campus Ice Centre this year. The first home game is Friday, Oct. 14, against the Laurentian Voyageurs with the puck drop at 7:30 pm.