OHL grads find hockey success at UOIT

Alex Yuill of the UOIT Ridgebacks skates up the ice away from a Nipissing Laker. Photo credit: Brandon Wright

The UOIT Ridgebacks men’s hockey team has clinched a playoff berth for its seventh consecutive season.

In the last seven days the team has played to a 2-1 record, defeating the Nipissing Lakers and Queen’s Gaels, but losing to the McGill Redmen.

The team’s strong season has come in large part from the effort of several former Ontario Hockey League (OHL) players.

The men’s hockey team is home to seven OHL alumni who have continued to find success after their junior hockey career ended.

“The reality is [making the NHL], it’s not happening for 99.9 per cent of players,” said head coach Curtis Hodgins. “But they can still go on and play pro hockey.”

He was referencing now former Ridgeback, Mike Robinson, who left the team in late December for the Orlando Solar Bears of the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), an affiliate of the NHL’s Tampa Bay Lightning. Robinson spent two seasons with the OHL’s Niagara IceDogs.

Robinson is the most recent Ridgeback to turn pro. He joins Ben Blasko and Nate Mitton as other recent Ridgebacks to make it into the professional ranks.

For some, the first step to a pro opportunity is playing university hockey.

Former OHL players are given education packages for every year they play with an OHL club. These packages allow players to continue playing hockey while also receiving a post-secondary education once their junior career is over.

“Canadian university hockey is one of the most underrated leagues, probably in the world, but there are a lot of opportunities for our players,” said Hodgins.

Robinson is just one example of former OHL players finding success with the UOIT Ridgebacks.

Former Belleville Bulls teammates, Jake Bricknell and Alex Yuill, both had productive games in the Ridgebacks 6-1 victory over the visiting Nipissing Lakers Jan. 18.

“It was very exciting coming to UOIT to reunite with Alex. He’s a great guy and teammate to have on our team. It’s a lot easier coming into a new team knowing a familiar face,” said Bricknell.

He scored two goals and added an assist while Yuill scored his second goal of the season to open the game’s scoring.

“Playing in the OHL for sure helped me. Moving away from home at 15-years-old, playing with and against the top end talent every day,” said Bricknell. “It helped for sure coming into university.”

Forward Josh Maguire, a former Peterborough Petes’ assistant captain, also had a successful evening on the ice against the Lakers, scoring a shorthanded goal in the second period.

Josh Maguire of the UOIT Ridgebacks takes a drink after a shift. Photo credit: Brandon Wright

“On the ice the Ridgebacks have given me a great opportunity to develop my game into a more complete player, putting me in a situation to be successful. Off-ice, hockey is a great break from my studies,” said Maguire after the game. “But the support we receive as athletes here at UOIT is excellent.”

Maguire now has five goals on the season, a career high at the university level. His career high in the OHL is 16 points in 68 games during the 2014-2015 season.

Many hockey players and fans believe the only path to a successful hockey career is to play in the NHL, but Bricknell says his dream of playing pro hockey is not dead by playing for the Ridgebacks.

“That stigma exists, but I’m for sure wanting to continue hockey after school, even if it’s going over to play in Europe or the ECHL,” he said. “I’m not limiting myself to anything that comes out of playing USports.”

The Ridgebacks next game is Feb. 1 in Montreal, when they take on McGill. They close out their season on home ice against the Concordia Stingers on Feb. 9.