Last updated: March 21, 2012 3:32 pm
CIS men's hockey finals preview: UdeM Aigles Bleu
As the men's hockey national championship gets set to kick off in Fredericton, The Brunswickan staff tees up the competitors
FREDERICTON (CUP) — Coming into the tournament on a three-game skid after being swept by the Varsity Reds in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) final, the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus are optimistic for a tournament win, as they’re no stranger to crucial momentum swings.
Having lost their first game to Saint Mary’s on the road in the AUS semifinals, the Aigles Bleus rebounded and did what no team (other than UNB) could do during the entire AUS playoff: win on the road.
Moncton returns to the national championships after a three-year hiatus. The last time they were in the tournament was in 2008, when they hosted it. However, they’re tied for third in all-time University Cup championships with four — tied with UNB and UQTR.
Their last championship was in 1995 over University of Guelph.
Despite falling short of the AUS title, head coach Serge Bourgeois said he’s confident his team can rebound and refocus, and he’s more than happy with the season they’ve had.
“I’m extremely proud with what we’ve accomplished this year,” Bourgeois said. “We missed the playoffs last year and there were a lot of people that didn’t have confidence in us. But we recruited some key guys with good attitudes and made a few little changes in the off-season.”
One freshman that stood out this year was defenceman Samuel Groulx, who was fifth in points among AUS freshmen defencemen with 10, and tied for fifth among all AUS defencemen with a plus/minus rating of 18.
The Aigles Bleus also suffered a key injury in early November, losing star player Christian Gaudet for 18 games. He came back on Jan. 13th and scored a goal and an assist in a 6-3 win versus Acadia, but hasn’t played since a loss to Dalhousie the following night.
“When he got hurt, he was leading the league in scoring,” Bourgeois said. “A lot of players had to up their game because he’s such a big part of our team.”
“He had significant ice time and played both on our power play and penalty kill, and took our key faceoffs so we had to find guys to fill those spots and to play roles that they weren’t used to playing. I’m very happy with those guys that stepped up in Christian’s absence.”
Bourgeois said he doesn’t think Gaudet will be 100 per cent for the tournament, but said the former QMJHL champion is a smart player and even if he’s not at full strength, he can still make a significant impact for his team.
Gaudet joined the Aigles Bleus this season after four years in the pros across the AHL, ECHL and the Central Hockey League. His last season playing pros was with the Allen Americans in their inaugural season where he was ninth on the team in points, on route to a conference championship.
Coming into the tournament as the fifth seed, Moncton will be playing McGill to kick off the weekend. Despite not having played McGill yet this year, coach Bourgeois is confident they will find success in sticking to their game plan, which got them here.
“We know McGill is a good team and that their powerplay is great,” Bourgeois said, “but last week we really focused on our game and our systems [in practice] and polishing all the small details in our game.”
“I think we’re the best prepared team in this tournament,” he added. “The last three games we played were against the best team in the country and that’s the ideal way to enter this tournament. We’ve had a week to prepare and fine-tune our game, and I don’t think there’s any better practice than playing against the best right before a national championship.”
“We knew where we would be after beating Saint Mary’s, and the AUS championship is one that we really wanted to win, but we’re very proud of where we are. I think it did us good to play against UNB and it brought out the things that we needed to work on for this weekend, and come Thursday, we hope to be ready.”
The last time Moncton won at the University of New Brunswick's Aitken Centre in official play was on Jan. 16, 2009, when they beat the Varsity Reds 3-2 in overtime. Bourgeois said the arena itself isn’t the source of their troubles, but rather the team that calls the AUC home.