Men’s hockey regroups before break

At the midway point of the season, the Ravens men’s hockey team can be best described as surprising.

The team is coming off a disappointing first-round exit during the 2016-17 season, which saw the departure of head coach Marty Johnson in the off-season. Also leaving the team were top-line-centre and last season’s leader in points on the team, Michael McNamee.

In a pre-season interview with The Charlatan, interim head coach Shaun Van Allen said the team would have to start playing more physically.

“I don’t want us to be an easy team to play if we’re going to be beat, I want the other team to know that they had to play a full 60 minutes to beat us,” Van Allen said.

The Ravens have stuck to that, with two distinct strategies helping them to match their opponents and put themselves in the best position to win. This includes using both their speed and size in order to impose their will on opposing teams.

In their season openers, Carleton was able to shift from a victory against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees, to a close loss against the McGill Redmen, in which their physical board play helped push the top-ranked Redmen to overtime.

Over the course of the season, Van Allen has been aggressive with his in-game adjustments, changing both lines and strategies based off what the opponents give Carleton.

Van Allen however, has also been careful with his line creation. The forward lineups are all a blend of speed and size, as opposed to loading up the lines with just one or the other. This balanced approach also allows for fine tuning and gives a clean slate for the coaching staff to adjust to the ups and downs of the game.

This multi-faceted approach is a testament to the work of Van Allen and the way he has organized his team. Noting very high physical conditioning coming into training camp, there was no wasting time getting his players prepared for the rigors of one of the toughest schedules in U Sports hockey, playing in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) East division.

Building off a strong defensive core from the previous season, which ranked second in goals against, Van Allen has been able to get the offence going for Carleton.

Led by the top line of Ryan Van Stralen, Dalen Hedges and Brett Welychka, the experienced trio have combined for a total of 45 points on the season. Welychka, following an especially strong start to the season, has been selected to be a part of the U Sports All-Star team which will compete against Canada’s World Junior team as part of pre-tournament preparations. Jared Steege has also turned heads, as the rookie is currently sitting second in total goals in the OUA with 13 goals.

Defensively, the Ravens have thrived due to depth and balance. Bolstered by the transfer of Fabian Walsh, the defensive core is skilled and fast, capable of making quick decisions with the puck in their own zone and join the rush.

First-year player Matthew Sozanski has quickly impressed, making the starting roster right out of training camp. Josh Burnside has also seen a big change in roles, as he has been tasked to shut down the opposing team’s top forwards, a role in which he has thrived so far.

Though there is no significant change in goals against and defensive zone statistics, the defensive shape taken in the zone has changed from last year. Puck control and gap control are new points of emphasis, which has allowed the offence to thrive by having better puck control when transitioning from offence to defence.

The Ravens currently sit at fourth overall in the OUA East Division, with a record of 10-4-2 and a game in hand on current third place team, the Université du Québec  à Trois-Rivières. The Ravens are battle tested as well, having faced adversity in the form of a four-game losing streak, which started with a loss to the University of Ottawa in the second annual Colonel By Classic. 

Despite the losing streak, the Ravens enter the mid-season break on a two game win streak, avenging the loss against the Gee-Gees and securing a difficult road win against the suddenly red-hot Royal Military College Paladins.

Photo by Dan Robertson