After falling short of the post-season for the first time in the program’s history, the Nipissing Lakers men’s hockey team is back.
The Lakers clinched a playoff spot and seventh place, setting up a first round matchup with the Queens Gaels, which begins Wednesday night at 7pm at Memorial Gardens.
The Gaels wrapped up second place on the final weekend of play and will have home ice advantage in Round 1 of the OUA Playoffs.
Nipissing finished the regular season with a 9-15-4 record, good for 22 points, while the Gaels finished 19-6-3 and 41 points, five behind McGill for first in the division.
Despite going winless against Queens this year, the Lakers played them very well, losing 4-3 in overtime in their first meeting, 4-3 in the second and with their position set, Nipissing rested players in a 5-0 loss on the final day of the regular season.
While they can look back at those matchups for information, the playoffs are a new season and you can throw the regular season out the window.
An excellent rookie campaign for goalie Brent Moran gives Nipissing a boost in goal and gives them confidence taking on the high-flying Gaels.
On the blueline, Nipissing has a solid group who can both defence and move the puck up.
Matt Donnelly led the way with 16 points and was tops on the team with 13 assists.
The Lakers six defenders combined for 10 goals and 50 points, all while making it difficult for the opposition once they crossed the Nipissing blueline.
Up front, balance is the name of the game.
Local product Brett Hargrave led the way with 10 goals and a total of 12 forwards had at least three goals.
Former Sudbury Wolves forward Danny Desrochers led the team in points with 18, thanks to 9 goals and 9 assists and Colin Campbell had three game-winners this season.
Although they may not be an offensive juggernaut, the Lakers play a gritty game and use their forecheck to generate offence, often using their physicality to grab loose pucks.
Queens had two players finished with more than 10 goals and five record at least 20 points, so outscoring them may not be the best game plan for Nipissing, but playing two tight contests during the regular season should help the Lakers’ confidence as they begin the best-of-3 series.
The Lakers finished with the fourth best penalty kill in the league and will be up against the sixth best power play and as always, special teams play such a huge role in a short playoff round.
Nipissing’s power play, which actually scored more goals than Queens, was ranked 13th, facing a Gaels penalty kill that finished ninth place.
On paper, the Gaels do have the advantage, but four of Nipissing’s wins came against teams that finished higher in the standings than the Lakers did, including a big win late in the season against Carleton.