Three springs ago, the Western Mustangs men's hockey program finished a surprise run that saw them fall one game short of their fourth Ontario University Athletics championship before travelling east to the University Cup in New Brunswick.
Since then, however, the Mustangs have drifted into irrelevance. Over the past two seasons Western has gone 25-37-2, missing the playoffs in 2016-2017 and losing in the first round of the post-season last year. Now, nearly a decade removed from their last OUA title, the Mustangs are in desperate need of a return to the game's upper echelon.
With their 2018 recruiting class, head coach Clarke Singer believes the program's road back to the top just got a little bit clearer as the Mustangs add six Ontario Hockey League players to their roster.
“The coaching staff is very excited about our 2018-19 recruiting class both in terms of character, competitiveness and skill,” said Singer. “We had some very specific needs that were identified after last season, and I think we have addressed them all with this group.”
Forwards Ethan Szypula, Kyle Langdon and Kenny Huether, defensemen Alex Di Carlo and William Lochead, and goalie David Ovsjannikov are sure to be pivotal additions to a Mustangs team that hopes to once again contend for titles in the OUA.
Szypula is a London native who suited up in 320 games for the Owen Sound Attack over the past five years. The 2017-2018 season saw Szypula post a career-best 19 goals and 37 assists in 67 games.
"Ethan had an outstanding final year in Owen Sound and will make an impact in the OUA West next season with both his playmaking and scoring ability,” said Singer. “He can contribute on both sides of the special teams game and provide offence from the middle or right wing.”
Lochead is another Forest City native who should provide a solid veteran presence on the blue line. In 156 appearances with the Niagara IceDogs, Lochead racked up 221 penalty minutes and a plus-11 rating.
“Willy is a great defender with a mean and physical style that will be able to match up against the other team’s top forwards," said Singer on Lochead. "It has been a role he played well the past two years with the IceDogs and can translate at the U Sports level.”
Langdon, from Thorold, Ont., played with Lochead in Niagara, suiting up 174 times for the IceDogs, tallying 17 goals and 26 assists, along with recording 199 penalty minutes.
“Kyle is a very dynamic player who is good on faceoffs, is physical and has good touch around the net," said Singer. "I think he will make an immediate impact with our forward group."
Huether comes to Western via the Oshawa Generals, joining his brother Ray, a veteran forward for the Mustangs. Huether brings a solid resumé to London that includes 83 goals and 77 assists in 252 regular season games and a 2015 Memorial Cup championship ring.
"Kenny is an incredibly gifted offensive player, scoring 30 goals last year in Oshawa," said Singer. "He will really help us on the power play and be a real threat at 5-on-5 to score at any time."
Also from the Oshawa Generals is Di Carlo, a consistent defenceman who saw action in 206 OHL regular season games.
Rounding out the class is Ovsjannikov, an imposing 6-6 goalie who appeared in 87 OHL games with Saginaw Spirit and Barrie Colts before spending last season with the London Nationals of the Greater Ontario Junior Hockey League.
Ovsjannikov proved himself as one of the top goalies in the GOJHL, winning GOJHL goalie-of-the-month honours in September and October and posting a 18-9-4 regular season record. With four shutouts, a .915 save percentage and a 2.12 goals-against average last season, Ovsjannikov will join incumbent goalie Luke Peressini, forming a formidable pairing in net for the Mustangs.
With the six additions, the Mustangs add depth across the roster with players who have proven themselves at the highest levels of junior hockey. On paper, at least, the Mustangs are poised to leave behind their pretender-status and become contenders once again.