Western Mustangs vs Guelph Gryphons men's hockey Mar. 3, 2019

The Mustangs lost in heartbreaking fashion last season. In double overtime, Guelph University knocked them off in a 4-3 decision. Given one final chance to make the U Sports national championship, in a play-in game against Carleton University, the team was shut out 3-0.

Overall, they finished with a respectable 15-13-0 record in the regular season. Their 30 points allowed them to finish third in the Ontario University Athletics West division. 

The 2019-20 Mustangs iteration will likely set their goals high again this year, gunning for a Queen’s Cup and a trip to the national championship tournament in Halifax, N.S.

But, before they can get there, they’ll have to answer a few questions.

How will they replace the key players they have lost?

Spenser Cobbold, Trevor Warnaar, Ray Huether, Trent Ouellette, Jonathan Laser and Adam Sinclair will all not be on the team this year. That’s six names off of the playoff roster. 

Cobbold and Warnaar provided great offensive output on the top line with Kyle Pettit.

Huether centred an excellent third line that, at times during the Queen’s Cup playoffs, was Western University's best.

Ouellette primarily centred the fourth line, but jumped up into Huether’s group during key moments.

Laser, the team’s former captain, was an excellent first pairing defenceman. Playing with a fair amount of bite for a smaller player, he was trusted to shut down opposing top lines with Rylan Bechtel.

Finally, Sinclair, a forward converted into a defenceman, was the other half of a solid second pairing with Stephen Desrocher.

All told, Western has lost two thirds of their top line, half their centre depth and half of their top four. Needless to say, head coach Clarke Singer has a few jobs on offer during training camp.

Anthony Stefano, Ethan Szypula and Kenny Huether could all be candidates to round out the top line. Down the middle, they’re a little more thin. Kyle Langdon and recent recruit, Franco Sproviero, look like the most obvious options at the centre ice position. 

The defence has a number of different options they could turn to. Desrocher will likely see more ice this year, Matthew Watson periodically jumped up onto the second pairing during the playoffs and the Mustangs have two veteran transfers in Aaron Hoyles and Brandon Grandinetti.

Of course, Singer also has plenty of other returning blueliners that could potentially round out the back end. David Eccles played on the third pair in the playoffs; Alex Di Carlo and Zach Core both saw a fair amount of regular season action as well.

Will the team be able to clean up their special teams?

Last season, the team converted on 12 of their 99 opportunities with the man advantage during the regular season. That converts into a poor 12.1 per cent success rate, ranking them 18th in the OUA.

The penalty kill was much better, ranking 7th in the OUA. The unit turned away 86.7 per cent of opposing teams' powerplays.

However, in the playoffs, these two trends flipped. Suddenly, the powerplay was humming at a 24.1 per cent clip – good for 7th in the league – while the penalty kill imploded, allowing 9 goals against and a 71.0 per cent kill rate.

Of the six players that have left the team this season, each one played on either the powerplay, penalty kill or both. Not only will Singer have to replace bodies on these special teams, he’ll have to make sure the powerplay builds on the success they found in the playoffs, while whipping the penalty kill back into their regular season form. 

If Western played the entire season with a 24.1 per cent success rate on the powerplay, the team would have scored about 12 more goals. That’s the difference between finishing 11th and tying for sixth in both goals scored and goals per game.

Who will make up the captaincy group of the Mustangs?

No, this isn’t an article about the Toronto Maple Leafs. But, the Mustangs do have a captaincy controversy of their own.

With captain Jonathan Laser and alternates Spenser Cobbold and Trevor Warnaar out of the picture, the entire leadership group will be changed for the Mustangs.

Those three, along with Ouellette and Huether, were also the last remaining members of the Mustangs national championship team in 2015. It’ll be an entirely new leadership base trying to lead Western back to the national championship for the first time in five years. 

As the roster currently stands, there are a few names returning that could be thrust into a leadership position. Rylan Bechtel, Stephen Desrocher, Kyle Pettit and Cordell James all come to mind.

A source with knowledge of the situation indicated that the captaincy announcement will take place sometime before the puck drops on the regular season.

The Mustangs open their season this Friday at Thompson Arena. Western will start the 2019 campaign with a back-to-back against the Université Du Québec À Trois-Rivières.

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