WOLFVILLE, N.S. – The Acadia Axemen head coach Darren Burns hopes to continue their success from last year's U SPORTS University Cup bronze medal win into this AUS season in one of the toughest men's hockey conference in the country.
The Axemen lose several key veteran players to graduation including Daniel Petterrson, Taylor Makin, Scott Trask, Brett Thompson and Brendon Childerley. Of the graduated seniors, only Childerley and Thompson had an impact on scoring last regular season with Thompson posting 25 points (7 goals) – third among the Axemen leaders. Pettersson lead the Axemen in scoring during the playoffs.
On the leadership spectrum, Makin and Trask will be a loss to the veteran laden lineup.
"It comes down to the guys who want to give the extra 10% and it's on and off the ice. Comradery is huge and the guys have to care and have a compassion and a want to win. It's college hockey and so you got to get better everyday at practicing and got to be rested and keep your focus away from the rink. That is very important for our success this year," said Burns.
"I loved our leadership and I loved down the stretch our ability to deal with some adversities and losing a series and then bouncing back and having a great series (qualifying series vs. Saint Mary's) and then arguably playing our best hockey at the U Cup," added Burns.
In five pre-season games that included two NCAA exhibition games south of the border, the Axemen faired well against AUS opponents, picking up wins against UPEI and Moncton and a loss to Saint Mary's in the exhibition season opener in Truro.
With an average 3.5 years of AUS hockey experience in the lineup from last season, only a few additions to the 2017-18 roster are noted by recent exhibition play.
New faces in the lineup include forward Ryan Foss (Windsor Spitfires – OHL), forward Jack McClelland (Witchita Jr. Thunder), forward Rodney Southam (Kelowna Rockets – WHL), goaltender Dawson Carty (Hamilton Bulldogs – OHL), defenseman Michael Zipp (Calgary Hitmen – WHL), and forward Owen MacDonald (London Knights – OHL).
Rodney Southam, who is the only rookie to pick up goals (2) in exhibition play, netted 19 goals and 27 assists with the Rockets in his last year of Major Junior hockey, while Owen MacDonald scored 48 goals in four seasons with the Knights.
On the blueline, the Axemen return several veteran defensemen including Matt Pufahl, Stephen Woodworth, Liam Maaskant and Tyler Ferry. An important addition is the return of fifth year Geoff Schemitsch for his final season.
Also returning are second year standout blueliners Alex Lepowski and Marc McNulty.
"I think the big thing is we need to have our strength in numbers this year. We have a veteran defense with veterans like Geoff Schemitsch and Matty Pufahl, who are All-Canadian type of players who are impact type players for us on the back end. They have come back focused," said Burns.
"I have been very impressed with the way those guys have come back, playing with a lot of energy and leadership, which is excellent to see. I know it's a bit of a cliché, but it has to be a team effort this year. "Up front, I really believe we got a balanced attack in terms of scoring. For us to be successful this year, it's got to start behind the blueline and making sure we are good defensively and that's just not an onus on our defensemen, but we have to make sure we have guys buying into to have defense first, because I do believe if we look after our own zone, we will be able to score enough goals to win hockey games," added Burns.
Veteran forward Boston Leier returns for his fourth season. Leier led the Axemen last season with 18 goals and 14 assists, while teammates Remy Giftopoulos and Kyle Farrell each had ten and also return on the front line for the Axemen.
Heading into his second season, Stephen Harper finished fourth among Axemen in scoring with 9 goals and 16 assists last year and has been on fire during pre-season play with six goals in the last four exhibition games.
Between the post, Robert Steeves returns as the starter. Steeves grabbed the starting position early last season and posted a 2.46 goals against average last season. Dawson Carty, who got some playing time during the exhibition season will sit in the wings for his opportunity this season.
The Axemen open the AUS regular season at home this Friday night at 7:00 p.m. against the StFX X-Men.