Lions open playoffs against Badgers in first round series

The puck drops on the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) men’s hockey post-season this week and the York University Lions will take on the Brock Badgers in the first round of the 2018-19 playoffs.

The best-of-three series will begin on Wednesday, Feb. 13 at 7:15 p.m. on Brock’s home ice in St. Catharines, Ont., while the Lions will host Game 2 on Friday, Feb. 15 at 7 p.m. at Canlan Ice Sports. If necessary, Game 3 will be played on Sunday, Feb. 17 at Brock.

The series marks the second straight season the Lions and Badgers will match up in the playoffs. The Badgers had the upper hand last year, defeating the Lions after three hard-fought games in the third round of the playoffs. Brock would go on to claim the OUA silver medal and advance to the U SPORTS championships where they were knocked out after losing to St. FX in the first game. They have continued their strong play this season and earned the second seed in the OUA West Division with a 19-5-4 record. The Lions, who had a strong first half of the season, enter the playoffs seeded seventh with a 12-14-2 record.

The Lions jumped out to a 9-2-1 record to start the season and looked to be one of the teams to beat in the OUA, but a slew of injuries to key players affected the team’s depth and resulted in them winning only three games in the second half of the season. The Badgers, on the other hand, have played consistent hockey all season long, never losing more than two games in a row. The teams matched up three times in the regular season and played in three close games that all ended up in the Badgers’ favour.

In their first matchup of the year on Mark Cross Memorial Night in January, the Badgers won 4-3 after taking the lead in the third period. Lions defenceman Sal Filice rung a potential game-tying shot off the post with just seconds left in the game as Brock hung on for the victory. The OUA West rivals have played twice already in February, with the Badgers picking up a 3-1 victory on home ice in a game that was tied 1-1 heading into the third period, and the Lions losing a 5-1 game on home ice that was closer than the score would indicate with the Badgers icing the game late with two empty-net goals.

The underdog Lions are led by team captain Scott Feser, who paced the Lions in points this season with a career-high 32 (13 goals, 19 assists). Not far behind Feser is fifth-year senior Reid Jackman, who led the Lions with 15 goals. Jackman has proved he can score in bunches this season, picking up three hat tricks en route to a career-high in goals and points (30). Third-year goaltender Mack Shields has also continued his stellar career this season, keeping the undermanned Lions in many games with his outstanding play. He heads into the playoffs with 11 wins and a .913 save percentage.

Solid goaltending has also been a hallmark of the Badgers’ success in the past two seasons. Starting netminder Logan Thompson led the OUA with 18 wins while placing second in save percentage (.934) and third in goals against average (2.22). Up front, the Badgers are led by forwards Ryan Burton and Ryan McDonald, who tied for the team lead with 19 points apiece, while defenceman Skylar Pacheco led the Badgers’ defence with five goals and 10 assists.

The Lions are just two seasons removed from winning the 2016-17 OUA championship and hope to rekindle some of the playoff magic that led to their first OUA championship win since 2004. With 10 returning players from that championship team, the Lions are a battle-tested playoff group who, despite their second-half struggles, have played well against the second-place Badgers and figure to give them all they can handle in this first-round series.

All games in this exciting first round matchup can be seen live on oua.tv.

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