The York University Lions men’s and women’s hockey teams will play their home openers for their respective 2016-17 Ontario University Athletics (OUA) seasons this weekend.
The men’s squad has a pair of games on the schedule, first against the University of Toronto Varsity Blues on Friday night at 7pm and followed by a contest the following day against the Wilfrid Laurier University Golden Hawks at the same time.
The women, meanwhile, will host the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT) Ridgebacks on Saturday afternoon at 2pm.
The Lions men’s team has already begun regular season action with two games last weekend, both 4-3 losses on the road against the Golden Hawks and Brock University Badgers. Despite the slow start, the Lions are looking to continue the momentum they generated last season when they engineered a worst-to-first turnaround under first-year head coach Chris Dennis.
Last year the Lions had something to prove after a last-place finish in the OUA West the previous season. Dennis took over the helm of the program and the results were immediate: the Lions won six of their first eight games and earned points in 10 of their first 11 en route to the top spot in the OUA West Division and five weeks in the Canadian Intrauniversity Sport (CIS) national rankings. However, the season ended sooner than expected with a game-three loss to the Varsity Blues in the first round of the playoffs, and this year’s team is using that disappointment as motivation to stay at the top and position themselves for a deep post-season run.
“The players decided they wanted to be a team that was difficult to play against,” said Dennis of the improvement. “They wanted to learn our system and embrace it, and it was all their effort and dedication to the team that was the reason for the turnaround. The season didn’t end the way we wanted; our team has a bunch of second-year players with a first-year coach in the league. In a best two-out-of-three, anything can happen and we found that out. We played well enough to win and it didn’t go our way. We learned a lot from that and I think we will be better because of it.”
The Lions women’s team went 5-3-1 in the preseason and enters this year’s campaign with something to prove after narrowly missing out on the playoffs in each of the last two seasons.
For the second year in a row, the Lions improved their point total from the previous season but it was not enough to secure a playoff berth in the OUA standings. The line-up has the talent to finish among the conference’s top eight and that remains something head coach Dan Church is eyeing for his squad, but he is more concerned with his team focusing on playing hard and sticking to their tough-to-play-against style.
“The focus has to be on how we compete day to day. We are not really looking at points but trying to improve in terms of the level of our performance. If we get better every day in practice and work hard to compete to the best of our ability, the points and the wins will take care of themselves and we will be in the right place at the end of the year,” he said.
All three opening-weekend contests will take place at Canlan Ice Sports York and tickets can be purchased at the door on game day.