Sports

Grandmaitre coached his team to the top of the OUA East division in 2018-19. Photo: Greg Mason.

Gee-Gees men’s hockey head coach previews upcoming playoff run

The men’s hockey team concluded their regular season on Saturday, Feb. 9, defeating the Nipissing Lakers 6-2.

In what has been the team’s best season in program history, finishing first in the OUA with a record of 22-2-4, the Gees are set to take on the Laurentian Voyageurs in a best-of-three series.

The U of O won both games this season versus Laurentian. The first was in Sudbury back on Nov. 10 by a score of 6-5. The Gees also beat the Voyageurs on home ice on Feb. 1, handing them a 6-3 loss.

With that in mind, the Fulcrum spoke to head coach Patrick Grandmaitre about his team’s record-setting season and about the upcoming playoffs.

The Fulcrum (F) : I think it’s fair to say that your team has been dominant this year. You guys have gotten better every year now since the program was brought back three years ago. What do you attribute your team’s success to?

Patrick Grandmaitre (PG) : I think every year we added depth to our team. This year we added Jean-Francois Plante, Kyle Ward, and Yvan Mongo—good depth pieces that have stepped up and been good players for us. If you look at the last two years, in the second half of the season, we were in both years the best team in our league. We changed a couple things this season, especially in preseason where we cut back on the number of exhibition games we played. If you looked at the last year, I think our harsh preseasons took a toll on our guys in the first half of the season. But with that said, coming back from the Christmas break, we were always rested and in great shape for the second half. So we changed a couple little things, our preseason and a couple players, but except for that we haven’t changed as a team that much. We didn’t change the lineup, our attitude, or system.

F: Is there a player this year that has taken his play to a whole new level and has just made a world of difference for your team?

PG: I think if you look at Brandon Jacome, he’s a guy that had a good season last year—good playoffs, and he really kept it going this year, and he’s one of the guys that has stepped up his play this year. I also think our goalies are the first to say they didn’t have the best first half of the season last year, whereas they have been very consistent this year. So I think Jacome and both our goalies are who come to mind first.

F: Who’s maybe more of an unsung hero? Is there a defensive player that really makes a difference in your zone, or a glue guy in the room that keeps it together and makes your team just that much better?

PG: I think that when you look at our team and our statistics, I think it’s kind of easy to forget some key pieces. Those guys can be Jacob Hanlon—he plays against the other team’s top lines night in and night out and also does a lot of penalty killing. Cody Van Lierop would be a guy too—not a guy that picks up a lot of points but he always gets the big hits, blocks shots, and he too plays against the best payers. We have a lot of guys that you know, I think that there are some guys when we’re all healthy that don’t get to play much on some nights, but now with injuries, (Antoine) Pouliot, (Marco) Azzano and (John) Deacon get to play more. Everyone filling in, everyone chipping in, and I think that’s the strength of our team. We do have a couple of guys that stand out a bit more pointwise but we play four lines, three pairs, and flip our goalies every night. It’s a real team effort.

F: How much has it helped that most of your team came into the locker room together three years ago and now are in third year, and will all graduate together? How much has this helped your team chemistry and had an impact on the ice and in the room?

PG: You get to grow as a team with the trust factor there, the honesty and respect too—and it gets guys to play harder for each other, pick up for guys who are injured or not there. The fact that we have lots of third-year guys means they’ve seen a lot in this league, and know all the systems really well, and we can go from one way of playing to another and another all within a game. It’s not new for most of our guys at the opposite of a first-year team.

F: Looking forward to playoffs, what’s something your team has to work on to be successful?

PG: I think it’s finding a way to stay healthy, keeping our intensity, and being good on special teams. Usually in the playoffs, what it comes down to is good teamwork, special teams, and goaltending. I know we have good teamwork and good goaltending, but special teams are something you’ve constantly got to work on. Teams are always studying your tendencies and trying to counter your strengths and take advantage of your weaknesses, so it’s always kind of a chess match.

Having clinched home ice through the Queen’s Cup playoffs, the Gees will be back home on Saturday, Feb. 16 at 7:30 p.m. to hopefully close out the series at Minto Sports Complex. If need be for a third and final game, it would take place once again at Minto at 7:30 pm on Sunday, Feb. 17.