There will be plenty of new faces on the ice when the University of Toronto men’s hockey team opens their season on Friday at Varsity Arena.
Toronto has 11 players who will be making their Varsity Blues debut against McGill University.
On a team looking to improve upon a third-place finish last year in the OUAA, much of its success will depend on how well those new team members play.
Head coach Darren Lowe, who is entering his 16th season behind the bench, recognizes it’ll be tough to move up.
“It’s going to be a challenge for two reasons,” he said. “One, the unknown of how our first year players are going to perform, and secondly, I’m sure a lot of other teams within our own conference have improved as well.”
Toronto has had five exhibition games to test its chemistry, going 1-4.
That includes a weekend in Massachusetts, where it played Boston College, the reigning NCAA champion, and Boston University, a top-15 team.
Despite both schools beating them handily (8-0 and 9-3), Lowe says the experience was a success.
“It was a long bus trip and we had a lot of team bonding and team building on that trip,” he said. “That was the most important thing, that we were together for that period of time, away from Toronto.”
Though the Blues have so many new faces on the team, they only lost seven members. Last year they played shorthanded after some players who had committed to the team never showed up.
They made up for it this season by recruiting more.
A couple of those departed players were the team’s top two defencemen, Ed Snetsinger and Brendan Sherrard, who have graduated from the program. Both were Ontario University Athletics all-stars last year, and their absence will be felt.
“It certainly hurts us with leadership and also just experience at playing defence at this level, because it’s not easy,” he said. “And secondly, they were both very good offensive defencemen, they had a lot of points for us, so the dynamic of our team has changed.”
Now, instead of relying on its blue-line for points, Lowe says they have added much more offence up front.
Their main threat comes from Byron Elliot, a third-year player who also was named an OUA all-star last season.
Elliott led the Blues in scoring both of the past two years, and was fourth in the OUA with 44 points.
“We would expect that Byron is again going to be a point producer for us and he’ll have a little more support than he’s had in the past,” Lowe said.
Some of that support will come from Kyle Ventura, who is returning to the team after a year off. In the 2008-2009 season, the forward led the Blues in goals with 16.
Heading into its first regular season game, Lowe says the team is as prepared as it can be, and improvement will be an ongoing process.
Toronto opens with two games at home — versus McGill on Friday, and against the University of Quebec at Trois-Rivieres on Saturday.