When Forbes MacPherson initially entered the locker room this season, he was not familiar with the names of his players.
Head coach of the University of Prince Edward Island Panthers, MacPherson led the team to the U Sports Men’s Hockey National Championship semifinal last season. Yet, the Panthers entered the 2023-24 season with a vastly different group.
Only five players remained from the team that ended 2022-23 — 18 new rookies were getting up to speed.
“I have found that learning names has been the most challenging aspect. With so many new people, their names, and even new nicknames, we’ve had some enjoyable moments,” MacPherson shared with CBC Sports. He has contributed to the Panthers’ 1-1-0 record in the beginning of the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) season.
During the initial exhibition games, we found amusement in my mistakes of calling out incorrect names or numbers of players while sitting on the bench. However, by now, we have resolved this issue and are prepared for the commencement of the regular season.
As the hosts of the University Cup in the previous season, the Panthers were granted a guaranteed spot in the national tournament. They had dedicated the past three seasons to constructing a team capable of competing for a national championship in 2023.
🟩MIRACLE IN GREEN GABLES🟩<br><br>The UPEI Panthers knock off the #1 Calgary Dinos 4-2 in the quarterfinal of their home U CUP.<br><br>A perfect performance from UPEI for their first U CUP win since 1987.<br><br>They’ll play Alberta tomorrow for a spot in the final. <a href=”https://t.co/T08dRpwlGi”>pic.twitter.com/T08dRpwlGi</a>
UPEI advanced to the U Sports quarterfinals and defeated the No. 1 Calgary Dinos in front of a fully packed home crowd. However, they were defeated by the University of Alberta Golden Bears in the semifinal, and subsequently lost the bronze medal game against the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes.
After UQTR took a picture at the center ice with the bronze medals, only 13 players who participated in that particular game were still a part of the two teams at the beginning of 2023: 10 from the Patriotes and three from the Panthers.
WATCH | UQTR wins 2023 U Sports bronze-medal game over UPEI:
UQTR, the reigning champions of Ontario University Athletics (OUA) for two consecutive years, began the 2023-24 season with a team of 11 rookie players.
Due to the cyclical pattern of university sports, players frequently participate in their maximum eligible years, or they may encounter other opportunities. This results in a four to five-year cycle, during which programs may either have experienced players aiming for national championships or a team comprised mostly of unfamiliar faces.
Since the 2019-20 season, the Patriotes have experienced a similar narrative, although with more accomplishments. The program has set the benchmark in Ontario and has consistently ranked among the top in the nation.
After the COVID-19 season of 2020-21 was cancelled, the Patriotes emerged as champions in the 2022 and 2023 OUA tournaments, as well as claiming victory in the 2022 University Cup and securing the 2023 U Sports bronze medal. Concurrently, three of their student-athletes achieved gold with Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games.
“The recipe and standards we’ve put in through the last four years will be the same. We have a winning culture and we try to do whatever we can in order to grow as a group and keep that standard,” UQTR fifth-year Simon LaFrance told CBC Sports.
The chemistry relies heavily on the Europe trip.
LaFrance joined the program with 12 other rookie student-athletes and it became the most successful in the country during his initial four years. Currently, he aims to assist in guiding the team through a period of change and pursuing further success with the current group.
At the beginning of the season, the Patriotes participated in a series of exhibition matches in Europe. They competed against various teams from the highest level of the French professional system. Although UQTR was defeated in all four games against Marseille, Grenoble, Gap, and Briançon, this annual trip provided a valuable opportunity for learning before the OUA season.
“He expressed that our trip to Europe was highly beneficial in terms of familiarizing ourselves with the new players and fostering team cohesion. However, he acknowledged the challenge of being five years older than some of the rookies, making this journey all the more significant.”
Although UQTR had a disappointing start to the opening weekend, experiencing defeats against the University of Ottawa Gee-Gees and Carleton University Ravens, the program’s expectations will persistently motivate the student-athletes throughout the season.
During the initial weekend of the AUS season, it became apparent that the Panthers might still have a chance to compete in the traditionally tough conference of U Sports men’s hockey.
“After UPEI’s victory against the Université de Moncton Aigles Bleus and their loss to the UNB Reds, MacPherson expressed his excitement about the new group. He mentioned their high energy and enthusiasm, stating that everyone is fully embracing this opportunity. While there is still much to learn, the focus is not on excessive drilling of specifics. Instead, they are using fundamental principles to introduce the desired style of play.”
“I am in my final year here, and it would be fantastic to qualify for nationals once more, especially since my brother Felix LaFrance is in his second season,” Lafrance commented on the upcoming 2024 tournament that will take place at Toronto Metropolitan University. “We are putting in immense efforts to bring our team back to that level.”
Around the U Sports world:
The Golden Hawks from Laurier University maintained their unbeaten streak in OUA football and are among four teams in the country that have not lost a game, along with Western University, University de Montreal, and St. Francis Xavier University.
The AUS women’s hockey season kicked off with victories for St. FX and Moncton in their first two games. Meanwhile, in Canada West, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies achieved a flawless 4-0-0 record by winning against MacEwan University and Manitoba.
The TMU men’s soccer team underwent an external investigation regarding troubling accusations. The school has now concluded the investigation and announced that, according to the results, the men’s soccer season will continue as planned.
Rachel Flanagan has left the Guelph University Gryphons to join PWHL Toronto, making her the fourth head coach to depart from the U Sports women’s hockey program. As a result, Katie Mora, a former Gryphon and experienced assistant coach, will step in as the head coach for the upcoming season.