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Dal men’s hockey pushing for a playoff spot

Tigers have confidence that this season will be a successful one

Despite their current place in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) standings, the Dalhousie University men’s hockey team is confident they can be playoff contenders this season. 

“I feel like we think we should be there,” said Derek Gentile, the team’s captain. “We’re a team that should make the playoffs, and we should have a shot in the playoffs too.”

The Tigers are in last place in the conference but currently have a better record than they did compared to last season in terms of percentage of possible points earned. They are also only three and five points behind Acadia University and the University of Prince Edward Island respectively, the other schools in closer reach now than they were last year.

Being close and having beaten or been close to beating all the teams [in the AUS] kinda gives you that extra shot in the arm where guys realize we’re not a team that should miss the playoffs,” said Gentile. 

Missing the playoffs has been a common occurrence for the Tigers, who in the last 10 years have only made the playoffs twice, but this year’s team wants to turn that trend around. 

“It’s hard turning around a team when it hasn’t always gone so well or been so great,” said Alec Belanger, a first-year Tiger. “It sucks being in that position, but we just need to have confidence in ourselves and a game like that shows that we can be that good.” 

One game that Belanger cites as a confidence booster and big success for the team was their 7-4 victory over Université de Moncton on Nov. 11. 

“It was fun to see that we can do it,” he said. “Moncton is a good team this year, and I think that was a game that really proved there are no excuses and we can do this. It was a good feeling.” 

Moving parts

Even though this is his first year on the team, Belanger said he doesn’t feel like a rookie around his new teammates. 

“It’s been so smooth,” he said. “I felt really accepted and really welcomed, and I’m really happy to be here. Everything’s been great so far and I’m happy to be a Tiger.”

Belanger previously played in the Ontario Hockey League for four years, first as a member of the Ottawa 67’s and then the Kingston Frontenacs after being traded

“I’ve been playing in a bigger role than I’ve ever been used to which has been really nice,” said Belanger. “I think I’ve taken advantage of that and played pretty well but that was a little bit of an adjustment because I always thought I could play a bigger role on my teams, so I was glad that now I have a chance to prove that and show it here.”

Despite only having played half a season with the Tigers so far, Belanger has scored more goals with them than he did with either of his previous teams. The first-year kinesiology major has 14 goals and six assists so far, putting him in the top 10 in scoring for the AUS. 

Even being new to university life, Belanger has shown his enthusiasm for being a Tiger by starting a Tigers initiative in his first year called Extra Awesome Dalhousie. A branch off from the original Extra Awesome program at Queen’s University, this program works with youth with down syndrome on social and life skill development. 

Belanger’s not the only player that’s had to adjust to being in the AUS this season though. Gentile has also had to adjust to being a team captain and being back in university hockey after last playing in the Alps Hockey League.

“It’s definitely different hockey,” said Gentile. “Last summer I was playing on a larger ice rink, international sized ice, and the game is quite a bit faster on the smaller sheet, so getting readjusted to that ice size has been a growing pain for me in a weird way.” 

Despite these growing pains, Gentile is ​​second on the Tigers in scoring, just behind Belanger, with six goals and nine assists.

Looking Forward

After having seven players graduate last season, Gentile can see a lot of players coming into their own this season. 

“The depth of the team is a lot stronger than it has been in certain years,” he said. “It makes it a little bit more sustainable and it translates onto that scoreboard. It’s nice to see that contribution from the entire lineup instead of just a few guys here and there.”

With fewer players projected to leave the team after this season, both Gentile and Belanger are confident in the future of the Tigers. 

“I think the future’s bright if you’re looking at who’s coming back, and there’s no excuse that we can’t at least get something going here,” said Belanger.

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