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Tigers men’s hockey hoping to make a comeback this season

The team is pushing to be playoff contenders after ending last season with only 14 points

After being the only Atlantic University Sport (AUS) team to miss the playoffs last season, the Dalhousie University men’s hockey team is hopeful things will go differently this time around. 

“I think things are definitely optimistic and exciting,” said Derek Gentile, the team’s captain. “We’ve got a lot of new faces and a lot of excited faces.”

Going into this season, the Tigers have a large number of young players after eight of their long-standing team members graduated in the class of 2023, playing an emotional final game against their cross-town rivals, the Saint Mary’s University (SMU) Huskies. 

“I think it was emotional for a lot of them because it represented them coming in as young men and leaving as adults,” said Gentile. “These guys got to be a part of something for so long and they grew up together for the last three or four years. You start to have a pretty good bond with people when you’re together for that length of time.”

Gentile also spoke on the extent of the growth that players on the team experience while playing for Dal. 

“I think people, when they come here, they’re certainly good athletes and they’re good people but they grow into men as they leave the program,” said Gentile. “I think they would reluctantly admit that they weren’t when they got here so it’s a pretty impressive program for doing that.”

In the 2022/23 season, the Tigers only managed to secure 14 points, with six wins, 22 losses, one overtime loss and one shootout loss (6-22-1-1). 

Despite having not made the playoffs in many years past, this was particularly disheartening as the team finished third in the AUS the year before. The team also had the lowest points overall for the Tigers since the 2013/14 season.

“We have a lot to prove and with a missed playoff appearance last year, that comes with a chip on our shoulder,” said Gentile. “We don’t think that that was warranted and we think that not only should the team have made it last year, we think we’re better now than we were then.”

Big shoes to fill

In his fourth year at Dal, Gentile will be replacing Dillon Boucher as team captain for the Tigers. Gentile sat out all of last season due to ineligibility as he played professionally the year prior. 

The commerce student took a break from playing in U Sports after the 2021/22 season to play in the East Coast Hockey League (ECHL), Southern Senior Hockey League (SSHL-Sr.) and the Alps Hockey League (AlpsHL), the last of which was all the way in Italy. 

“He was a pretty physically dominant hockey player here,” said Gentile about Boucher. “I think there was a good crew of them who were physically able hockey players and they played a rugged, hard style of hockey.”

While Gentile doesn’t think he’ll be the hardest hitter on the team this year, he sees potential for that spot in some of the team’s rookies. 

“We have a lot of young guys that are big in frame and physical in nature that are gonna have some big shoes to fill,” he said. “Hockey is a contact sport and we aced that in years prior so hopefully we can have someone lead in the way Bouche did.”

Despite being less experienced, Gentile thinks the team’s newest players will be important to the team’s success this season. 

“The young guys, they get more talented every year,” said Gentile. “Some of the things these guys can do with a hockey puck now I’d say is getting foolish. We’re seeing guys who have been coached at a high level and can make plays at a high level. They’re making plays as if they’re mature AUS players despite not having the experience.”

A fresh start

Despite maintaining that winning isn’t everything, Gentile is confident in his team’s ability to do better this time around.

“I think it would not be a bold statement to say we’re beginning to be a playoff contender this year, which is exciting,” he said. “I don’t know if we could say that in past years or not but I know this year we’ll be, at the very least, a contender, if not [a team] that has a chance to win.”

Gentile also believes a big challenge for the team this year will be believing they can be the playoff contenders that he thinks they are in a division full of great teams and after a bad break last season.

“If you go into a game and you’re respecting these teams so much, sometimes you start to believe your own story and drink your own Kool-Aid if you will,” said Gentile. “So I think it’s not about disrespecting [the other teams] but we have to understand that we’re just as capable.”

Gentile also thinks the team will have more success due to their tight bond this season.

“I think guys are willing to compete for one another,” he said. “That mindset that you’re letting somebody down every night if you’re not doing your best has been present, so I’m excited to see what it looks like when we get to a game where there are points on the line.”

The Tigers will visit SMU for their first regular season game on Oct. 6 at the Dauphinee Centre.

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