(FREDERICTON, NB) The York Lions hope to have a reason to roar during the Christmas break.
The Lions, currently second in the OUA’s West Division with an 8-4-2 record, will be in Fredericton to take on the UNB Varsity Reds in the annual Peterbilt Atlantic Pete Kelly Cup.
The two game tournament will take place, at the Aitken University Centre, December 29th and 30th.
“We expect a high level of competition,” says Lions head coach Chris Dennis. “We expect a good experience. We expect to see what the AUS is about and one of the better teams in the country.”
The Lions roster includes former St. Thomas Tommies Steve Janes and Miramichi’s Bryce Milson.
This season, York has been sparked by the play of a freshman goalie and a veteran defenceman.
First-year netminder Mack Shields is leading the OUA with a goals against average of just 1.81. He’s second in the conference, with a .932 save percentage.
Veteran blue-liner Derek Sheppard is fifth in OUA scoring with 19 points(6g, 13a) in 14 games.
“We didn’t play over the break last year, and I think that affected us,” says Dennis. “This will give us two games out of the break after ten days off. It’ll be a great team-building exercise. Our guys are excited to play a team like UNB.”
This will be the 13th edition of the Pete Kelly Cup, sponsored by Peterbilt Atlantic.
“The Pete Kelly is such a key component of the overall development of our team,” says Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall. “We’ve been fortunate enough to have a terrific sponsor, Peterbilt Atlantic, and it allows our team to get back from an extended break and get games in against a good quality opponent.”
MacDougall says the Lions are a program that is making noise in the OUA.
Chris Dennis, a former assistant in the Toronto Maple Leafs system, has rebuilt the Lions. He was named the OUA’s Coach of the Year in 2016.
“You go into the Christmas break and it’s exams and then family are priorities, and so it should be, it’s the Christmas holidays,” says MacDougall. “But then, a switch has to be turned on quick, because we go into our AUS schedule right away. It’s good to get as many of the blemishes out in the exhibition games as you can.”
Dennis knows this season’s Varsity Reds squad isn’t much different from the 2016 CIS championship winning team.
His expectations are realistic.
“We hope to rise to the challenge of playing a team like UNB, but these are two non-conference games,” he says. “We know we’re going to be playing a good team.”
Dennis is also adamant, this will not be a scouting trip.
“This has nothing to do with what’s happening there later in the season. This is an opportunity for us to see how we stack up against a really good team.”
The Lions currently trail OUA leading Ryerson by five points.
But, the Lions have handed the Rams two of their three losses this season, one in regulation time and one in overtime.
MacDougall feels the games will be exciting.
“It’s a great time of year to host a game here,” he says. “The Fredericton fan looks forward to having games during the break.”