The 2015-16 season was successful but heartbreaking for the Mustangs men's hockey team. An overtime loss to the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières in the final ended their Queen's Cup campaign, and a 5-1 defeat to the University of New Brunswick at the national championships bookended their year.
With a new season about to begin, Western is looking to get another chance at the trophies they played for a year ago. When asked what his expectations are this season, captain Matt Marantz had a simple answer.
"To get back to nationals," he said. "We took a step forward getting there last year, and we want to take another big step this year."
"We'd like another chance to get back there and redeem ourselves," added head coach Clarke Singer.
First, the team needs to get back to the Ontario University Athletics final to play for the Queen's Cup again, a title that they came within a goal of.
The Mustangs hockey program has been among the top teams in Ontario for years. They're routinely in the upper echelon of their division.
Last year, Western was fourth in OUA in goals scored with 103. Much of the forward group that contributed to that high-flying offence is returning, Marantz having led the team with 26 points. Left winger Spenser Cobbold, with 23 points last season, is entering his second year at Western and is set to make even more of an impact.
On defence, there will be a bit of a learning curve for the Mustangs this year. Three of their top four defencemen (David Corrente, Stephen Gaskin and Alex Micallef) all graduated, and so the team will be relying on a young group of blueliners.
Goalie Greg Dodds spoke to the adjustment he'll have to make with the new defencemen in front of him.
"We're used to having guys like Dave Corrente, Al Micallef, Stephen Gaskin – those steady guys back there that you can always count on," he said. "This year it's a little different. [Jonathan] Laser is probably going to be our top defenceman and he's just a second-year guy."
"So far in the preseason there's been some learning curves," Dodds added. "The guys are learning the system, but I think we've got a good group of recruits coming in and I think we'll be still pretty strong."
The new defensive corps has had a lot of time to gel in the pre-season, having played five exhibition games already. After losing the first two to Ryerson and Laurier, they bounced back with three convincing wins, including one against a NCAA Division I team from Niagara University.
Coach Singer expects some growing pains in the early stages of the season, though, as his new players develop more chemistry with the veterans.
"A lot of these young men have moved from across the country to come here and go to school at Western," he said. "Obviously there's going to be a little bit of an adjustment period but once we get a month or so into the regular season we think they'll be great players for us."
Singer also pointed out that many newer team members have to adapt quickly, coming from junior leagues where they were the oldest players and entering a league where they're the youngest.
Much of the responsibility for helping the rookies mesh with the team will be on veterans like Marantz. As one of the captains, he will be charged with assisting their transition both on and off the ice.
"The hockey stuff's easy," he said. "You just lead by example and try and show guys the way."
The Mustangs have a tough job ahead of them trying to return to the OUA Final, but they can't be counted out. The forward lineup is strong and scrappy, and the goalies - both Greg Dodds and Peter Delmas - are more than capable of stealing games. Dodds posted a .919 save percentage last year.
Western's campaign for the Queen's Cup began last Thursday, with a 3-2 loss to Guelph. Their record is now an even 1-1 with a 4-3 victory at Brock on Saturday.