Acadia coach Darren Burns speaks in glowing terms when discussing the Newfoundland triumvirate wearing Axemen colours in the Atlantic Universities Hockey Conference (AUHC) this season.
Defenceman Chris Owens of St. John’s is regarded as one of the conference’s best players, goaltender Evan Mosher of Conception Bay South has struggled but still has a fan in Burns, and freshman Travis Randell has exceeded expectations.
Owens, in his third year with the Wolfville, Nova Scotia program, was off to an MVP-type season until Nov. 30th when he was sidelined indefinitely with a concussion by a dirty hit that resulted in a 12-game suspension for the University of Prince Edward Island perpetrator. Apparently, UPEI’s Mason Wilgosh skated in from the blueline to check Owens who had just dished off a pass behind his team’s net and was looking the other way. The suspension is very significant considering AUHC teams only play a 28-game schedule.
Coach Burns chose his words carefully, when asked about the incident.
“It was not pretty,” he says. “(Owens’ injuries) could have been worse. He was knocked unconscious for four minutes and was taken off in a stretcher. It was pretty scary.”
Burns was not comfortable discussing the infraction any further or getting into details about what led to the incident but said, “the appropriate steps (suspension) were taken.”
As a result of his injuries, Owens had to get his exams deferred. The five-foot-ten blueliner has 19 points in 15 games this season– tops among AUHC defenceman and third overall among skaters. Owens collected 29 points in 28 games last season and was named to the all-Canadian first-all star team and was a finalist for the nation’s top collegiate defenceman honours.
Burns says Owens “has got a lot of work ahead of him” as he recuperates but “the sky is the limit” for his hockey career.
“He’s arguably the smartest hockey player I’ve ever encountered…either coached or played with,” says Burns.
“It’s funny, when he came to us, I was told there may be some concerns about his defensive game but that has not been an issue at all.
“To me he’s the best player in the league. He plays the game the right way too, so people want to see him do well, not just us at Acadia.”
Mosher has had his own setbacks, albeit less serious. The sophomore netminder pulled a hamstring in the season-opener and watched as his former back-up (Peter DiSalvo) reeled off a string of victories and assumed the starting job for the league-leading Axemen. However, Mosher did end the first-half on a positive note as he led the Axemen to a 3-2 victory over the nationally-ranked University of New Brunswick in Acadia’s final, first-half contest.
“He’s been a tremendous team guy and it’s great to see him finish (the first half) off strong,” says Burns, in his 12th season behind the Axemen bench.
“He was outstanding against UNB. The fact that we gave him the call against one of the top teams in the country shows what we think of him.”
“He (Peter DiSalvo) had a fantastic run and Moshe understands. He’s an extremely competitive guy but he’s a great teammate which trumps that. He’s handled (the situation) first class.”
As for Randell, Burns says the former Halifax Mooseheads captain has been as advertised, if not better.
“He’s been tremendous. He’s a real student of the game,” says Burns, of his rookie defenceman.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I’d thought he’d do this good. When you consider he played most of his career as a forward in major junior, to come in here and play so well on defence on our Olympic-sized ice surface is amazing.”
Burns describes Randell as low maintenance and someone who makes a coach’s job easier.
“You need smart players who can re-act to situations without a lot of coaching. He typifies that. You can tell when you look in his eyes, he’s paying attention. He’s a determined, intelligent hockey player.
“When he first came here he told me he didn’t care where he played (forward or defence) and that he just wants to help the team. It’s one thing to say that but it’s another thing to back it up.”
Randell has yet to collect a point after 16 games but Burns describes the scoring drought as “completely irrelevant.”
“Most of the points our defencemen get are on the powerplay and he doesn’t play the powerplay. He does play the penalty kill and gets a regular shift. We’re lucky to have him.”
The Axemen start the second-half of the season on January 4th.