Axemen 2023-24 hockey season preview
Young Acadia team looks to grow from last year’s experience
The Acadia Axemen will kick off their AUS regular season on Friday night when they host the StFX X-Men at 7pm at the Andrew H. McCain Arena. The Axemen upset StFX in the 1st round of the AUS playoffs last year, knocking the X-Men off 2-0 in a best of three series. Fast forward to September, and the Acadia Axemen had a strong preseason, going 3-1, including two wins over Dalhousie and a victory over UPEI. Their only exhibition loss came at the hands of the Queen’s Gaels.
Looking forward to the upcoming regular season for Acadia, much has changed with the Axemen lineup since March, with 8 new players joining the team this year, including a new goaltending tandem. In addition to the 8 rookies on the team, the Axemen have 8 second year players, which means the players in their 1st two years in USports will make up nearly two-thirds of the team.
We asked Coach Darren Burns what he saw from his team in the pre-season, and what his team needs to work on to be successful in the regular season, he said, “The exhibition season was very beneficial and informative for our staff to evaluate our team moving forward. There were a lot of positives, but without question we have to quickly mold our team identity.
To run with the top teams in this league we will have to be meticulous in the defensive zone and very structured defensively in the neutral zone. These are definite areas of focus.
We have made some strides offensively, but we need to focus on getting pucks to the net and being more of a blue paint team. At the end of the day this is a league where you have to pay the price to gain space 5 on 5. We have a veteran D, with some nice additions to the mix, we need them to be the stabilizing force to start the season.”
Let’s take a deeper look at the forward, defence, and goaltender positions for the Axemen heading into the regular season:
The Axemen have injected much needed offensive punch by adding the Saint John SeaDogs all-time leading scorer, and Port Williams’ native, Brady Burns. The addition of power forward Ethan Ernst will be a key to success, while Brandon Mairs will give Acadia depth upfront. Acadia will look for continued progression from Falmouth’s Bailey Peach, Enfield’s Liam Kidney, Corson Hopwo, Brendan Sellan, and Cole Nagy. All had strong rookie campaigns last season scoring between 16-19 points each, and increased production will be important for Acadia to increase their offensive output from last season.
Peyton Hoyt, Nick Deakin-Poot, Zack Jones, and Adam McMaster will be counted on for their strong two way play both in their own zone as well as adding scoring pop to make the Axemen a well-balanced deep offensive team. Colin Marshall will continue to add depth for Acadia at forward. Graduating or moving on from last year’s lineup is captain Jack Flaman, Eric Henderson, Keegan Stevenson, Cole Rafuse, & Matt McKim.
The Axemen defensive corps was arguably their strongest position last season, and with the additions of Kentville’s Cam Whynot, a former 3rd round pick of the Calgary Flames, former Saint John SeaDogs captain Charlie Desroches, and the OHL’s Flint Firebirds’ Tyler Deline, this may be the strongest blue line we’ve seen with the program in years. So much so, that two of the regular defenceman in Reilly Webb and Brendan Tomilson have been moved up to play forward through the exhibition schedule. The new recruits along with returning players Morgan Nauss, Orie Mainolfi, Luke Zazula, Merrick Rippon, & Hudson Wilson will make it a grind for the opposition to play against Acadia.
With Conor McCollum graduating last season, the Axemen added two highly touted goalies coming out of the junior ranks in Thomas Couture and Brayden Peters. Couture won a Memorial Cup with the Saint John SeaDogs in 2022, along with Burns & Desroches, and starred for the Rouyn-Noranda Huskies last season. He has had a very strong showing in the pre-season games he has played in. Peters played his entire WHL career with the Calgary Hitmen, and was invited to the Colorado Avalanche Rookie camp earlier in September. Acadia believes with this tandem, they will give their team a chance to win on every given night. Zachary Paputsakis is back with the team as the third goalie, and will be relied on to be sharp when called upon.
The Axemen struggled on the powerplay last year, converting on just 11% of their chances, however, based on the exhibition games, that struggle looks to be rectified as Acadia has not only converted on a number of powerplays, but the puck movement and overall scoring chances on the man advantage has greatly improved.
As is the case every year in the ultra competitive AUS conference, the Axemen will have tough competition as perennial favourites UNB have re-tooled and will be ready to defend their AUS championship, while Saint Mary’s and StFX will no doubt be in the mix again at the top of the conference. Regardless of who the opponent is for any game in the AUS, every game will be a battle to the finish.
Get your season tickets for what is shaping up to be an exciting season on the ice, and cheer on your Acadia Axemen; tickets available at the Acadia Box Office or online at acadiau.universitytickets.com