2002-2003 Season Review
Thursday, August 21, 2003
Many new sports programs worry about the sophomore jinx after completing a successful rookie campaign. But, the Lakehead Thunderwolves second year in OUA/CIS hockey was another great success. The 2002-2003 season saw the Thunderwolves better their record from first year, and also saw them being ranked in the CIS Top 10 in every ranking of the season.
As well, the team successfully staged the first annual Bell Canada Varsity Cup Tournament at Christmas which saw them capture the Cup and tournament championships. The Thunderwolves again lead all CIS hockey teams in Canada with average attendance of 3009 for non-conference and regular season games, and 2283 for the Bell Canada tournament games. The team made its first appearance at the Queen’s Cup and then qualified for its first trip to the University Cup national championships in Fredericton, New Brunswick.
The 2002-2003 edition of the Thunderwolves welcomed new faces Jason Lange, Bryan Duce, Jeff Richards, Wyatt Tunnicliffe, Jeff Adduono, Tyler Williamson, Hugo Lehoux, Mike Jacobsen, Murray Magill, Kris Bragnalo, and Colin Shaw. These new players, added to first year stars like Joel Scherban, Erik Lodge, and Grant McCune, made the Thunderwolves a formidable team. The team sported a definite Northwestern Ontario presence, with 11 players coming from Thunder Bay, two from Kenora, and two from Dryden.
Lakehead opened the season with 5 non-conference games against Lethbridge, UQTR, and University of Minnesota-Duluth which saw the team record a 2-2-1 record. Then, the team opened the regular OUA season with two home wins over defending national champions University of Western Ontario. Unfortunately, the victories were forfeited to Western when Lakehead disclosed that they had inadvertently used an academically ineligible player. Lakehead goaltender Grant McCune was named CIS Athlete of the Week after the wins over Western.
However, the team fought back to post a 9-3 record in the first half of the season, good for second place in the OUA Far West Division. The team also ran special events to meet their fans such as Skate With Santa, which saw 300 people join the team for a skate and helped to collect food items for Shelter House in Thunder Bay.
The Bell Canada Varsity Cup Tournament gave Thunder Bay hockey fans a wonderful Christmas gift in the form of fast-paced and exciting CIS hockey. The Tournament welcomed the University of Toronto Blues, the University of Calgary Dinos, and the St. Francis Xavier X-Men to Thunder Bay for four days of great hockey action.
Lakehead lost its first game to StFX in an incredible game, followed with a win over Toronto, and a close loss to Calgary. However, the team put it all together in the Championship Final, defeating Calgary 5-2. Lakehead followed up the tournament championship with a win and a tie against No. 1 Alberta in two non-conference games in Thunder Bay on Jan. 3rd and 4th. Before the second game, Lakehead University officially retired ex Lakehead Norwester player Irmo Marini’s No. 7 jersey in an inspirational pre-game ceremony. This was the first time that a Lakehead hockey player has had his number retired.
Lakehead then opened the second half of the season with four wins over Windsor and Waterloo. Then, however, they ran into some trouble against their arch-rival Western, dropping both games in London by scores of 9-2 and 5-4. The team then followed up with a split on the road against Guelph and then two wins at home over Brock to put their record at 16-6 at the time of this article. Jeff Richards became a very hot scorer at the end of the season. The two games against Brock saw him score 7 goals and two assists. Richards ended the season with 3 goals and 3 assists in a two game sweep over Windsor to end the regular season.
The day of their last game against Windsor, the team was featured on the annual Hockey Day In Canada program that was shown across Canada. They were the only CIS hockey program to be featured on HNIC.
The team ended the regular season with a record of 18-6 (23-10-2 overall) for 36 points, bettering last year’s regular season points total. The regular season saw five Thunderwolves in the Top 20 in OUA scoring; Jeff Richards, Bryan Duce, Joel Scherban, Chris Shaffer, and Jason Lange. Richards and Duce tied for fourth, Scherban was tied for seventh, Shaffer tied for 11th, and Lange tied for 16th.
Three Lakehead Thunderwolves were named to OUA West All-Star teams as selected in a vote by OUA coaches. As well, Lakehead Captain Joel Scherban received the Most Sportsmanlike player award in the West Conference along with his second West Conference First Team All-Star selection.
Jeff Richards was named to the West Conference All-Rookie Team and as a West Conference Second Team All-Star. Chris Shaffer was named to the West Conference Second Team. Jeff Richards was also awarded the First Molson Cup Trophy for garnering the most Three Star points at Thunderwolves’ home games.
The team began the OUA Far West Division semi-finals against the Windsor Lancers on Feb. 19th and skated away with a hard-fought 4-2 victory. The series came back to Thunder Bay Feb. 21st and the Thunderwolves routed the Lancers 11-2 to the delight of the hometown fans at Fort William Gardens.
Lakehead was led by the their third line of Robert Hillier, Murray Magill, and Craig Priestlay who played inspired hockey throughout the series. In the 11-2 game, the Thunderwolves scored 5 power play goals in succession in the second period to break the game open and to set a team record.
They then knocked off defending CIS National Champions Western in the OUA Far West playoffs with a 5-2 win at home and then a thrilling 2-1 overtime win in London with Jeff Richards notching the winner. The win over Western qualified the team for the Queen’s Cup as OUA Far West Division Champions.
At the Queen’s Cup, they dropped their semi-final match to York 4-1, but qualified for the University Cup with a thrilling 6-5 double overtime win over Toronto in the Bronze Medal Game. Team Captain Scherban was named to the Queen’s Cup All-Tournament Team.
The team then traveled to Fredericton, New Brunswick for the Thunderwolves first (and Lakehead’s second) appearance at the national championships. The team opened with a hard fought 2-1 loss to eventual champions UQTR. They then loss a 4-3 heartbreaker to the host University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds 4-3 in their second game. Team Captain Scherban was awarded the CIS Most Sportsmanlike Player Award at a gala banquet held in Fredericton.
LU Thunderwolves Top Ten 2016-2017 Players, click here for full stats.