The AUS conference is notorious for the top-end CHL talent brought into the league on a year-to-year basis, and the result is some extremely competitive hockey between stacked lineups. For the StFX X-Men, they’ve found tremendous success in finding offensive weapons from the OHL.
The trio of Holden Cook, Kristoff Kontos, and Eric Locke have been one of the most productive lines in the entire country at the collegiate level so far this season. Cook finds himself with 21 points through 14 games, including nine goals. Linemates Kontos and Locke trail closely behind with 16 and 15 points to their credit respectively. Together they comprise a large part of StFX’s success.
“They were certainly big parts of last year’s AUS championship team, and they’re going to be counted on again this year,” says head coach Brad Peddle. “They commit to playing both ends of the ice, but they have some high-end offensive abilities that we count on.”
“We all feed off of each other,” says Holden Cook. “[Eric Locke] plays hard up and down the ice, and has a lot of skill. [Kristoff] Kontos thinks the game really well, so he moves the puck well, he can skate really well, and he’s really good on draws. Kontos will consistently find me in open spaces, and Locke is always making room and working hard and makes my job real easy.”
Clearly that dynamic has been working for the X-Men, as StFX has the second most goals of any AUS team this season. All three have had extended success, but perhaps none more than Eric Locke, who last year posted 35 points in 28 games en-route to an AUS MVP honour. But StFX’s success goes far beyond the trio of Cook, Kontos, and Locke as OHL mainstays such as Anthony DiFruscia (Niagara), Michael Clarke (Peterborough), Bryson Cianfrone (Owen Sound), Craig Duininck (Sarnia), Brandon Hope (Niagara), Sam Studnicka (Sarnia), Max Iafrate (Kitchener), and Nathan Pancel (Peterborough) are all big-time contributors.
“First off we identify good kids, because if you get good kids, they get you good kids the next year,” says Brad Peddle of the recruiting process. “It just so happens that in the last two years in particular we’ve had really good recruiting classes out of the OHL and they’ve been really good players, good kids, and good students.”
For a player like Holden Cook, who spent four full seasons with the Owen Sound Attack in the OHL, making the jump out east is geographically a big leap, but Cook has nothing but great things to say of his experience so far at StFX.
“I think StFX really provides the opportunity for players to grow as an individual,” says Cook. “I think my friends here [at StFX] are friends I’m going to have for the rest of my life. I found my space here, and I finally found who I am as a hockey player.”
Even though StFX is a relatively small school, Brad Peddle, who’s been coaching StFX since 2005, has always found ways to persuade top-quality CHL talent to make the jump to Nova Scotia from all across the country.
“Here, X-Men hockey is the number one ticket. It’s a small-town, close knit, family atmosphere that we have at StFX and it’s something that the
players are really interested in. It’s a unique experience that you don’t get at a lot of places.”
That support was in full effect when the University Cup rolled into Halifax last season, with numbers approaching 10,000 in attendance for StFX’s games, including the final against UNB.
Although the X-Men were AUS champions last year, and came one game sort of a national title, there’s still a lot of work to do to get back to that level this season, with the University Cup set to be held on arch-rival UNB’s soil in March. But you can be sure, if StFX continues to have success, their strong cast of ex-OHL talent will have a lot to do with it.