(FREDERICTON, NB) It’s the quality, not quantity, when it comes to the UNB Varsity Reds hockey recruiting class of 2016.
Head coach Gardiner MacDougall didn’t need to add much, losing just three players to graduation after winning the CIS championship, in March.
“We have a lot of good players coming back that have the experience of winning a national championship,” says MacDougall.
And MacDougall hasn’t had to look too far afield for his recruits either, adding three Fredericton natives.
Defenceman Matt Murphy, and forwards Oliver Cooper and Mark Simpson, have all signed CIS Letters of Intent, and will join the Varsity Reds.
All three are graduates of the VReds Prospects program, and all three have just completed solid major junior careers.
Matt Murphy isn’t just coming home, he’s continuing a family legacy.
Matt’s father, Paul Murphy, was a member of the UNB Red Devils hockey team, during the mid-80s.
“He’s pretty excited about it,” says the younger Murphy. “I’ll have to live up to his legacy, I guess, but he’s excited to be able to come down here and watch. It’s his old barn, so it’ll be cool for him to watch me play here.”
Murphy spent five seasons in the QMJHL with four different teams, including the Saint John Sea Dogs and the Halifax Mooseheads.
Murphy was part of the Mooseheads’ Memorial Cup winning team, in 2013.
The big blueliner feels that will help him fit in with the reigning CIS champs.
“It helps knowing what it takes to win,” says Murphy. “Everyone in that locker room who’s returning is going to know what it takes to win, so to have that, while it’s at a different level, to have that experience of winning a championship, it’ll definitely help me here.”
Murphy split last season between the Quebec Remparts and the Sea Dogs, scoring 11 goals and adding 40 assists.
“He’s close to being able to step in at a top-notch pro level,” says Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall, of Murphy. “A lot of times, defence mature a little bit later than forwards, so I think what he’s going to bring is top-notch skills. He’s a great person, and I think he’s going to be fit, challenge among our top fitness guys.”
Murphy will study business.
Worth Noting: In January of 2013, Murphy was traded from the Val d’Or Foreurs to the Halifax Mooseheads for Randy Gazzola.
Oliver Cooper remembers cheering for the Varsity Reds as a young boy.
Soon, he’ll be among the Varsity Reds hearing the cheers.
“I feel very fortunate to have the opportunity to play, and be in my hometown for the upcoming years, in front of friends and family,” says Cooper.
Like Matt Murphy, Cooper spent five seasons in the QMJHL, three with the Saint John Sea Dogs and two with the Charlottetown Islanders.
In 2013, he was part of Saint John’s President Cup team.
Last season, he served as the Islanders’ captain.
“I think my time in the Q prepared me for this next step,” says Cooper, who can play both center and left wing. “It helps you mature as a person and a player all at once, and now I see how important the education side is, as well as the athletics.”
Cooper says his game revolves around his size and his puck protection ability, but he can score too.
With the Islanders last season, he scored 24 goals and had 25 assists.
Coach MacDougall feels Cooper will bring a lot more than just size and scoring to the Varsity Reds.
“He played in Saint John when they were a powerhouse, and had an opportunity to go over to PEI and help start their build. Last year, he was their team captain, so I think he brings a lot of leadership.”
Cooper plans on studying business.
Worth Noting: When Cooper was traded from Saint John to Charlottetown, the Islanders gave up two first round draft picks to get him.
Mark Simpson recognizes an opportunity when he sees one.
And… standing 6’5”… Simpson has the ability to see more opportunities than most people.
“Knowing that it’s such a small recruiting class makes it more rewarding to be given this opportunity,” says the big forward.
Born in Fredericton, Simpson now calls Rothesay home. Still, he remembers his days in the VReds Prospects program.
“I couldn't be more excited about joining a team and school I've wanted to play for for years,” says Simpson. “I'm honoured to be able to join such a prominent and successful program. It’s a cool feeling to be coming back now, as a player at UNB.”
Simpson spent parts of four seasons in the QMJHL, first with the Moncton Wildcats, and more recently with the Acadie-Bathurst Titan.
Last season, he scored 20 goals and had 39 assists for the Titan.
Simpson also won more than 1000 faceoffs last season… a rare feat. He credits that accomplishment to repetition.
“I was given a lot of opportunity in games, taking many draws,” says Simpson. “Obviously you need to have strength and quickness, but it involves strategy. Knowing what the other center is doing, and what you have to do to beat him.”
“He has found a way to get better every year,” says Coach MacDougall, of Simpson.
“Mark has some of the attributes that Taylor MacDougall brought here, the penalty kill and faceoffs, key parts of the way we want to play.”
Simpson will study computer science.
Worth Noting: The last time a QMJHL center won more than 1000 faceoffs in a season was 2012-13. Alex Saulnier, then of the Moncton Wildcats, won 1041 faceoffs that season.
Photo of Matt Murphy – David Connell/Saint John Sea Dogs
Photo of Mark Simpson – Daniel Doucet/Acadie-Bathurst Titan
Photo of Oliver Cooper – Darrell Theriault/Charlottetown Islanders