Men’s Hockey Seniors’ Day gives a chance to look back of coach T.J.  Manastersky’s huge first season

Photo by: Brenden Cowan

Feb. 4 was Seniors’ Day for the Brock men’s hockey team, the annual celebration of the team’s graduating members at one of their final home games of the regular season.

Although you wouldn’t know it by their third-place rank in the OUA, this hockey team has been through a lot.

Like every collegiate team, they had to deal with intense pandemic restrictions and shortened seasons due to COVID-19, but the group also had to sit through several coaching changes, and, last year, battled their way through a bittersweet Cinderella run through the National Championships.

In many ways, Saturday’s event was both a celebration of the team’s perseverance and their impact on the program, and a dedication to their unfinished business.

Though making a run at the National Championship like last season will be difficult to replicate, the Badgers have managed to build on that performance this year.

Brock was not a particularly strong team during the 2021-22 regular season, finishing third in their five-team division and 11th in the OUA overall. While last year’s team struggled to score and to keep their tempers, scoring only 47 goals while registering 233 penalty minutes, the story could not be more different this year.

“It’s not like we’ve got a couple guys who’re doing it all, we’ve got a lot of people contributing to that offence, which is great to see,” said Badger’s head coach, T.J. Manastersky, “I think our discipline has been very strong in one respect… we don’t give up very many goals 5v5, so our goaltending has been strong, our team defence has been strong and I believe we’ve been tough to play against most nights,” said Manastersky

There’s been a lot that has changed for this Badgers squad, and coach Manastersky is the first evidence of that.

Despite their unprecedented playoff run, the Badgers found themselves in need of a new head coach this offseason, and brought in T.J. Manastersky to fill the vacancy.

After graduating with his Masters of science in education, health and physical education, Manastersky’s career got off the ground quickly.

“I started coaching young. I was sort of in my early to mid 20s when I started. I coached in the D1 and D3 levels, and I’ve been a head coach for nine years prior to Brock, so I was on a path, in my mind, to become an NCAA D1 coach.”

However, when the head coaching role opened up at Brock, the chance to coach closer to his childhood home of Oakville was enticing, but this proximity “wasn’t enough” for him to take the job.

“What made me really want it is I thought, if we operate the right way, we do this the right way, we can build a hockey team that’s successful and is a national contender every season,” said Manastersky.

With only three games left in the regular season, it looks like Manastersky might be right.

“It’s a veteran group that believes in itself, so that in and of itself, is really important. Before you can win you have to believe you can, and this group does.”

On Saturday, Feb. 4, with a chance to leapfrog a third-place Lakehead side, there are few games left where winning would have a bigger impact on the Badgers’ place in the standings. Luckily, the Badgers are heating up at just the right time.

“It’s an exciting time of year, three games remaining, won our last five, so you’re feeling good about that – players are feeling good about themselves.”

Leading into the weekend, a number of Badgers are certainly feeling good about themselves and their performance thus far.

Forward Jacob Roach’s 29 points and 19 assists place him fourth in the OUA in the former and sixth in the latter, in addition to being sixth in points per game. One slot ahead of him, at 1.23 points per game, is fellow Badger Adam Berg, whose 14 goals place him fifth in the OUA. Captain Jared Marino’s point-per-game pace also lands him in the OUA’s top 15 in scoring.

Defenseman Zach Taylor is seventh among OUA defensemen in scoring, and is third in goals.

Despite the Badgers operating on more of a goaltending battery system, Mario Peccia is top 15 in save percentage, top ten in goals against average, and third in shutouts.

Even centres Frank Pucci and Tyler Burnie, though hampered by playing fewer games, still sit at eighth and seventh in points per game, respectively.

“It’s easy for me to say as the coach that I think we’re playing a style of game that promotes offence, but I do believe that, and I think the stats speak to that,” said Manastersky.

“It’s the same players who have been here, it’s a veteran group, but they’re scoring more than they ever have before. I think almost every player is having a career year, as far as their offensive production…there’s been a lot of learning and adapting that the players have had to do, and they’ve done a tremendous job of it.”

Novelty and change have been big themes of this year’s iteration of the men’s hockey team. Sure, on the ice and behind the bench there’s a lot that’s new, but off the ice there are some pretty major differences as well.

“There were lots of changes this year.” said Joel Anthony, a Video Production Manager with BrockTV, who has had a keen focus on the men’s hockey team this season.

“They have a new coach, a new home rink and the Steel Blade Classic took place this year for the first time since COVID-19, which was a new event for certain players and a familiar one for others.”

The new home rink, inside the brand-new Canada Games Park, is probably the most noticeable change.

“I’ve been excited to see the rink since my first year,” said Junior defenceman Matthew Barnes, who’s had to wait until his third year for an on-campus home rink and practice facility. Built to accommodate the sporting event of the same name over the summer, the arena is  one of the nicer facilities in the OUA.

The other change is the reason why Anthony is so invested with the team: the BrockTV documentary. Titled When It Matters Most, the docu-series highlights the team throughout the season, following the style of other sports documentaries like All or Nothing, or Last Chance U.

“I didn’t anticipate the documentary to delve so deeply into the team,” said Anthony on his role with BrockTV relating to the men’s hockey team.

Imagining a small, less ambitious project, Anthony, along with his partner Neville Madill, got to work on what they expected to be a few interviews and some short episodes. Instead, they’ve created an ongoing, multi-episode series spanning the length of the season.

“TJ was incredibly accommodating and helpful when we first started filming for it, allowing us to capture a variety of original content, granting us access to the locker room during intermissions of games, allowing us to accompany the team to an away game, and letting us film at practice,” said Anthony.

The first two episodes have already dropped while shedding a light on the Badgers’ play this year and giving BrockTV full-access, and so far, Manastersky is impressed with the product.

“Them and the crew are doing an absolutely outstanding job, and for us, as a hockey team, it’s just so special to be able to document your season, for one, but also from a recruiting standpoint, creating exposure for everyone, it’s been awesome,” commented Manastersky on the documentary

For Manastersky, he views a lot of his role as a coach as putting Brock on the map, in hockey and otherwise. Though he admits growing up he didn’t know much about the area, let alone the school, Manastersky has been impressed in his short time at Brock.

“This school, in so many ways, is the best kept secret in Canada,” said the coach.

“I really believe in Brock University.  I think that this school is on the rise, it’s up and coming. It really is a young school relative to every other school, the academic majors are really exciting. There’s so much passion in this school.”

Manasterky’s belief in Brock and their hockey program will hopefully provide them with something they’ve lacked in the past: consistency.

“You can tell…he wants to be the cement to this program, and he wants to be here for a while.” said Junior defenseman Johnny Schaefer in the first episode of When It Matters Most.

Manastersky himself feels this way about his role in the program.

“Hopefully now at least there can be some stability in the coaching position year over year.”

Saturday’s game, Brock’s second-last home game of the regular season, was precluded with the recognition of all of the team’s graduating senior players.

The 2023 Badgers senior cohort was a large one, including Tyler Rollo, Christian Girhiny, Jared Marino, Johnny Shaefer, Matthew Barnes, Christian DeDonato, Frankie Pucci, Cole Thiessen, Adam Berg and Justin Brack. Besides featuring many of the team’s highest scorers, Manastersky also views the seniors as his essential leadership core.

“They’ve been through a lot, so that leadership group, those seniors,” said Manastersky. “This Saturday is senior night, so all those guys, they’ve already left their mark on the program. Hopefully they’ve got another chapter or two to write here before they’re done, but they’ve been a huge asset in getting me acclimated to Brock, in helping me and supporting me.”

Though they would fall 4-1 on an empty-net goal, Brock held a significant advantage in both time of possession and shots for much of the game. Roach was stoned on a breakaway chance less than a minute in, and Brock held a near-double shot advantage through the first, but thanks to an uncharacteristic lack of discipline on the part of the Badgers, and some opportunistic scoring from Lakehead, the Thunderwolves grabbed an early lead and sat on it for the remainder of the game.

Brock battled until the final whistle, peppering Lakehead Max Wright netminder with shots. Wright, who had dialed up his game in the third, stood tall, blanking the Badgers for the three-minute stretch where their goalie was pulled.

The lone Badgers goal was scored by Adam Berg, with assists coming from Roach and Burnie.

Now sitting at 34 points through 25 games, the Badgers are third in the OUA West and fourth in OUA overall. With only two games left and three points behind first-place Windsor, claiming the OUA West is still possible, but some chips need to fall their way. 

The Badgers’ next game is in Guelph on Friday, Feb. 9 and their last home game is Saturday, Feb. 11 against University of Toronto. For their full schedule and results, go to

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