This weekend, the Queen’s Gaels men’s football team opens its 2023 regular season campaign, which the team hopes will eventually lead to an appearance at the Vanier Cup on home soil this November. On Saturday, Aug. 26, 2023, at 3 p.m., the Gaels will host the Wilfrid Laurier Golden Hawks in what promises to be one of the most competitive matchups in the early portion of the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) football season.
Gaels head coach Steve Snyder described the early season contest this way: “I think Laurier is going to be an OUA contender for sure, and [they’re] a team we’re looking forward to matching up against. We did have a successful matchup against them last year, [which] taught our team a lot about situational football, and I think we’re going to get their best shot. I think we’re going to get a really athletic team that’s chomping at the bit and has aspirations just like we do.”
The Gaels enter the 2023 season riding a wave of momentum after success in 2021 and 2022. After winning the 2021 OUA Eastern Conference title, the Gaels were trounced 29-0 by the Western University Mustangs in the Yates Cup provincial final. But despite the loss, the Gaels had a lot to celebrate in 2021, with the team finally returning to winning form after some disappointing results throughout the late 2010s.
In 2022, the Gaels continued to improve both on the field and off. Under the supervision of Snyder, the team put together a number of strong performances throughout the 2022 regular season, securing home field advantage through the first two rounds of the playoffs. Despite significant on-field improvements, which saw the team finish the season as the number three ranked team in Canada, the Gaels once again fell in the Yates Cup final, losing to Western 44-16.
Coming into the 2023 season, Queen’s is in a strong position to build on its improvements over the past two years. Should the team find a way to get past Western, with a Yates Cup rematch a strong possibility, the Gaels could be well positioned to reach the 2023 Vanier Cup, the USports national championship game which will be played at Richardson Stadium on November 25, 2023.
While the idea of playing a national championship game on home turf is an enticing prospect for any Canadian university football program, Coach Snyder is not letting the possibility distract his players, as the team gets set to open their season this weekend at home. “Our focus really is just on this football team and building it and getting better… It’s pretty well documented here that it’s a day-to-day thing and just improving each day,” he said.
Snyder added, “It’s easy to stay focused when you see the need for improvement and there’s an urgency behind it… So the focus is definitely integral to what we’re doing.”
As the Gaels wrap up their 2023 training camp, which included a 33-10 pre-season victory over the McGill Redbirds in Montreal last Friday, Snyder said the team is beginning to come together, as new recruits have been warmly welcomed by the Gaels’ more experienced players. “We have a lot of returning players who have really done a great job with leadership and getting the new guys up to speed with the mechanics and culture, and just the way we do things. I’m really proud of the way they’ve led and [how] the new guys have jumped right in,” remarked the head coach.
This season, Queen’s will be led by a core group of returning players, including Kingston’s own Alex Vreeken, who will be the team’s starting quarterback on Saturday. Snyder said the Kingston native has earned his place in the lineup. “I think he’s done a really good job commanding the team, executing the offence, and just making people around him better. He’ll get the start for sure, and we’re really confident he can lead us.”
Another veteran player returning for another season of Gaels football is Niklas Henning, a third-year H-back who has seen the team make steady improvements over the past two seasons. Henning spoke about the talented group of teammates he will line up alongside when the season gets underway this Saturday. “We definitely have a very talented roster [with] lots of guys from last year coming back… It was a very good recruiting class this year, so going forward, they’ll definitely be able to contribute to the team more,” he said.
With a strong group of newcomers and solid veteran presence, Henning said he’s optimistic about the team’s chances this season. “Thus far, there’s been a ton of buy-in from the guys. The Vanier [Cup] is being hosted here this year, which is a huge motivating factor — but, that being said, we’re still treating it on a week-by-week basis.”
Saturday’s contest between Queen’s and Laurier gets underway at 3 p.m. at Richardson Memorial Stadium. Not only will the game give fans their first look at the new squad, but the event will also serve as the official opening of the stadium’s new Lang Pavilion, a multi-million dollar project that includes a new training facility for the team, as well as expanded concessions and viewing options for fans.
After opening the season at home, the Gaels will travel to the University of Toronto for a game on September 9, before returning home on September 16 for a highly-anticipated 2022 Yates Cup rematch against the Western Mustangs. In total, the Gaels will play eight regular season games throughout the next two months, with the season finale set for October 21 as Queen’s hosts the Ottawa Gee-Gees during Homecoming Weekend.
See the full schedule on the Queen’s Gaels website.