It’s finally here. After much talk of the men’s hockey University Cup, the top six teams in the country are now in Saskatoon and ready to vie for the national title at Credit Union Centre March 14-17.
The University of Saskatchewan Huskies are the fifth-place seed going into the tournament, and will have to play their best if they want a chance at hoisting the cup in front of their fans. With the Alberta Golden Bears joining the Huskies as Canada West representatives, and two teams from both the Ontario University Athletics and the Atlantic University Sport conferences, the competition will be tough for the Dogs.
The Alberta Golden Bears enter the tournament as the number one seed after leading the Canada West regular season with a 23-4-1 record. They went on to win five of six playoff matches and won the conference banner by defeating Saskatchewan in the final.
The Bears have dominated on both ends of the rink this season. Scoring an average 4.14 goals per contest in conference play to rank second in the country in the category; their defence was second to none. The Bears allowed only 1.59 goals per game thanks to the stellar play of goalie Kurtis Mucha. This year being the 100th anniversary for the Golden Bears men’s hockey club, the team has extra incentive to add to their already record-setting 13 national titles.
Seeded second is the AUS champion University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. UNB topped the AUS regular season standings with a 23-5 record and managed two shutout victories in the playoffs. It’s that type of strong defence that makes the Reds a contender each year.
If history repeats itself, it will be time again for UNB to win a title. The Reds have claimed the trophy the past three odd-numbered years: 2007, 2009 and 2011.
Staking out third seed in the national tournament is the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes. The Patriotes are led by forward Félix Petit, who finished second in the Canadian Interuniversity Sport scoring race with 11 goals and 32 assists in 28 games. Petit, along with Canada’s top-scoring university-level defenceman Pierre-Luc Lessard, helped the squad boast a 3.89 goals-per-game average.
Saint Mary’s University, whose team is also named the Huskies, made the trip from Halifax and is seeded fourth in the tournament. Saint Mary’s has been among the top-ranked teams all season, and finished as runner-up to the UNB Varsity Reds in the Atlantic conference.
In his 16th season at the helm, head coach Trevor Stienburg has brought Saint Mary’s back to the University Cup tournament for the first time since they won in 2010. This time around Saint Mary’s will be leaning on Atlantic conference MVP Lucas Bloodoff for offence. The forward tallied 20 goals and 18 assists this season.
The hosting U of S Huskies were seeded fifth in the tournament after failing to repeat as Canada West champions this year. High-flying forward Kyle Bortis led the Canada West in points with 36, while last year’s conference points leader Derek Hulak missed eight games due to injury but still finished among the top point producers in Canada West.
The Huskies have been in the tournament 15 times in club history, including 10 with current bench boss Dave Adolph. Adolph has yet to win the grand prize as a coach, but was on the Huskies squad as a player when the club won its one and only national title in 1983.
Rounding out the tournament is the University of Waterloo Warriors. The Warriors finished the regular season with a meager 12-11-5 record and only captured three wins in the final twelve league games, just squeaking into the last playoff spot in the OUA. The Warriors got hot in the playoffs, though, going 6-1 before losing in the single-game league final to the UQTR Patriotes.
The tournament is split into two pools of teams for the preliminary round of the tournament. Pool A includes number one seed Alberta, number four Saint Mary’s and number six Waterloo. Meanwhile, Pool B will be a dogfight between number two New Brunswick, number three Quebec and fifth seed Saskatchewan.
There will be two games on each day from March 14-16, culminating in the cup final on March 17.
Illustration: Samantha Braun/The Sheaf