SASKATOON – Despite being the top-seeded team after a dominant season, head coach Ian Herbers of the Alberta Golden Bears says victory in the Canadian university men’s hockey championships is anything but certain.
The Golden Bears won their 1,000th game this season, clinched their 50th division championship and celebrated their 100th year on the ice. But in a seven-game tournament, Herbers says there is little room for error.
“There are six very good teams here and anything can happen in one game,” he said. “You get a bad bounce, a bad call … that one little mistake might end up costing you.”
The CIS men’s hockey championships begin Thursday in Saskatoon, and will culminate with a final matchup Sunday evening to decide who takes home the University Cup.
The six competing teams placed first and second in Canada’s three university-level hockey conferences: Ontario University Athletics, Atlantic University Sport and the Canada West Universities Athletic Association.
In order of ranking, the six competing teams are the Golden Bears, the New Brunswick Varsity Reds, the Quebec at Trois-Rivieres Patriotes, the Saint Mary’s Huskies, the Saskatchewan Huskies and the Waterloo Warriors.
Last year’s champions — the McGill Redmen — did not qualify.
The Golden Bears have won this tournament 13 times, and the Varsity Reds have taken top spot on four occasions. Both teams are coming off strong seasons, unlike some of the other competitors.
Head coach Brian Bourque and his Waterloo Warriors sixth in the OUA’s regular season and only qualified for the tournament after an unexpected upset in division playoffs.
“Our team, statistically, had a very mediocre year,” he said. “We were 11-12-5 in the regular season.”
Despite the somewhat lopsided field of competition this year, Herbers says the Golden Bears will have to fight hard every minute.
“There is no easing into this tournament,” Herbers said. “You take that first period off, those first five minutes off, next thing you know you’re out of the tournament.”
Saskatchewan Huskies head coach Dave Adolph has coached his team through 10 CIS championships and says his team is focused on scoring after previous appearances saw the team struggle to put up points.
“This is the hardest tournament to win, and I’ve said that all along,” Adolph said. “Our team is better now than it was five years ago, but I think every team has gotten better.”
In recent years, the CIS has taken a tougher stand on fighting, slapping players who fight with an automatic one game suspension and two games if they instigate.
Herbers said none of his players have fought this season.
“There is still room for it, but it’s not near as prevalent,” he said. “With the new rules that have come in, the tempo and pace the game is a lot better to watch.”
Saint Mary’s Huskies forward Lucas Bloodoff, who won the CIS most valuable player award on Wednesday, says less fighting means more stickwork and other dirty plays.
“Now with no fighting, you remember who did what and those grudges get carried over,” he said. “People start waiting in the weeds.”
Notes: Bloodoff, a third-year from Castlegar, B.C., is the third Saint Mary’s player to claim the Senator Joseph A. Sullivan Trophy as CIS MVP. … Pierre-Luc Lessard of UQTR was named defenceman of the year, Alberta netminder Kurtis Mucha was selected as the country’s best goaltender, Carleton forward Mitch Porowski was named top rookie, Alberta forward Jordan Hickmott was named the most sportsmanlike player, Saint Mary’s head coach Trevor Stienburg was named coach of the year and UPEI forward Jordan Knox won the award for excellence in hockey, academics and community involvement.