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Photo: Darren Steinke

#1 | Alberta Golden Bears

Photo: Darren Steinke

Reg. Season Record: 18-8-2 (2nd in CWUAA)
U Cup Appearances: 40 (last in ’15-16)
National Championships: 15 (last in ’14-15)
First Round Matchup: Acadia Axemen (1-1 all-time)
Coach: Serge Lajoie (2nd season)
Top 3 Scorers:
Jamie Crooks (27-15-11-26)
Tyson Baillie (28-13-13-26)
Jayden Hart (28-14-11-25)

Tournament History:
The Alberta Golden Bears have an illustrious history at the national level going all the way back to their first tournament appearance in 1963-64 where they also captured their first national title. The Golden Bears are an all-time 68-32-2 at the U Cup and are the winningest program in Canadian university hockey at this year’s tournament. The Golden Bears are looking to take their third national title since 2013.

Offence:
The Alberta Golden Bears have an offence that can hang with anybody. The question at the start of the year was how well they would deal with roster turnover and the experience factor, which hasn’t turned out to be much of a factor at all. Tyson Baillie lead all Canada West rookies in scoring, and packs just as much of a punch for Alberta as he did with Kelowna. Luke Philp scored 10 times in the regular season, and followed it up with another four markers in the playoffs, and factor in first years Trevor Cox and mid-season acquisition Cole Sanford, and you’ve essentially got your own all-rookie team. Veteran Jamie Crooks lead the team in regular season scoring, and will be counted on again, as will playmaker Stephane Legault. All together, Alberta’s offence is a talented and well-rounded as you’ll find at the university hockey level.

Defence:
It may have taken the Golden Bears some more time to find their game defensively, but now that they have, it’s not far off their offensive capabilities. Dylan Bredo tacked on 20 points from the back-end this season, and rookie Ryan Rehill with Graeme Craig add defensive stability with some serious physicality along with Brennan YadlowskiJason Fram came into the program mid-season from pro, and although Alberta is good defensively without him, Fram takes them to another level as a guy that can play in all situations. The Golden Bears don’t have a particularly dangerous defensive unit when it comes to offence, but they can get the job done against anybody.

Goaltending:
Goaltending was one of the biggest questions for Alberta coming into the season, despite having a fourth year veteran in Luke Siemens. Rookies Kenny Cameron and Brendan Burke both came into the program with very impressive pedigrees, but nothing is a given in Canada West. Siemens had his ups and downs this year, all the while Burke makes a case for best rookie goaltender in the country. Burke lead Canada West with a 1.70 GAA, and backstopped the Golden Bears as their starter throughout the playoffs. Siemens can still go out and be a strong goalie for Alberta, but it’s impossible not to give Burke the start at the U Cup.

X-Factor:
By the midway point of the Canada West season, Jayden Hart was making a serious case for conference MVP amongst the league leaders in scoring. Second semester was a different story with Hart finding the back of the net only twice, and being held off the scoresheet entirely during the postseason. Hart is a good enough player that he doesn’t have to score to be effective, but if he’s clicking like the was in the first semester, he makes the Golden Bears a much more intimidating team up front as a power forward who can score.

Verdict:
The Alberta Golden Bears are in the best position they could possibly be this year given their heavy roster turnover which saw a number of key veterans graduate after last season. It’s been a growing process all season long for Alberta, and they likely still haven’t totally reached their full potential. Their youngsters need to realize that winning a U Cup is even more difficult than a Canada West title, and they’ll need to bring their A-game to succeed. If any part of the Alberta system falls apart, they could be in trouble.

#6 | Saskatchewan Huskies

Photo: Darren Steinke

Reg. Season Record: 21-5-2 (1st in CWUAA)
U Cup Appearances: 18 (last in ’15-16)
National Championships: 1 (last in ’82-83)
First Round Matchup: York Lions (Never played)
Coach: Dave Adolph (24th season)
Top 3 Scorers:
Logan McVeigh (28-13-18-31)
Michael Sofillas (28-13-14-27)
Jesse Forsberg (28-11-16-27)

Tournament History:
The Saskatchewan Huskies are making their 18th appearance at the U Cup, a tournament which they’ve won only once (1982-83) in the past. Since their first tournament appearance in 1966-67, the Huskies have brought home the silver on five different occasions, with the most recent being in 2013-14. Saskatchewan is 19-22-0 overall at the U Cup and hold the record for most periods of hockey played in a single U Cup tournament (16, 2016 U Cup).

Offence:
The Saskatchewan Huskies lead the Canada West conference this season in scoring, with 106 goals, and come into this year’s U Cup a lot deeper offensively than they were last season. In 2016, the story was the rookies Kohl Bauml, Levi Cable, and Andrew Johnson who were one-two-three in team scoring. All three players return, albeit with lower offensive numbers this season. Michael Sofillas and Logan McVeigh tied for the team lead in goals, with 13 each, and Josh Roach is coming off a career-high 26 point season with Saskatchewan. There’s many different weapons up front for Saskatchewan, which is what makes them an improved team offensively from a season ago.

Defensively:
Contrary to the offence, Saskatchewan’s defence isn’t all that different from what we saw last year in Halifax. Jordan Fransoo and Connor Cox return as veterans from last season, and are anchored down by shutdown d-man and captain, Kendall McFaullJesse Forsberg had a huge breakout season, leading all Canada West defencemen in scoring, with 27 points and 11 goals. Rookies Tanner Lishchynsky and Colby Harmsworth managed to play in every game for Saskatchewan, which tells you something in itself, but will still need to wait their turn to shine on the Huskies blueline. Forsberg gives Saskatchewan a little more pop than they had last year, but they’re still one of the sturdiest defensive groups in the country.

Goaltending:
Jordon Cooke‘s numbers speak for themselves. His 1.94 GAA and .929 SV% in the regular season were once again the envy of the league. The only thing he hasn’t done in his university career is take home the national championship. Having come so close to the finals a season ago, Cooke doesn’t need any extra motivation to go out there and put on another show. Preferably, Saskatchewan won’t have to rely on him too much, but they know, if danger is afoot, Cooke is there to save the day.

X-Factor:
Connor Gay made quite a name for himself by the end of the season. Saskatchewan brought in a big haul of WHL talent in the offseason, of which Gay was a part of. With not much of a roster turnover to be had, finding space in the lineup was tough this year, and as a result, Gay only played in nine regular season games. However, in those nine games, Gay managed to post exactly nine points, and muscled his way into the lineup for playoffs where he lead the team in scoring with five points, including two goals in game one of the finals against Alberta. Saskatchewan is full of determined players, but no one is playing with a bigger chip on their shoulder than Gay.

Verdict:
The Huskies did not play their best hockey in the postseason by any stretch, but what they managed to do in the regular season cannot be ignored. The Huskies have every tool they need in order to succeed at the U Cup. Whether or not they actually utilize all of them will determine how far they make it in this tournament. They might be in the six seed, but the Huskies are just as much contenders for the U Cup as the top three teams.

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