Brian Swane, Special to Canada West
EDMONTON - It's no short jaunt from Saskatoon to Fredericton. It's that much longer to get there from Edmonton.
So if the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears men's hockey teams are traveling such a distance, they intend to make it worth the while.
The Canada West finalists are going for gold at the 2017 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms Men's Hockey Championship, hosted by the University of New Brunswick. Competition begins Thursday with the quarter-final round and continues through Sunday's medal games at the Aitken University Centre.
"At the U of A we always start the season with our ultimate goal to get the national championship and win the national championship," says Serge Lajoie, Golden Bears head coach.
The tournament field includes a trio of teams from each Ontario University Athletics (OUA) and Atlantic University Sports (AUS). Alberta will take on Acadia, while the Huskies meet York in the quarter-finals. There's little in terms of similarities between inter-conference opponents, and even less familiarity.
"Out east and in Ontario they defend really well and they get pucks behind you and in the neutral zone. Us and Alberta, we don't play that way," Huskies coach Dave Adolph says. "It's our puck and everybody else can get their own puck. It's a different style, and that's just the way it is. It's two conflicting styles and all three conferences are not going to change their game just for one game, that's for sure."
It was less than two weeks ago that Alberta beat the Huskies 2-1 in a fantastic best-of-three Canada West Final series at Saskatchewan's Rutherford Rink. While both teams had already clinched a spot in the national championship, they battled for the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy as if it were the University Cup.
"It was everything that we had hoped for from the series," says Lajoie. "It was intense, it came right down to the wire, there was good play from both teams and a lot of experience gained on our end, so it was a great weekend."
The Bears and Huskies each have relatively young lineups, but as programs, Alberta and Saskatchewan have more history to draw upon than pretty much any others in U Sports hockey. The Bears have captured the University Cup a record 15 times, while the Huskies are making their 13th trip to nationals since Adolph became coach in 1993.
"The one team that has a little confidence and swagger is usually the team that's most successful, and it has a tendency to build," the veteran coach says. "You have to win your first game to be able to play the next day, so it has a tendency to snowball.
"You want to get it going early and then maintain it."
No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears
QF vs No. 8 Acadia at 1 p.m. AT (10 a.m. MT) Thurs., March 16
Regular season: 18-8-2, second in Canada West
Playoffs: defeated Calgary 2-0 in semifinal, defeated Saskatchewan 2-1 in final
National championships: 15 (1964, 1968, 1975, 1978-1980, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014, 2015)
Stats leaders: Jamie Crooks (15 goals), Stephane Legault (19 assists), Crooks/Tyson Baillie (26 points), Brendan Burke/Luke Siemens (8 wins)
Canada West awards: Dylan Brado (Second Team All-Star), Crooks (Second Team All-Star), Baillie (Rookie of the Year, All-Rookie Team)
No. 6 Saskatchewan Huskies
QF vs No. 3 York at 1 p.m. AT (11 a.m. CT) Fri., March 17
Regular season: 21-5-2, first in Canada West
Playoffs: defeated Mount Royal 2-0 in semifinal, lost to Alberta 2-1 in final
National championships: 1 (1983)
Stats leaders: Logan McVeigh/Michael Sofillias (13 goals), McVeigh/Josh Roach (18 assists), McVeigh (31 points), Jordan Cooke (19 wins)
Canada West awards: Cooke (Goaltender of the Year, First Team All-Star), Jesse Forsberg (Top Defenceman, First Team All-Star), McVeigh (First Team All-Star), Kendal McFaull (Second Team All-Star), Dave Adolph (Coach of the Year)