University Cup Preview

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TORONTO (U SPORTS) – The UNB Varsity Reds will have home ice on their side in pursuit of their second straight University Cup.

The 2017 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup will be hosted by the Varsity Reds for the first time since welcoming back-to-back events in 2011 and 2012. The national tournament gets underway Thursday from the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton, N.B.

The semifinals (12 and 4 p.m. AT/11 a.m. and 3 p.m. ET Saturday) as well as the final of the University Cup will be broadcast live on Sportsnet 360 and SN Now.

The Varsity Reds were tabbed as the No.5 seed for the tournament, and will have an uphill battle if the University Cup is to remain on the east coast.

Looking for their 16th U SPORTS title and third national banner since 2014, the Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears head in as the top seed, joined in Fredericton by the No.2 StFX X-Men (AUS champions) No.3 York Lions (OUA champions), No.4 Queen's Gaels (OUA finalists), No.5 UNB (AUS finalists/hosts), No.6 Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West finalists), No.7 McGill Redmen (OUA bronze medalists), and No.8 Acadia Axemen (AUS bronze medalists). A full schedule is below.

Seven of the eight teams have hoisted the University Cup in the past, with Alberta holding the most titles (15), followed by UNB (6), York (3) and Acadia (2). Saskatchewan, StFX and McGill have one national banner each, with Queen's still looking for their first.

SCHEDULE & RESULTS (all times AT)

Wednesday, March 15

7:30 p.m. 2017 U SPORTS Men's Hockey All-Canadian Awards

Thursday, March 16

1:00 p.m. Quarter-final 1: No.1 Alberta vs. No. 8 Acadia (USPORTS.LIVE)

7 p.m. Quarter-final 2: No.4 Queen's vs. No. 5 UNB (USPORTS.LIVE)

Friday, March 17

1 p.m. Quarter-final 3: No.3 York vs. No. 6 Saskatchewan (USPORTS.LIVE)

7 p.m. Quarter-final 4: No.2 StFX vs. No.7 McGill (USPORTS.LIVE)

Saturday, March 18

12 p.m. Semifinal 1: Winner QF 1 vs. Winner QF 2 (Sportsnet 360/SN Now)

4 p.m. Semifinal 2: Winner QF 3 vs. Winner QF 4 (Sportsnet 360/SN Now)

Sunday, March 19

9:30 a.m. Bronze (USPORTS.LIVE)

1:00 p.m. Final (Sportsnet 360/SN Now)

 

Canada West representatives

No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West champions)

National titles: 1964, 1968, 1975, 1978-80, 1986, 1992, 1999, 2000, 2005, 2006, 2008, 2014, 2015

2016 result: Lost in quarter-finals

Off Rank: 12th (3.46 GPG)

Def Rank: 7th (2.54 GAA)

Top scorer: Jamie Crooks (26 GP, 15 G, 11 A, 26 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Brendan Burke (8-3-0, 1.70 GAA, .934 SV%)

No. 6 Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West finalists)

National titles: 1983

2016 result: 4th

Off Rank: 4th (3.79 GPG)

Def Rank: 3rd (2.11 GAA)

Top scorer: Logan McVeigh (28 GP, 13 G, 18 A, 31 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Jordon Cooke (19-4-2, 1.94 GAA, .929 SV%)

 

The Golden Bears (18-8-2 regular season), earned their fourth No.1 seed in the last five years, after reclaiming the Canada West banner – the team's 26th overall – over Saskatchewan with a 6-3 victory in Game 3 of the conference championship. Along the way, both Alberta and Saskatchewan (21-5-2) needed three games to eliminate cross-town rivals Calgary and Mount Royal in the Canada West semifinals.

"It has been a season full of growth for our team. With so many new faces on our roster, the regular season has provided our group with numerous learning opportunities," said Alberta head coach Serge Lajoie. "We've used these opportunities to continually strive to get better...The growth we have shown throughout the regular season and in playoffs has prepared us as well as we could have expected to head into this championship weekend with the necessary confidence level required for us to play our best. There is such parity between the teams - anything can happen."

"We are excited to once again represent the Canada West conference at the University Cup," said Saskatchewan bench boss Dave Adolph, the Canada West Coach of the Year. "Returning the majority of our team from the 2016 University Cup, we feel confident in our experiences gained at the tournament last year. We are hardworking group on both sides of the ice and expect to compete at the highest level."

AUS representatives

No.2 StFX X-Men (AUS Champions)

National titles: 2004

2016 result: Silver

Off Rank: 14th (3.30 GPG)

Def Rank: 23rd (3.21 GAA)

Top scorer: Eric Locke (30 GP, 13 G, 15 A, 28 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Chase Marchand (11-6-1, 2.78 GAA, .913 SV%)

No.5 UNB Varsity Reds (AUS finalists/hosts)

National titles: 1998, 2007, 2009, 2011, 2013, 2016

2016 result: Gold

Off Rank: 1st (4.93 GPG)

Def Rank: 1st (1.90 GAA)

Top scorer: Philippe Maillet (30 GP, 23 G, 32 A, 55 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Étienne Marcoux (15-1-1, 1.59 GAA, .910 SV%)

No. 8 Acadia Axemen (AUS bronze medallists)

National titles: 1993, 1996

Last appearance: 2015

Off Rank: 5th (3.70 GPG)

Def Rank: 13th (2.75 GAA)

Top scorer: Boston Leier (30 GP, 18 G, 14 A, 32 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Robert Steeves (11-5-0, 2.46 GAA, .912 SV%)

 

The X-Men (16-12-2) captured back-to-back AUS titles thanks to a convincing two-game sweep of archrival UNB (25-2-3), with 2-1 and 5-4 victories. The win capped off a perfect 7-0 run through the conference playoffs for StFX, who also defeated Moncton in a best-of-three quarter-finals, and Acadia (20-8-2) in the best-of-five semis. The Axemen would go on to win two straight in the consolation series to earn the bronze medal over Saint Mary's, who fell to the Varsity Reds in the other semifinal matchup three games to one.

"We are extremely pleased to be heading back to the 2017 U SPORTS University Cup," said StFX head coach Brad Peddle. "It is an outstanding field of teams that will make for a very competitive and exciting tournament, requiring you to be at your best every game. We look forward to the challenge."

"It's always a special feat to be part of the national hockey championship, and a double special opportunity to be the host team for the University Cup," said AUS Coach of the Year Gardiner MacDougall. "It has been said that 'Consistency is the mother of excellence and incremental improvement is the father.' This weekend we are looking forward to raising our consistency standard and finding ways to improve that standard on a period by period basis."

"We are extremely proud to be bringing Acadia back to a national championship," said Acadia head coach Darren Burns. "We have the most loyal fans in U SPORTS. It is important for our team to remain focused as the competition is going to be extremely intense and at the highest level."

OUA representatives

No.3 York Lions (OUA champions)

National titles: 1985, 1988, 1989

Off Rank: 23rd (2.86 GPG)

Def Rank: 2nd (2.00 GAA)

Top scorer: Derek Sheppard (28 GP, 12 G, 20 A, 32 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Mack Shields (13-4-3, 1.78 GAA, .930 SV%)

No.4 Queen's Gaels (OUA finalists)

Last appearance: 1981

Off Rank: 25th (2.82)

Def Rank: 6th (2.37)

Top scorer: Slater Doggett (22 GP, 13 G, 20 A, 33 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Kevin Bailie (8-4-2, 2.31 GAA, .925 SV%)

No.7 McGill Redmen (OUA bronze medallists)

National titles: 2012

Last appearance: 2014

Off Rank: T-6th (3.68 GPG)

Def Rank: 5th (2.19 GAA)

Top scorer: Mathieu Pompei (23 GP, 9 G, 24 A, 33 PTS)

Probable starting goaltender: Jacob Gervais-Chouinard (10-2-0, 2.28 GAA, .915 SV%)

 

York (18-6-4) kept the Queen's Cup away from the trophy's original donors Saturday, winning its first OUA Championship since 2004 by edging the Gaels 4-3 at home. The game marked the first all-Ontario final dating back to the Lions' last title 13 years ago. The win capped off a 7-1 postseason for York, after sweeping Lakehead and Guelph in two games each in the first two rounds, before needing three contests to take out Windsor in the OUA West final. Queen's (18-7-3), meanwhile, swept McGill in the East final, after eliminating Ottawa and Concordia in three games apiece. The Redmen (21-4-3) would later secure the bronze medal with a 6-3 victory in a one-game playoff over Windsor.

"We are very proud we were able to get this program back to the national championship," said York head coach Chris Dennis, who won his second straight OUA West Coach of the Year honour. "There has been complete buy-in from everyone on the team and their hard work and dedication has gotten us this far. To be successful, we need to play with pace and focus on our game. If we can do that and play to our potential, we have a chance to do something special this week."

"We are excited to head to the University Cup for the first time in 36 years," said Queen's head coach Brett Gibson, who coached Canada to a bronze medal at the 2017 Winter Universiade last month, while also serving as bench boss of the U SPORTS All-Stars against the Canadian World Junior squad this season. "Our expectations are the same as they were all season and that is to respect everyone and fear no one. We pride ourselves on structure, discipline and work ethic which has brought us to this tournament."

"Our team has been through plenty of adversity this season and is a resilient and battle-hardened group," said McGill head coach Kelly Nobes. "The OUA East continues to improve, is extremely competitive and has well-prepared us for the postseason. We have smart players that play a fast, structured, and gritty game. We are looking forward to our first game against StFX and we expect a battle at the Aitken Centre."