CIS Men’s Hockey Championship Ready to Roll

The six-team tournament gets under way on Thursday and concludes Sunday with the gold medal final at 8 p.m. Atlantic Standard Time, live on Rogers Sportsnet and ssncanada.ca.

UNB captured their third University Cup title in five seasons – and the fourth in school history – a year ago with a 4-0 win on home ice over the McGill Redmen. The V-Reds have previously triumphed in 1998, 2007 and 2009.

The last team to claim back-to-back CIS men’s hockey banners was the Alberta Golden Bears, who prevailed at home in Edmonton in 2005 and 2006.

For the second straight year, UNB (AUS champs) and McGill (OUA champs) are seeded 1-2 heading into the national championship. They will be joined in Fredericton by the No. 3 Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West champs), No. 4 Western Mustangs (OUA finalists), No. 5 Moncton Aigles Bleus (AUS finalists) and No. 6 UQTR Patriotes (OUA bronze medallists).

UNB, Western and UQTR will battle in Pool A in the preliminary round, while McGill, Saskatchewan and Moncton skate in Pool B. The first-place finishers from each group advance to the Cavendish University Cup final.

The Redmen and Aigles Bleus face off in the tourney opener Tuesday at 2 p.m. (ATL), while the V-Reds and Patriotes kick off Pool A action at 7 p.m. The Huskies and Mustangs take the ice on Day 2 against the losing teams from opening day.

McGill is the only team that will be looking for a first CIS title this week. Like UNB, Moncton and UQTR have hoisted the Cup on four occasions, while Saskatchewan and Western have taken the top prize once.

“We are proud to represent the Atlantic conference. It is also a privilege and honour to be the host of this very special event – the 50th CIS hockey championship,” says 12-year UNB head coach Gardiner MacDougall, whose roster includes 19 returning players from last season’s championship squad. “We are excited about the tremendous opportunity in front of us for our team and our passionate fan base. Together we look forward to representing our university, our city, the province of New Brunswick and the Atlantic region to the very best of our abilities.”

UNB is red-hot going into the tournament, having won nine straight games and 12 of its last 13. After finishing atop the AUS standings with a 20-5-3 regular season mark, the V-Reds swept both UPEI and Moncton in consecutive best-of-five playoff series. The reigning CIS champs were particularly impressive in the conference final, defeating the Aigles Bleus 8-3, 4-2 and 4-0.

As has been the case for a number of years, the V-Reds can win with offence or defence. They led the AUS in both goals scored (4.29 per game) and goals against (2.38), finishing second and fourth in the country, respectively, in those categories. Team captain Kyle Bailey led the way on offence with 17 goals and 33 points in 27 regular season contests.

After reaching the national final for the first time in program history a year ago, No. 2 McGill will settle for nothing less than a first CIS title this time around.

“We have built-up good momentum and are peaking at the right time,” says Kelly Nobes, a former McGill star who has racked up a 68-17-2 overall record during his two seasons as head coach of the Redmen. “We’re fairly healthy, have a veteran team with nine seniors and are very hungry after losing in the gold medal final last year. We’re going to Fredericton with only one objective.”

Like UNB, the Redmen are riding an impressive win streak heading into their fifth straight University Cup appearance. The Montreal-based powerhouse, which finished with the best record in the nation in conference play (22-4-2), has won its last 10 matches, including a 7-0 playoff run that culminated with a 4-1 victory over Western in the OUA Queen’s Cup final.

McGill, in the midst of its 136th season of hockey, makes the trip to Fredericton with a less explosive but more balanced team than a year ago. In 2010-11, Alexandre Picard-Hooper was named CIS player of the year after leading the nation in scoring with 58 points, while Francis Verreault-Paul led all CIS snipers with 28 goals in only 19 games as the Redmen were the highest-scoring squad in the country with over five goals a game.

This season, injuries affected their offensive production and Marc-André Dorion became the first defenceman in program history to lead the team in scoring with 39 points as McGill settled for the 11th best offensive record in the nation with 3.64 goals per night, but tied Alberta for the best goals against average (2.20). While Verreault-Paul was still brilliant with 21 markers in 23 outings, the Redmen received goals from no less than 22 different skaters during the regular schedule and from 15 players, including eight rearguards, in their seven post-season contests.

In Canada West, the No. 3 Huskies came out of a dog fight… no pun intended.

Saskatchewan finished third in the conference standings, only two points behind Manitoba and one in arrears of Alberta. After sweeping Lethbridge in the first round of the playoffs, the Huskies erased a one-game deficit in each of their subsequent series, both best-of-three affairs, edging Alberta in the semifinals and Calgary in the conference final. Against the Golden Bears, they won the last two games in overtime, while against the Dinos, defenceman Brett Ward ended the longest game in Canada West playoff history with a goal at 46:33 of overtime (3OT) to give the Saskatoon squad its first conference banner since 2007.

The Huskies are led by the explosive line of Derek Hulak (11-33-44), Kyle Bortis (17-22-39) and Kyle Ross (16-17-33), who combined for a remarkable 116 points in the regular season. Hulak won the Canada West scoring crown and finished second in the country with 44 points in 28 games.

“We feel pretty fortunate to be representing Canada West and the University of Saskatchewan at the University Cup,” says Dave Adolph, in his 19th campaign behind the Saskatchewan bench. “After failing to qualify for the last three years, our team has no members with national championship experience but we have surprised a few favourites along the way. So we are not sure what to expect from this group in Fredericton.”

His counterpart from Western, Clarke Singer, also hopes that the playoffs prepared his team well for Nationals.

“We are very happy to have an opportunity to participate in the 50th University Cup. It is always a tremendous privilege to compete on a national stage with the best university hockey teams in the country,” says Singer, the 13-year Mustangs head coach. “There are six very good hockey teams competing in the tournament and we know that we will have to be at our very best for three days to have a chance to win it. Our coaching staff feels that the three difficult playoff series that we have had combined with our Queen’s Cup game against McGill has been good for us in terms of preparation.”

The Mustangs stumbled a little at the end of the regular season, going 3-3 down the stretch, but had long secured first place in the OUA West, which they won by seven points. In the playoffs, after sweeping best-of-three series against Laurier and Brock, Western had to overcome a one-game deficit against Windsor to qualify for the Queen’s Cup final and book its ticket for Fredericton.

The fourth best offensive team in the country with an average of 4.07 goals a game in conference play, Western is led by CIS scoring champion Keaton Turkiewicz, who tallied 47 points, including 20 goals, in 28 league games. He also won the OUA playoff scoring title with 5-9-14 in eight contests.

Fifth-seeded Moncton is a pleasant surprise this season. After missing the playoffs a year ago with a 10-15-3 mark, the Aigles Bleus rebounded with a 19-8-1 campaign, good for third place in the AUS standings, then eliminated both StFX and Saint Mary’s to reach the conference championship series against UNB.

Despite scoring only six goals in 28 league contests, team captain Dean Ouellet paced the Aigles Bleus on offence with 34 points.

“We want to make our presence felt at the Nationals,” says Serge Bourgeois, in his third season as Moncton head coach after three years as an assistant. “We’ve worked hard all season with one goal in mind, to represent the AUS at the CIS championship. We have a good blend of veterans and rookies, and our guys know what’s at stake. We’ll need a complete effort from each member of the team to be successful.”

Finally, the sixth-ranked UQTR Patriotes could offer fans some of the most entertaining hockey this week in Fredericton. Led by Félix Petit, who finished fourth in the country with 42 points in 28 games, the Patriotes scored a CIS-best 123 goals for an average of 4.39 per contest, but ranked 21st in the nation on defence with 3.40 goals against per match.

In a see-saw playoff run, the Pats eliminated Ryerson in three games after being humiliated 9-2 in the series opener. They were once again pushed to the limit of three matches by Carleton, then were swept by McGill in the best-of-three conference semis, before booking their ticket for the Cavendish University Cup with a 5-3 win over Windsor in the sudden-death OUA bronze medal game.

“We’ve had an exceptional season when considering we started the season with 14 freshmen and will have 11 rookies on our roster for the University Cup,” says Jacques Laporte, who has been in charge of the Trois-Rivières program for 13 years. “We got a second chance after dropping the OUA East final to McGill and took advantage of it by winning the OUA bronze medal game.”

Rogers Sportsnet will also have live coverage of the last pool play match-up Saturday at 4:30 p.m. Atlantic (except on Sportsnet West), while SSN Canada will have live webcasts of all seven contests from the tourney.

TOURNAMENT SCHEDULE (Atlantic Savings Time)

Pool A
1. UNB

4. Western

6. UQTR

Pool B
2. McGill

3. Saskatchewan

5. Moncton

Wednesday, March 21
12:45 Meet The Teams Media Conference (Aitken University Centre)

19:00 All-Canadian Awards Presentation (The Playhouse)

Thursday, March 22

14:00 Pool B #1: McGill vs. Moncton (ssncanada.ca)

19:00 Pool A #1: UNB vs. UQTR (ssncanada.ca)

Friday, March 23

14:00 Pool B #2: Loser Pool B #1 vs. Saskatchewan (ssncanada.ca)

19:00 Pool A #2: Loser Pool A #1 vs. Western (ssncanada.ca)

Saturday, March 24

11:30 Pool B #3: Winner Pool B #1 vs. Saskatchewan (ssncanada.ca)

16:30 Pool A #3: Winner Pool A #1 vs. Western (Rogers Sportsnet / ssncanada.ca) *

Sunday, March 25

20:00 University Cup Final (Rogers Sportsnet / ssncanada.ca)

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