U Sports MHKY: Checking in on Canada West

The calendar crawls it’s a way to mid-November, snow begins to fall and the U Sports hockey season is in full swing and it becomes clear as to what each team really is. Some schools are getting used to a young team after having years of veteran talent, some schools are ageing out their players and others are content being who they are. Regardless of what category the team fits in, by this point in the season, it is pretty clear what can be expected of them when they hit the ice.

In Canada West, the season has played out very similar to last, with very few teams making extravagant strides in the standings.

The biggest surprise is the Saskatchewan Huskies being a third place, rather than on their perch above the rest of the conference where they finished last season. Despite the drop in standing position, the Huskies stats have improved since 2018-19.

Saskatchewan had three players (at least 5 games played) who had shooting percentages above 15%. This year that number has risen to seven, but their defence has disappointed leading to their current position in the standings.

Another reason that the Huskies have fallen from their mantle this year is the strength of their schedule since the start of the season to this point. They started the season very poorly, losing their first four games, but those games were against the two teams currently ranked higher than them, the Mount Royal Cougars and the Alberta Golden Bears. Take away those four losses, retract the points from the two teams and the Huskies would be right up there with the Bears and Cougars. They have only lost one game since losing their fourth, and have begun to find their footing as they make their way back into the asthenosphere of the Canda West division.

Image result for sask huskies hockey"
(Saskatoon StarPhoenix)

Looking ahead, the next six games will present a rest, a rivalry and a headache for the Huskies. First up is their provincial rivals, the University of Regina, who finished last in 2018-19 and currently sit in that spot again. But after that, it’s back to the terrible, torrid days of facing the Bears and Cougars. If the Huskies are able to find a win or two in the difficult games, it could catapult them into even better form, launching them into the upper echelons of their division. If they don’t win those games however, then they will fall further behind the two schools and we will begin to see a massive gap form in the U Sports Canada West conference.

Regina is… Still, Regina, the Cougars, who did something very “Saskatchewan” to be in a seven-team league with two teams of the same name, have failed to finish above last place every year since 2015 and this year looks no different as they boast a record of 2-9 heading into the next portion of the season. Eventually, brighter times are bound to come to the prairies, but it is not looking that this season is that time.

The Alberta Golden Bears have consistently been one of the best hockey programs in all of u sports. Despite losing their best player from last season, Luke Philp, to the Calgary Flames organization, U of A hasn’t missed a beat and continue to dominate the conference in nearly every statistical category. Their 11 wins, 57 goals and 83.3% penalty kill percentage are all the best in Canada West. the all-round performance from the team has been fantastic, and with the emergence of second-year forward Grayson Pawlenchuk, it seems as though they have found their Philp Replacement.

Pawlmenchuk has been one of the best stories in all of U Sports this season. In his first year he managed a solid 13 goals through 28 games, but in only 12 games this season he has already put 10 pucks in the back of the net. If he keeps up his scoring pace and plays his 28 games again, he will score 23 goals, beating Philp’s 21 from last season. Finding a new offensive powerhouse has been very important to the Bears so far this season, and is a big reason why they got better despite losing a professional level player.

The continued success of the golden bears is the envy of many U Sports schools and they are an example of a successful program in both academics and athletics. There were 10 players on the Golden Bears who earned the honours of Academic All-Canadians. Those hockey players were of the 170 U of A athletes who were named to the honour.

At this point, it has become pretty clear how the rest of the Canada West regular season will pan out, and what we can expect from each team respectively. Although that trends have been made and paths are being followed, let’s not forget that this is sports and things change. Maybe the Regina Cougars win the rest of their games and go on to a Canada West championship? Unlikely, but possible. Sports follow the unexpected and that’s why we watch, read and write about them. If it was all a sequence, it would be boring. With that, enjoy the next portion of the Canada West men’s hockey season before the conference takes it’s Christmas break.

Stats courtesy of Canada West and Hockey Tech

Cover Photo: Vancouver Giants

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