U Sports Hockey: The playoff race in Canada West is heating up

It’s been another year of exciting hockey in the Canada West conference of U Sports, but as the season nears its end, the playoff picture begins to form. While some of the standings may look similar to past years, there is still a heated battle closer to the bottom for the final post-season slots.

Of the eight teams in Canada West, six qualify for the playoffs. At the time of writing each team had played 22 games, giving us a good sense of where they stand to head into the last portion of the season.

Four of the six playoff spots have been claimed, leaving the final two up for grabs. The teams in the running for the last pair of spots are Regina, UBC and Manitoba. Lethbridge, who competed in the national tournament the last year because of hosting are already out of playoff contention, leaving them with only pride to play for through the next month.

Currently, the fifth spot is held by the Manitoba Bisons, who look destined to have that as their highest finish. Fourth place and home advantage are eight points away, and at this point of the season, making up nearly a handfull of games is more unlikely than at any other point.

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It’s likely that the Manitoba Bisons will make the playoffs (Canada West)

One thing that the Bisons have going for them is the five points between them and the playoff cutoff, which sits at 15 points. The low number is indicative of a common theme that has spanned across Canada West’s last couple of seasons. The strong teams, such as the University of Alberta are among the best in Canada, whereas many of the others struggle to crack U Sports weekly top 10 rankings. This leaves Alberta consistently at the top of the standings, which they are once again and other smaller schools struggling for playoffs.

With all that, it comes down to three schools battling it out for the two remaining playoff spots. While Manitoba would appear most likely to hold onto their position, they have the hardest schedule of the three schools. They recently surrendered two losses at the claws of the UBC Thunderbirds, giving up two very valuable games to a team that they are fighting with. Their next set of games come against another playoff contender in Regina, and if they cannot find success there, it’s unlikely that they will make the post-season.

That’s because the last four games are against the top two in the conference, and a mediocre bisons teams will be in touch to get anything from their games against Alberta or Saskatchewan.

If I was to fathom a prediction, I would give the Bisons a win against Regina, and one more point, therefore leaving them with 23 points when all is said and done.

Manitoba Bisons: 23 Final Points

After the Bisons sit the UBC Thunderbirds, who find themselves in prime position to take another run at the playoffs. Their schedule is nowhere near as daunting as Manitoba’s, but they will have to take advantage of it.
First, up for them is the second place Saskatchewan Huskies. Although the Huskies boast one of Canada’s strongest teams, UBC has been playing well as of late and could use their momentum to get something out of the games.

UBC could very well make the playoffs once again (Bob Frid)

Saskatchewan will have their home crowd behind them at the newly minted Merlis Belshir place, making the task much harder for the UBC Thunderbirds. For safe assumption, I’m going to say that UBC leaves their pair of games against the Huskies with nothing to show for it.

That leaves UBC with four games to confirm their season;’s destiny. Two of those games come against the already out Lethbridge Pronghorns, with the other two against the 4th place and already clinched Mount Royal Cougars. Of those games, I could see UBC picking up 3 wins, giving them a 6 point boost to end the season. Add up all the results, it leaves the T-Birds at 23 points, the same as the Bisons.

UBC Thunderbirds: 23 Final Points

The last team with a shot at the postseason is the Regina Cougars. It has been a long time since the cougars last saw playoff action, but that stat could be put to rest in 2020. The last time they made the playoffs was in 2015, finishing in sixth and falling out in the first round.

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The Cougars could be falling out of playoff contention (Arthur Images)

Unfortunately for Regina, their playoff hopes are likely to evaporate faster than water on a sizzling pan, as all their games come against teams that have already clinched. Their best hope for some points comes against Manitoba this weekend, but if they don’t make due of that, the postseason absence will continue to grow.

With their final four games of the year coming against Saskatchewan and Alberta, the chance of Regina making the playoff is extremely low. I could see the team being driven enough to pick up a win in their last portion of games, maybe tack on a loser point somewhere in their too, but even with that, it’s not going to be enough for them to claim a playoff spot.

By the time the final buzzer goes off on the Regina Cougars season, I’m guessing that the capital city school will have at most 18 points.

Regina Cougars: 18 points

There you have it; after looking at the remaining games in Canada West as well as the current standings, don’t be surprised when you see the Manitoba Bisons and UBC Thunderbirds in the playoffs come mid-February.

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