U SPORTS MHKY: Tight races highlight the final weekend in Canada West

This is the preview for Western Canada, the Ontario preview can be found here.

We all know that one song, that plays as the game is winding down and your team is trailing. Sounds buzz around the arena, blaring the lyrics of “Final Countdown” by Europe, you’re pumped.

Cue the music, because it’s the final countdown of the U Sports regular hockey season. All conferences are set to wrap up their season this weekend, with most teams set to play two games. For some conferences, such as the OUA East, each spot is claimed. However, there is still a race to be had in most, most notably, Canada West.

Another year has passed, and once again we see a Canada West table which is heavily tiered. There are the teams who can challenge for a national championship making up one tier, the challenger teams in another, and then there are the rest of the teams who are along for the ride.

The elite teams have once again distanced themselves from the pack. This year it was the University of Alberta as well as Saskatchewan. Both teams are tied at the top of the standings with 42 points and have clinched home advantage in the first round.

Image result for saskatchewan huskies hockey"
(Huskies Atheltics)

Although both have clinched a spot in the top two, there is still a race for the regular-season championship. If we take a look at the schedules of either team, there’s no clear cut prediction. Saskatchewan will face their provincial rivals, the Regina Cougars, who are in search for their first playoff birth since 2014. The drive of Regina may get them an upset win, similar to as we saw in the OUA East with RMC Paladin taking down the nationally-ranked Ottawa Gee-Gees to clinch their first-ever playoff birth.

On Alberta’s schedule sits a team higher up in the standings, the Manitoba Bisons. Although the Bisons have yet to claim their spot in the post-season, all they need to do is get a single point of their own or have the aforementioned Cougars drop a single game. They pose a tough test to the Golden Bears but don’t be surprised if Alberta pulls out two wins, given that the Bisons are not clinging onto their life the Cougars are.

So with these two results, the top team will end up being the Golden Bears, with the Huskies finishing second. Either way, both earn themselves a bye past the first round of the playoffs.

The next race to look at is the one for third place. With their win in the Crowchild Classic last week, the Mount Royal Cougars hold the upper hand on their cross-town rivals the Calgary Dinos, but only by a single point. Calgary is playing Lethbridge this coming weekend, the only team that has nothing to play for. Facing such weak and likely undermotivated competition should give two wins to the Dinos, vaulting them into third place come season’s end.

So far, this is what our standings look like, and we have all of our byes and home advantage seeds set.

  1. Alberta Golden Bears
    2. Saskatchewan Huskies
    3. Calgary Dinos
    4. Mount Royal Cougars

Here’s where things get interesting. There are three teams, but only two playoff spots. Heading into the final week of action, the aforementioned Manitoba Bisons hold the likeliest chance to come away with a playoff spot. They could even do so without a win, as long as Regina drops points too. I’m giving the Bisons a win, and therefor the fifth spot in the standings.

Jonathan Smart at Regina, Jan. 11, 2020
Regina cannot afford to lose if they want to finish above the playoff cutoff (UBC Athletics)

With the final spot, put your money on the UBC Thunderbirds. The Vancouver based school holds a two-point lead over the next best Regina squad. Taking on the already clinched Mount Royal Cougars, I would expect the Thunderbirds to get at least one win, setting themselves a playoff date with the Calgary Dinos for the second straight season.

This coming weekend is the final countdown in Canada West men’s hockey, as teams take the next step towards the national tournament in Halifax in March.

These would be the first-round playoff matchups in Canada West if these predictions fall into place. Where does your team stand?

BYE: Alberta Golden Bears (1), Saskatchewan Huskies (2)

QF1: Calgary Dinos (3) VS UBC Thunderbirds (6)
QF2: Mount Royal Cougars (4) VS Manitoba Bisons (5)

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