Vancouver,BC- The opening round of the 2020 NHL postseason was busy and surprising.
The initial qualifying round was jam-packed like NCAA basketball’s March Madness, combined with the unexpected outcomes of U SPORTS hockey. Although the first round of the return to play was not technically playoffs, it was exhilarating. Now that the formal 16-team playoff bracket is set, which team should U SPORTS fans root for? Here’s each remaining NHL team as their U SPORTS counterpart.
Vegas Golden Knights: Ottawa Gee-Gees
The NHL’s newest franchise likens itself to the Ottawa Gee-Gees- both enjoyed instant success at the beginning. The Golden Knights made the Stanley Cup Final in their first season of existence, meanwhile, the Gee-Gees made the playoffs in their first year. While Vegas nearly won it all, both teams share the similarity of starting strong.
Colorado Avalanche: Guelph Gryphons
One word that comes to mind when talking about the Colorado Avalanche is “fast.” This is why I’m choosing them as the Guelph Gryphons. The 2020 Queen’s Cup champions scored the most goals in the OUA this year, but to me, it was their speed and endurance in the final that stood out. After 101 minutes of hockey, Ryan Valentini and Ted Nichol still had enough energy to rush into the offensive zone to win the game. If we boil it down to the lowest common denominator, both the Gryphons and the Avalanche are fast and score a lot.
Dallas Stars: Mount Royal Cougars
A good team, but not much success, the Dallas Stars best suited as the Mount Royal Cougars. Does anyone else sometimes forget they exist? Mount Royal has never won a Canada West championship, and the Dallas Stars have only won the Stanley Cup once in 1999. The Cougars play a style of hockey that isn’t overly exciting, but it gets the job done, ditto for Dallas.
St. Louis Blues: UBC Thunderbirds
The St. Louis Blues won the 2020 Stanley Cup, and they just snuck into the playoffs to do so. Although an upset like this is rare, it best fits the mould of the UBC Thunderbirds. The Vancouver-based school barely wiggled into the 2020 Canada West Playoffs, but promptly knocked-out higher seeds, including #1 ranked Alberta en route to qualifying for the national championships.
Vancouver Canucks: RMC Paladins
The Canucks are just happy to be in the hunt after years of disappointment. Although the Vancouver franchise had years of success prior to the dry run, the “just happy to be here” feeling is not dissimilar to the RMC Paladins making the 2020 OUA Playoffs. Who knows? Maybe the Canucks can surprise some people against St.Louis, just like the Paladins did against the Carleton Ravens.
Calgary Flames: Calgary Dinos
There is just so much right about giving the Flames the University of Calgary. Both the Flames and Dinos have won in the past, but in recent years, they’ve just been ok. Not bad, not great, just ok. They’re always in the playoffs, but never really expected to do too much.
Hey, they also share a building once a year! The Dinos play at the Flames’ Scotiabank Saddledome annually for the Crowchild Classic vs MRU.
Arizona Coyotes: Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
One team is nicknamed “The Desert Dogs” and the others are dogs, so based on animals, it’s the perfect fit. A lot of people don’t give much attention to the Arizona Coyotes, but they are a solid team, just like Ontario Tech. The Coyotes have got Taylor Hall, one of the NHL’s top point scorers, meanwhile OTU has Austin Eastman, he of 15th place in 2019-20 OUA scoring.
Both teams are also looking a little bit different than they have in the past. Ontario Tech rebranded into a cleaner look for the 2019-20 season, meanwhile, the Coyotes are wearing their alternate jerseys in the playoffs. Sure, Arizona didn’t go full-on rebuild, but it’s something we can draw a comparison to.
Chicago Blackhawks: Western Mustangs
The Western Mustangs shocked the U SPORTS hockey community when they took down the #1 and #2 seeds in the first couple rounds of the 2020 OUA Playoffs. While taking down David Thompson and the U of T Varsity Blues doesn’t parallel Chicago’s dismantling of Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, it’s still surprising. It’s been said by many coaches that “just getting in is the first step,” and that’s exactly what both of these teams have done.
Chicago have snuck into the playoffs after beating Edmonton, the highest seeded qualifying team, meanwhile Western did some giant killing of their own earlier this year.
Philadelphia Flyers: Ryerson Rams
Can you remember the last time the Philadelphia Flyers were winning? It was 1974-75. Although Ryerson has gone significantly longer without a title, both teams know the crippling feeling of not being able to get over the hump. Ryerson’s kryptonite is the second round of the OUA Playoffs, which they haven’t advanced past since the 1960’s, meanwhile the Flyers have been tripped up throughout the postseason.
The Flyers are also the top seed and are the odds-on favourites to win-out in the east, a similar situation to the Rams who were second in their conference ahead of the playoffs. Two teams with expectations, who have a history of crippling under pressure.
Both teams also have some very bright coloured jerseys.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Alberta Golden Bears
The Alberta Golden Bears have always played with an up-tempo style of hockey, and that’s exactly what the Tampa Bay Lightning are known for. Sure, I could’ve made the easy connection of Alberta to the Calgary Flames, with Derek Ryan having played for both teams, but this fits better.
Tampa Bay lost out in spectacular, shocking fashion to the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets last season, just like the Golden Bears fell to the underdog UBC Thunderbirds in the 2020 Canada West Playoffs.
They’re fast, but recently, they’ve not delivered.
Washington Capitals: SMU Huskies
Recent championship? Check. Led by a wicked core group? Check. Upcoming young players? Check.
The SMU Huskies and their 2010 U Cup work as a nice parallel to the 2018 Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals. Both teams have had a strong history, but until winning their first title, they were unable to get over the hump despite years of efforts. Even more recently, the Huskies are being led by the old forward guard of Stephen Johnson and Anthony Repacci, much like the Capitals with Alex Ovechkin and Niklas Backtrom. However, both have solid futures as well with the likes of the Capitals’ goaltender Ilya Samsonov and budding Huskies forward Mitch Balmas.
Boston Bruins: UNB Reds
They’re always good, and they can always step it up in the playoffs.
The hotshot UNB Reds are simple comparables to the Boston Bruins. Since 2010, the Bruins have been a constant in the NHL playoffs, nearly as much as the Reds have been at the U Cup National Tournament.
The UNB Reds often lead the AUS in scoring, as they didn in 2019-20, which is similar to the high-flying style of 2020’s Boston Bruins. Both teams also have dedicated fan bases that have become so accustomed to winning that simply not doing so is considered a disappointment.
Carolina Hurricanes: Brock Badgers
Two teams that fight and claw (pun intended) their way through the postseason, the Brock Badgers and Carolina Hurricanes are the long lost brothers of the U SPORTS-NHL family. Both the Badgers and the Hurricanes have advanced a few rounds in recent years, but it hasn’t been pretty, it just gets the job done.
A little bonus goes to the fact that both teams have the same red,black and white colour scheme.
New York Islanders: Acadia Axemen
Of all 16 teams in the fold, the New York Islanders were the most difficult to find a comparable for, in the end, I settled on the Acadia Axemen. Both teams have performed consistently over the last decade, but have not made won A U Cup/Stanley cup since the late 20th century.
The similarities pretty well end there, New York’s second team was a very hard one to find a comparable for.
Columbus Blue Jackets: McGill
When a coach implements a solid defensive plan and sticks to it, often it can result in winning. Whether that coach goes by the name of John Tortorella or Liam Heelis, the system has proven successful.
We had input comparing Columbus to St.FX as well, seeing the upsets both pulled off by the school and the Blue Jackets, but the well-coached, defensive structure stood out more. The Blue Jackets nor McGill are the most exhilarating teams to watch, but they get the job done on a nightly basis, and in the playoffs, what more could you ask for.
Montreal Canadiens: Toronto Varsity Blues
If the New York Islanders were the most difficult team to find a comparable, the 2020 Montreal Canadiens were the easiest.
The most-storied NHL franchise has a record 24 Stanley Cup championships, Toronto has a nation leading 41 U Cups and neither have won in over 20 years. The hard-working dryspell for the two teams makes them an easy comparable, but there’s more.
Both teams have avid users of the TikTok app with Toronto’s Joey Manchurek and Montreal’s Brendan Gallagher and both teams are backstopped by highlight-reel netminders in Alex Bishop and Carey Price, drawing even more comparisons between the two.
Being one of Canada’s oldest hockey team’s the Varsity Blues have also had a number of alumni go onto the NHL, including Chuck Luksa, who was drafted by the Canadeins in round 10 of the 1974 NHL Amateur Draft.
So did you follow along? Here is the bracket for the real life NHL Playoffs, and below are the matchups in terms of the U SPORTS comparables.
Ottawa Gee-Gees VS Western Mustangs
Guelph Gryphons VS Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
Mount Royal Cougars VS Calgary Dinos
UBC Thunderbirds VS RMC Paladins
Ryerson Rams VS Toronto Varsity Blues
Alberta Golden Bears VS McGill
SMU Huskies VS Acadia Axemen
UNB Reds vs Brock Badgers