VANCOUVER, BC – Canada West hockey has been on pause for a while now. As the seasons shift and the air becomes colder, the familiar noises of sticks and pucks and skates on ice are filling the rinks once more.
For women’s hockey out west, things are looking much different than how they were in the 2019-20 season. Two new teams will be in the mix, with the Trinity Western Spartans and MacEwan Griffins joining Canada West, pushing the number of teams to 9 after the Lethbridge Pronghorns bid farewell to their hockey programs.
Here’s how the teams are shaping up for the fall season.
It’s a strong crew in Edmonton. Coming off a dominant performance in 2019-20 that saw them romp to yet another Canada West title, the Pandas enter the 2020-21 campaign with many familiar faces. Though leading scorers Autumn MacDougall and Kennedy Ganser have graduated, expect Madison Willan to step up the offense in their absence.
Longtime netminders Kirsten Chamberlin and Halle Oswald also return between the pipes. It’s a fearsome tandem, the duo holding some of the best numbers in Canada. Chamberlin posted a 0.79 goals against in 2019-20, while Oswald put up a 1.29.
A mix of veteran experience along with exciting new recruits makes this Panda team tremendously exciting to watch this year. With how they ran circles around most of their Canada West opposition, it’s hard to imagine this season turning out any different.
Player to Watch: Hayleigh Craig
Calgary always seems to come up short against their northern Alberta counterparts. 2019-20 was their best season in a long time, finishing with 56 points on the year, and it was still not enough to overcome the Pandas. They finished 2nd in Canada West but bowed out in the first round of the playoffs.
This year, the Dinos are hoping that they can break through that barrier. Leading scorer Elizabeth Lang returns for another season, while Sara Craven has graduated. They’ll also have a new face between the pipes, as Gabriella Durante takes over from Kelsey Roberts.
A new face is also behind the bench in Sara MacLeod. Formerly from Edge School, she’s most known for being part of a Wisconsin Badgers side that made their first Frozen Four appearance in 2005. With MacLeod at the helm, the Dinos will be sporting a veteran-heavy roster that looks to make it into the Canada West final.
Player to Watch: Taylor Beck
Hello to the new kids on the block part one. The Griffins are the newest addition to the Canada West family, which also means that we haven’t really seen much of them. In the early preseason though, they’ve been able to put up a decent fight against some very strong programs. Don’t let the 0-7 record deceive you: the Griffins are playing good hockey.
They also are a very young team. A large chunk of the roster is in their first or second years. For MacEwan, don’t expect them to be contenders right away. There will be growing pains, but this team might well become a force in 2-3 years from now.
Player to Watch: Jennifer Andrash
The 2019-20 season was a tough one for the Bisons. Finishing second to last, they’re looking to bounce back in a big way after a one-year layoff. On the plus side, they have a good young group heading into the year.
Their leading scorer of the campaign, Jordyn Zacharias, has now stepped into an assistant coaching position. Hopefully, she can impart some of her abilities onto the players, as the Bisons struggled mightily to score in 2019-20. They finished dead last in goals for with 34 on the season and will be looking to improve that this year.
It will be another growing season for Manitoba, but there’s reason to be optimistic. Their defense returns mostly intact, and there’s plenty of talent and room for development. Who knows, perhaps they could sneak into a playoff position come the end of the year.
Player to Watch: Kate Gregoire
Mount Royal Cougars
The Cougars surprised everyone in the 2019-20 season with their run to the Canada West finals. Though they finished a respectable 4th in the regular season, most pegged Calgary to end their playoffs in the semis. Mount Royal looks to continue their momentum this season and make sure no one bets against them.
Anna Purschke returns for another campaign, having starred offensively with 18 points. Mount Royal aren’t just going to rely on her, as the now third year Breanne Trotter will be called upon to improve her strong production. It’s a more experienced lineup they’ll ice, with key leadership figures that were part of their run to nationals.
Kaitlyn Ross was the rookie sensation of last season. Having supplanted Cassie Shokar as the starting goalie, she went on to post an incredible 1.14 GAA on a 0.943 SV%. That put her in second, just behind Kirsten Chamberlin in Canada West. She’ll be coming into this season with a stronger team in front of her, and for the Cougars, they’ll be hoping for a championship in their future.
Player to Watch: Kaitlyn Ross
It’s going to be a bit of a rebuild year for the Regina Cougars. Coming off a respectable 5th place finish in Canada West, the team will look quite a lot different than before. For one, Jaycee Magwood has graduated, meaning that the Cougars will need someone to step into that void.
Jane Kish has also left the team, meaning that Regina are icing a first year tandem in goal. Natalie Williamson and Arden Kliewer will be splitting the starts, and while they may be inexperienced, they have put together solid junior statistics heading into their university career.
Regina also has a much younger team on their hands. The majority of their roster is made up of first and second years, with a handful of older players. It might get rough at certain points of the season, but the Cougars appear to be playing the long game. Look not at this season, but the next couple to see the results.
Player to Watch: Charly Lindberg
Like their in province rivals, Saskatchewan is also sporting a much younger roster. It could be for the better though, as their 3rd place regular season came to a disappointing end in the first round of the playoffs, getting swept by UBC.
Bailee Bourassa will reprise her role as the centerpiece of the offense, entering her 5th and final year of eligibility. The Huskies will want more out of their other players though, as outside of her teammates Abby Shirley and Sophie Lalor, no other player cracked the top 20 scoring. Saskatchewan doesn’t have to worry about the situation in goal though with Camryn Drever returning for another year between the pipes.
Expectations should be lowered slightly for the Huskies. That doesn’t mean they can’t make noise, however. They still have their strong first line and an excellent netminder. Perhaps one of their young recruits could step up and really make Saskatchewan a fearsome challenger.
Player to Watch: Jasper DesMarais
Trinity Western Spartans
The second new team in Canada West. The Langley based school instantly becomes the closest geographic rivals to UBC with their games sure to draw a crowd. However, the results might not be there from day one.
The Spartans are chalk full for first years, with only two third years on the entire roster. A young lineup will allow them to grow together but don’t expect them to challenge for a playoff spot right off the bat. They’ve strugged in preseason games, though their most recent one against UBC showed promise. Perhaps with a season under their belts, they can establish themselves in the conference next year.
Player to Watch: Jadeyn Kastning
The T-Birds had an underdog run to the Canada West semifinals in 2019-20, losing out the MRU in a tight fought series. This team has gone under a lot of changes since then though, with key offensive and defensive players graduating.
Chief among these departures are goalie Tory Micklash, forward Hannah Clayton-Carroll, and defender Mikayla Ogrodniczuk. These three have been foundational pieces for the T-Birds for the past 5 seasons, and replacing their presence is something that they will desperately need to do in order to make the playoffs again.
They do have a very strong recruiting class to help though. Kayla McDougall was one of the most sought after goalie prospects in the country after a stellar 1.67 GAA for the Stoney Creek Sabres. Annalise Wong from Richmond, BC also brings a strong scoring pedigree, posting 43 points in 44 games in her last season of junior.
For a more in-depth preview of the UBC Thunderbirds, click here
Player to Watch: Kayla McDougall
1. Alberta Pandas
2. Mount Royal Cougars
3. Calgary Dinos
4. Saskatchewan Huskies
5. UBC Thunderbirds
6. Manitoba Bisons
7. Regina Cougars
8. MacEwan Griffins
9. Trinity Western Spartans