Rounding up Canada West MHKY after the first half

VANCOUVER, BC – With the Canada West hockey season going on winter holidays, it’s a good chance to take a look at how each school performed in their fall back. It’s been anything but a normal competition season, but the teams have made the best of it. Any bit of normalcy goes a long way nowadays. 

Without further ado, here’s how Canada West men’s hockey played out.

Alberta Golden Bears

(Nina Baroso – Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas)

After starting the year of 2-2, the Golden Bears quickly found their footing, streaking into the holiday break with 7 wins in their last 8 games. Alberta is showing why they are perennially a contender in the nation, this season just emphasizing their consistency as they sit second going into 2022.  

Alberta has done a good job offensively and defensively, scoring the most goals and giving up the second least against so far into their season. The goalie tandem in net has been a key part of that record. Taz Burman and former ECHL goaltender Nick Schneider have been stellar in the crease, sharing 6 starts each thus far. Burman is sporting a 2.07 GAA with a .917 SV%, while Schneider has a sparkling 1.69 GAA to go with a .929 SV%. 

The offensive firepower of the Golden Bears is something to behold as well. The usual culprits are performing as expected, such as Grayson Pawlenchuk’s point per game pace. It’s also encouraging to see the depth of scoring the Bears have, with 10 players having recorded more than 10 points through 12 games. Former Kamloops Blazer Ryan Hughes is leading the way with 14 points in his first Canada West season, while Medicine Hat alum Gary Haden isn’t far behind with 13. 

In short, Alberta has been rolling with a balanced offense and incredibly solid defense. Look for much of the same to continue into the new year as they try to make more noise at the national level. 

Calgary Dinos

(David Moll – Calgary Dinos)

The Dinos are in the top half of the Canada West standings… barely. It’s a crew that teeters on the brink of constant mediocrity, and this year is no different. Calgary is much closer to the middle of the pack as opposed to the top three. 

If anything exemplifies the sheer averageness of the Dinos, it’s their dead even goals against and goals for. Sitting on 37 apiece for the season, it doesn’t move the needle in any major direction and unfortunately, Canada West needs better than that to compete. 

Brodan Salmond unfortunately has taken a small step back this year. The Dinos’ defacto starter, he’s posted a pedestrian 3.13 goals against with a 0.898 SV%. There’s still plenty of time to boost those stats but he won’t be stealing any games for Calgary. 

Offensively the Dinos have been challenged as well. Outside of Riley Stotts, Kaden Elder, and Ryan Gagnon, no player on the roster has cracked 10 points. It’s only the halfway point, but there are some definite causes for concern. Calgary isn’t out of the question to make some noise in the playoffs as an underdog, however, they will want to take this break to try and get something going.

MacEwan Griffins 

Zach Webb is under heavy pressure from Alberta's Dylan Plouffe during Friday's game at the DCA. MacEwan lost both to their Edmonton rivals (Eduardo Perez photo).
(MacEwan Griffins)

The Griffins were the talk of week one Canada West action, sweeping aside the Regina Cougars to go 2-0 on the season. Unfortunately, the Cinderella slipper slipped, and MacEwan came crashing back down to earth. Currently sitting second to last with a record of 3-9-0, it’s a season chock-full of lessons for this young team. 

One storyline this year has been former Tampa Bay Lightning draft pick Ty Taylor’s re-emergence. The Richmond, BC native struggled in his time with the University of New Hampshire but has been a dependable rock for the Griffins thus far. Though his goals-against average is nothing special, keep in mind that Taylor is probably one of the biggest reasons why MacEwan is competitive in most games with a .903 SV%.

MacEwan was always going to have a tough first season in Canada West. There’s a young squad out there though, and this experience is going to make them stronger for the years to come.

Manitoba Bisons

colton veloso calgary dinos january 11 2020
(David Moll – Calgary Dinos)

Manitoba slumped out of the gate and it seems to have weighed down on them all year. Sitting in a distant 7th place, the Bisons have had quite the ordeal adjusting to life without Adam Henry. The lone bright spot so far? A 7-6 overtime win over the Alberta Golden Bears. 

It’s been a bit of a carousel in net, no thanks to an inexperienced blue line in front of them. Liam Hughes and Jeremy Link have split the duties and neither has really lept off of the stat sheet. Both are posting sub .900 save percents with goals-against averages over 3.5. Not the best numbers, and not a reflection on their play entirely as well.

Devon Solesky has been a player to watch for the Bisons thus far, posting a point-per-game pace that has sorely been needed. Former Dallas Stars 6th rounder Brett Davis is leading the way scoring-wise, with 15 points in 12 contests. 

It’s a rebuilding year for this program and there should be a lot of faith in them doing so. The Bisons are far from playoff contenders this season, but shouldn’t be counted out down the road. 

Mount Royal Cougars 

(MRU Cougars Athletics)

If there’s one term that could describe the Cougars, it would be top-heavy. MRU boasts the top two leading scorers in Canada West and is currently sitting in a tie for 5th in the conference. It’s not a bad place to be with a chance to really make some predictions implode. 

While Ryley Lindgren has taken a step back in his production this year after posting an insane 31 points in 2019-20, Nolan Yaremko and Riley Sawchuk have picked up the slack in a big fashion. Yaremko, the ex-AHLer, is leading the charts with 13 goals and 22 points, while Sawchuk is following up a strong 76 point campaign with the WHL Edmonton Oil Kings by putting up a Canada West-leading 12 assists for 20 points.

What has been an issue for Mount Royal is the number of goals they have conceded. Look no further than the last two games of 2021, giving up 7 goals in each game to the Saskatchewan Huskies. Riley Simms and Riley Morris will be looking to improve on some lackluster numbers, both very average in their split outings in the crease. 

There’s a ton of upset potential for the MRU Cougars. They have scoring talent abound, and if their defense and goalies can get on a hot streak, there’s no telling how far this squad could go. 

Regina Cougars

Brandon Holtby named Canada West Third Star of the Week - University of  Regina Athletics
(Regina Cougars Athletics)

It’s been a season of two halves for the Regina Cougars, and we’ve only gone through half of it. After starting the year off with 1 win in 6 games, Regina has gone on to win 5 of their next 6, dropping the only game in a shootout. Currently tied with the MRU Cougars, Regina has surprised a lot of pundits thus far. 

A big reason for their success has been Brandon Holtby. The fourth-year goaltender has been playing some of the best hockey of his life as of late, a 1.78 GAA with a .933 SV% in his last 5 starts. It was a very shaky start to his year that is currently dragging his stats down, but make no mistake: when Holtby is on his game, he is one of the best netminders in the conference. 

Leading the way points-wise is Connor Chaulk, as expected. With 13 points in 12 games, he’s supplemented by Turner Ripplinger and Tyler Heidt. Though the Cougars are most definitely still in the shadows of their in-province rivals, there are lots of positives within their own roster. 

The question now for 2022 is which Regina will we be seeing. Will it be the team that lost both games against MacEwan, or the team that shut out Alberta? There’s no telling what to expect, which makes it all the more intriguing to see how they get on after the break.

Saskatchewan Huskies

Carter Folk

Mike Babcock’s reign has kicked off with a bang for the Huskies. A small three-game skid aside, Saskatchewan has looked menacing against each and every opponent they have faced. Sitting third with a 9-3-0 record, Canada West’s second-most potent offense will look to duke it out against the other top 3 contenders. 

Former Hershey Bear Connor Hobbs has been one of the premier offensive defensemen in the conference. Posting 12 points in 10 games, he’s been dynamic and showing his experience at the AHL level. Zane Franklin leads the Huskie forwards in scoring, tacking on 15 points in 12 games. Franklin is joined by Jared Dmytriw, Donovan Neuls, and Gordon Ballhorn in the over 10 point club. 

Sask’s two netminders Roddy Ross and Travis Child have been dependable when needed, if not unremarkable. For these two, the mantra “boring is good” seems to apply perfectly. They’ve been solid if unspectacular, and with the roster the Huskies have, that’s good enough to contend at the top. 

The Huskies are a fearsome group. There’s a clear separation between the top three and the rest of the conference, so really, it could be a battle all the way until the playoffs begin for the top three seeds.

Trinity Western Spartans

(TWU Spartans Athletics)

Growing pains is the story of the Spartans. As they’ve stepped up from the BC Intercollegiate Hockey League, so has the competition. It’s taken them a bit to adapt and they might not see many tangible results in the near future. 

Talor Joseph and Isaac Labelle have been doing their best between the pipes, but the two are getting absolutely shelled. They haven’t gotten the run support they needed, with 15 goals through 2021, and have conceded 65 goals, leading Canada West. Talor has a 5.64 GAA, and Labelle has a 4.89 to show for their efforts. 

This year isn’t Trinity Western’s year, but they’ve already established a rivalry with local foes UBC. Their proximity and youth should make them an interesting group to watch in the coming years, but they’ll probably remain dead-last this season.

UBC Thunderbirds

Tian Rask vs Saskatchewan, Nov. 27, 2021
(UBC Thunderbirds Athletics)

Historic. That’s the only word that can describe UBC’s first half of the season. Not many would’ve pegged them to be leading the conference at the halfway mark, but with a record of 10-1-1, the Thunderbirds are taking flight. 

Thanks to their captain Tyler Sandhu’s 15 points leading the charge, his line of Kryski and Revel have been point-per-game and one of the best in Canada West. The offense doesn’t stop there, as Jonathan Smart leads all defensemen with 13 points at the break. There’s a lot of depth too, with multiple players knocking on the door of double digits already. 

One of the biggest reasons for success this year has been Rylan Toth. Returning for his final season of eligibility, the Saskatoon native has been nothing short of phenomenal. He leads Canada West in every metric, with a 1.63 GAA, .941 SV%, and 3 shutouts already. Toth doesn’t seem to be slowing down and is aging like a fine wine. 

Sven Butenschon looks to have found the perfect formula in his unit so far. It’ll be important to not only keep the good times rolling into 2022 but also get some rest during this time. This season might be one for UBC’s history books when all is said and done. 

Predictions for the end of the season

  1. UBC Thunderbirds 
  2. Saskatchewan Huskies
  3. Alberta Golden Bears 
  4. MRU Cougars
  5. Regina Cougars
  6. Calgary Dinos
  7. Manitoba Bisons 
  8. MacEwan Griffins
  9. TWU Spartans

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