TORONTO, ON – The only conference that didn’t pause in the new year, Canada West is entering the playoffs earlier than its counterparts in Atlantic Canada and Ontario. For the first time in nearly two years, teams will battle through the bracket, with hopes of earning a spot at the U CUP in Wolfville, Nova Scotia.
In the 2019-20 Canada West playoffs, the UBC Thunderbirds pushed through all the way to the final, and they’ve not slowed down since then, earning one of the byes in the conference as the second-ranked team behind the ever-powerful Alberta Golden Bears.
In 2021-22, Calgary and Saskatchewan want to put their stamp on the playoffs, while MRU wants to forget a tough start to the year, and Regina looks to turn heads and book a ticket to the Maritimes.
While playoff hockey is always fun, there might need to be some rebranding consideration with the Regina Cougars and Mount Royal Cougars facing off in the first round.
Playoff hockey starts Friday night, best-of-three series. Hold on tight.
Saskatchewan Huskies (#4) vs Calgary Dinos (#5)
Saskatchewan Huskies (13-7-1-0)
The Saskatchewan Huskies did not want to be in this position. Yes, they’re hosting a playoff series, but it’s a quarterfinal series before they will have to visit one of the top two seeds for the semi-final. After adding Olympic champion Head Coach Mike Babcock and a skilled recruiting class, the program had top two and a bye in mind.
However, the regular season passed, and they’re fourth, stuck playing a quarterfinal series against the Calgary Dinos, who have been strong since the break. While lifting COVID-19 restrictions will allow a home crowd to buoy the Huskies, they are in for a test against Calgary.
The Huskies rely on the top of their lineup for a lot of their scoring. Zane Franklin leads the team with 26 points but has been slow in the last six games with just three points and a single goal. While he has a group led by Jared Dmyrtriw behind him, the production hasn’t been there from the top of the lineup recently.
Saskatchewan struggled early in the season to find their rhythm and style of play, but former AHL defender Connor Hobbs helped dictate that from the blue line in the new year. However, the big difference for the Huskies will be their performance in goal, which has been subpar all season.
While they stand middle of the pack in goals conceded, Roddy Ross, Travis Child and newcomer Jordan Kooy all have to save percentages below .890. Facing a Calgary team that is evenly balanced throughout the lineup, the Huskies’ forward-heavy play could cost them. However, being at home likely levels the playing field.
Calgary Dinos (12-7-1-1)
Visiting the Saskatchewan Huskies is never an easy task in Canada West but in 2021-22, its as easy as it has been in years. For the Calgary Dinos, it might be the perfect matchup to push them on a run, as defeating Babock’s Huskies could propel them through higher-ranked opponents, potentially UBC.
The Dinos’ offence has been dispersed throughout their lineup this season, with their top four scorers all within a point of each other. Although nobody has stood out on the scoresheet, their threats from all areas of the lineup can challenge any opponent, especially a top-heavy Huskies team.
While Calgary wasn’t stellar before the new year, their five wins in eight games have them in form and ready to take on a challenging away series.
There is no doubt that this series will be tough for both teams, making the semi-final series more challenging with tired legs.
PREDICTION: Saskatchewan wins in three games
Mount Royal Cougars (#3) vs Regina Cougars (#6)
Mount Royal Cougars (13-6-0-1)
If the Mount Royal Cougars aren’t playing in the semi-final, there is a much bigger problem. Throughout the season, Canada West has been split into three different levels, and they’re taking on a Regina Cougars team that has been the best of the bad. MRU is thriving, they’re top-quality, and should easily walk through the quarter-fianls.
But — crazier things have happened.
There is really no reason why Mount Royal should lose. After a slow start to the season, they have come back in the new year and rattled off a quick seven wins, with their top scorers Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko leading the league in points, the only two players in Canada West above 30 points.
Since having some issues holding leads earlier in the season, MRU has sorted things out and is rolling into the playoffs. Led by their top-scorers and aided by a solid defence headlined by Tyson Helgesen, the MRU are in a prime position to advance to the semi-finals.
Regina Cougars (10-9-0-1)
If the Regina Cougars come out as winners in the quarter-finals, it will come down to stellar play from veteran goaltender Brandon Holtby. While Regina was the only team to hold their goal differential at even, there is very little special about their team outside of the crease.
Connor Chaulk and Turner Ripplinger have led the team offensively, but have yet to spring together with a hot streak, something they would need for the playoffs. Overall, like Calgary, the offensive contributions have been spread throughout the lineup.
On the blueline, fourth-year defender and former Lethbridge Hurrican Brennan Riddle contribute to the scoring, more than doubling his career-high in points this season from his first two years with Regina.
Regina is the underdog against MRU but does have a chance to steal a game like they nearly did on Jan. 21 in a 4-3 loss to Mount Royal. All that said, it would take a massive effort to stop a rolling MRU team.
Prediction: MRU sweeps the series 2-0