Vancouver, BC – March is upon us, which also means that Canada West men’s hockey playoff action is here as well. Four teams have emerged after a long season filled with twists and turns to fill out the semi-final berths. On the line? A trip to the Canada West finals and a spot at the David Johnston University Cup.
With the semi-final action starting tonight, here’s a look at the matchups coming up.
Semi-final 1: Calgary Dinos vs Alberta Golden Bears
Battle of Alberta, Canada West edition. This promises to be a fascinating series with two good programs with a historic rivalry. Both teams have a lot to play for, not just for bragging rights. For Alberta, they’ll be looking to avenge a bitter upset defeat to UBC in the 2020 Canada West semi-finals, while Calgary will want to secure their first national appearance since 2015.
From the outset, the Edmontonians look to be heavily favoured. Alberta put together a stunning 9-1-0-0 run in the second half of the season to finish top of Canada West, their record of 16-3-1, placing them four points above the second-place challenger. As for Calgary, the Dinos continued their average regular season, finishing a comfortable 5th place in the conference. However, an upset victory over the Saskatchewan Huskies in the first round of the playoffs is sure to have given the Dinos the confidence they need heading into this series.
Alberta has a wealth of talent to call its own. This team defines depth, oozing chemistry and ability at every corner. The forward trio of Gary Haden, Josh Prokop, and Eric Florchuk led the way with a point-per-game pace for the Bears, while the depth scoring held up their end too. 14 of the 23 Golden Bear skaters dressed this season tallied double-digit point totals.
In net, they have two excellent netminders to call upon at a moment’s notice. Taz Burman and Nick Schneider split the season amongst themselves in stellar fashion. Burman stacked up 1.95 GAA on a 0.919 SV%, while Schneider posted 2.04 GAA with a 0.921 SV%. In all, this Alberta team seems to have no holes heading into the semi-finals.
As for the Dinos, they rely more on an all-hands on deck approach to their games. Neither high-scoring nor stingy in defence, this team will grind out wins however possible. At times, Calgary looked dominant against the Huskies, while it was much rougher at other times. Riley Stotts, Kaden Elder, and Connor Gutenberg were the leading point-getters for the Dinos, while the rest put up decent production through the regular season.
Where Calgary’s success will come from is between the pipes. Brodan Salmond had a rough year, 3.21 GAA and 0.893 SV%, the netminder, shut the door against the Huskies. If he can keep up his 2.50 GAA and 0.921 SV% efforts against the Bears, there’s a chance for an upset to happen against their in-province rivals.
Semi-final 2: Mount Royal Cougars vs UBC Thunderbirds
This is a mouth-watering matchup. MRU and UBC are closely matched, with teams capable of putting up goals in bunches. Much of the focus has to be on the Cougar’s offence, the second-best in Canada West, going up against the Thunderbirds’ defence, also the second-best in the conference. UBC will be trying to make their second national appearance in a row, while MRU is looking to break through to the David Johnston Cup for the first time in program history.
There’s not much that separates these two. UBC wasn’t as hot in the second half of the season as the first, finishing second in the conference with a 14-5-1 record. Meanwhile, MRU overcame a tough start to the season and went on a run, their record of 13-6-0 good enough for third in Canada West. There’s a lot to like in both these teams, and with how close they were during the season, the games promise to be exciting.
The Cougar’s offensive might is something to behold. Nolan Yaremko and Riley Sawchuk put a torch to opposing defences. Yaremko finished the season top of the points chart with 39, while Sawchuk wasn’t far behind with 38. With a supporting cast of Ryley Lindgren and Bradley Kennedy, among many others, MRU can count on explosive scoring throughout the lineup sheet.
Where the Achilles heel might lie is in their goalie. While Riley Morris hasn’t been underwhelming, he hasn’t outright stolen any games for the Cougars either. They haven’t needed him to – MRU’s outscored most of their problems all year. However, with a pedestrian 3.03 GAA and a 0.893 SV%, what happens if the goals dry up in front of him?
As for the Thunderbirds, it’s a balanced approach with excellent tools up-front. Captain Tyler Sandhu leads by example, his 23 points good enough for fourth in the conference. Defenseman Jonathan Smart supplies quite the firepower from the backend, matching Sandhu’s point totals on the year. While UBC might not have the transcendent goal-scoring abilities of their playoff foe, there’s plenty of personnel that can supply the offence.
The story of the 2019-20 Thunderbirds run was goaltender Rylan Toth. He nearly singlehandedly stole playoff games en route to the Canada West final, and the fifth year has shown what he can do once again this season. Though the one-time Vancouver Canuck’s numbers might have fallen off a bit, Toth still finished with an excellent 2.34 GAA on an impressive 0.920 SV%, along with leading Canada West in shutouts. Now with a team that can support his efforts in front of him, there’s no telling how far the Thunderbirds will be able to go.
Both semi-finals get started tonight. Alberta and Calgary’s puck drop is set for 7:00 PM MST, while MRU and UBC get underway at 7:30 PST. Teams will play in a best of three series, with all games available on Canada West TV.