WOLFVILLE, NS – A lot has changed since 2018, but one consistent is the Alberta Golden Bears in the University Cup men’s hockey final. For yet another season under the tutelage of head coach Ian Herbers, the Alberta boys will play for a gold medal.
After trouncing the hometown Acadia Axemen 7-0 in the first game, the Golden Bears kept rolling, scoring another seven goals in the semifinal, a 7-3 win against the home favoured StFX X-Men.
Here are three things we learned from Alberta’s semifinal win against StFX.
The powerplay is back
“That was the plan; we didn’t want to show too much in that first game,” Alberta’s Herbers joked about his team’s 0-3 powerplay against Acadia. But, on Saturday, their powerplay clicked, getting back to the strength they showed through the Canada West regular season.
Jared Freadrich opened the scoring for the Bears on the powerplay to bring them back level after StFXs Matthew Struthers put the local side up 1-0 early in the first. While Freadrich’s goal wasn’t spectacular, it broke the ice for the Golden Bears, who had struggled to find form on the man advantage.
The timing of the goal was critical. At the end of the first period, it allowed Alberta to enter intermission with the game level rather than trailing against an underdog X-Men program.
Eric Florchuk added a similar goal early in the second period, and Alberta didn’t look back en route to their semifinal victory.
Depth continues to be key
If there’s one thing Herbers likes to see, it’s the depth in his Golden Bears lineup. For an Alberta team that has relied on stars in the past, the program can roll all four lines and find contributors throughout their lineup.
Taking on an StFX team that loaded the top line with Matthew Struthers and Liam Hawel, the Golden Bears turned to their entire lineup, outmatching and outclassing the X-Men in every area of the game.
Through two games and 14 goals, 11 different players have hit the back of the net for the Golden Bears.
“I think that is the most important factor of our game all season,” Alberta’s Matt Fonteyne said. “Guys are stepping up at different times, and today they got some timely goals.”
While Clayton Kirichenko is leading the team from the blueline and is one of the only veterans, the scoring depth allows the Golden Bears flexibility in their lineup to turn to in every situation.
StFX is still a step back
Despite having over 1900 fans favouring them in Wolfville on Saturday, the X-Men did not look comfortable against the Golden Bears after the first period. While Alberta may be the best team in the nation and bound for the U CUP, STFX kept pace in the first but failed to maintain it throughout the game.
In comparison, they were able to push the UNB Reds to the brink in the AUS Championship in March but did not have the qualities to push on to beat one of the top two teams in the country.
Although captain Santino Centorame graduates after the bronze medal game, the X-Men have a young group that they can turn to for several years. Led by Hawel and Struthers, the X-Men will have to grow in the next few years while adding others to fill the void lost by veterans.
While they were outclassed and outplayed by the Golden Bears in 2022, their play, especially Struthers’ second goal, proved that they have the potential to go toe to toe with the best in the nation.
If the U CUP rounds were seven-game series, StFX could push an Alberta or UNB; however, they just lake that final step.
With their loss, the StFX X-Men advance to the U SPORTS bronze medal game to meet the loser of the Ryerson Rams and UQTR Patriotes Meanwhile, the Golden Bears keep the status quo punching their ticket to the U CUP Final to meet the winner of Ryerson and UQTR.
“Anything can happen in one game showdowns,” Herbers said. “We’ve played UQTR a couple of times and have some history, and we’ve done some studying on Ryerson these last few days. Two good teams.”
The 2022 University Cup Final is at 6:30 p.m. ET on Sunday on CBC Sports.