WOLFVILLE, NS – Since 2012, the AUS and Canada West teams have always been in the U CUP final.
While that is bound to change, with one conference seeing its streak end in an all OUA semifinal, there are strong reasons to believe the two dominant conferences in recent history will come away with another title.
With a disrupted season, the 2022 U SPORTS Playoffs have ben filled with stunning results from across the country, and an enigma wraps the competition entering the final stages.
Remaining are the Queen’s Cup Champion UQTR Patriotes, Canada West Champion Alberta Golden Bears, AUS runner-up StFX X-Men, and the electric OUA third seed Ryerson Rams.
StFX is looking to capture their first banner since 2004, while Alberta looks to keep the good times rolling under head coach Ian Herbers and win their first title since 2018, when they won in New Brunswick.
Alberta Golden Bears: Young and eager rookie depth
With UNB gone, the historic road to the cup got a lot smoother for the Golden Bears, but that’s not why they could win the U CUP in 2022. For Alberta, their rookie depth will push them to a title.
Alberta has outscored their opponent in their last two games by a combined 14-0, and both came with their opponent playing against elimination. In those two games, 11 players have put their names on the scoresheet. First it was a 7-0 win against UBC to complete the Canada West Final sweep, and then a dominant 7-0 trouncing of the Acadia Axemen in the U CUP quarter-final.
Before March, 15 Golden Bears had not played in an Alberta playoff game.
They were unfazed through a dominant 60 minutes against the host Acadia Axemen, going about their scoring without worrying about the raucous home crowd. Facing the StFX X-Men in the semifinal is a tougher test, but silencing the maritime crowd will be critical.
Adding former Vancouver Giant Dylan Plouffe, yet another rookie, to the lineup late in the playoffs after he was out for several weeks was a massive boon for the Bears, and further emphasizes the depth they have compared to opponents.
Plouffe had assists on two of Alberta’s first three goals against Acadia in the quarter-final.
While every team remaining in the U CUP has immense quality, the Bears have unparalleled depth in front of an agile goaltender in Taz Burman. With those qualities combined with head coach Ian Herber’s success at the tournament, the Alberta Golden Bears will win the 2022 U CUP.
StFX X-Men: Hawel and History
Over the last five seasons, Brad Peddle’s StFX X-Men have had two scoring lines and two lines with a defence-first mindset. In 2022 however, the X-Men can roll four lines when looking for a goal and feature a rookie superstar in U SPORTS Rookie of the Year, Liam Hawel.
While Hawel may still be settling into playoff hockey, he found space and time against UNB in the AUS final and tormented the Brock Badgers defence in the first game of the U CUP. Although facing the Golden Bears will be tough, he shouldn’t be pushed after finding scoring lanes in Fredricton, NB.
AUS teams have had a spot in the U CUP Final since 2015, and the X-Men are the last Atlantic squad remaining. With that, they not only have recent history on their side but the power of a crowd, as 1800+ fans packed the Andrew H. McCain Arena for the quarter-final against Brock.
While Hawel’s offensive output will likely determine StFX’s fate, the play of veteran goaltender Joseph Rayymakers will be critical, especially against the three teams remaining.
“It’s focusing on one game at a time,” Raaymakers said after their win against Brock. “Playoffs are all about outplaying the other goaltender and giving your team a chance to win.”
With UNB and Acadia out of the way, StFX becomes the home team at the Nova Scotia tournament and will ride the home crowd and Liam Hawel to their 2022 U CUP victory.