TORONTO, ONT – Students will flock to the arena, and the chants cheering on the MRU Cougars and Calgary Dinos will once again fill the halls of Calgary’s Saddledome.
For the first time since COVID-19, the Crowchild Classic returns as the men’s and women’s hockey teams of the Calgary Dinos and MRU Cougars battle for cowtown supremacy at the NHL’s most-aging arena.
The Crowchild Classic returns on Friday, Jan. 27, with the women’s game at 4:00pm MT and the men’s at 6:45pm MT.
While the rink may be barely up to NHL standards, there’s nothing more special than the Crowchild Classic in Canada West hockey, with thousands of fans packing the Flames’ NHL barn with hopes of a legendary game.
Other schools have their big games, whether it be UBC’s Winter Classic or Carleton/uOttawa’s Colonel By Classic, yet the Cowchild Classic is the true crown jewel on the U SPORTS regular season schedule.
This year, too, it’s going to be exceptional. The Dinos men rank #1 in U SPORTS and are riding a 17-game win streak, and they’ll face off against the Cougars, who sit third in Canada West, led by the outstanding play of Nolan Yaremko and Riley Sawchuk.
If there were ever a matchup to mark the return of a headline event, it’s this one.
MHKY: FISU gold medalists return for Calgary and face best of U SPORTS
There aren’t many players in U SPORTS better set to charge towards the U CUP than defenceman Noah King, fresh off a gold medal with Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU Games, where he played significant minutes against testing competition.
While all players have played in front of sizeable junior crowds, few match the atmosphere of the Crowchild Classic. However, for King, it won’t be a distraction, having recently defeated Team USA in a gold medal game in front of a sold-out crowd at Lake Placid’s 1980 rink.
King led Canada’s backend at the University Games with five points, the fifth most by any defenceman at the Games, while ensuring that Canada only conceded eight goals through the seven games.
He’s not been bad offensively in Canada West competition either, with three goals and 10 points, while operating as more of a shutdown defenceman.
At the Saddledome, he’ll face some of the best in U SPORTS, looking to shut down Riley Sawchuk and Nolan Yaremko, who sit first and second in Canada West scoring for the second straight season. Sawchuk leads with 18 goals and 43 points in 21 games, while Yaremko sits at 13 goals and 38 points through 22 Canada West contests.
Yet King won’t be the only gold-medal boon for the Dinos at the ‘Dome, with head coach Mark Howell also returning to the bench after serving as GM and assistant coach with Team Canada alongside head coach Gardiner MacDougall.
Riding a 17-game win streak and tying the conference record for consecutive wins, originally set by the Alberta Golden bears during the 1978-79 season, the Dinos will look to channel the crowd’s electric energy and the golden form from Lake Placid.
MHKY: How long can Carl Tetachuk stay hot, and a brewing goalie battle
It’s not often that rookie goaltenders stand out among the rest in U SPORTS, but it’s been the case with Dinos netminder Carl Tetachuk, who comes into the tilt with a .902 save percentage and a record of 14-2.
There’s no doubt that Tetachuk has been important through Calgary’s run, and he’s taken the reigns since he got his first opportunity with the program. Although he had some trouble against the Cougars the 7-2 loss ahead of the streak, he’s provided strong goaltending on the regular through the win streak.
In the opposing crease, his counterparts are not far behind, with Riley Sims and Jackson Berry having split starts this season, both with a similar save percentage. Berry sits below the aforementioned pair with a .899 save percentage but has delivered in net, while Sims is the second-best goaltender in the conference with a .910 save percentage.
Although save percentage isn’t everything, the goaltending battle at the Saddledome features some of the category leaders, as they’ll hope to lead their teams’ defensive efforts against two high-octane attacks, which have also been the stingiest defences in the conference.
WHKY: Calgary’s five-game win streak, FISU roster players return
It’s not just the men’s Calgary Dinos in great form and getting players back from the FISU Games, as the women’s team looks for a sixth straight win as they het up ahead of the playoffs. They’ll also welcome back goaltender Ella Howard from the FISU Games, where she represented Team Great Britain. That said, expect Gabriela Durante to start in the Dinos’ goal.
The Dinos aren’t the quietest team on the blue line, yet Durante has come up big for them in goal, making 34 saves against the Regina Cougars just last weekend while boasting a .927 save percentage through 21 games this season.
She’s up against a tough test, however, as MRU’s Tatum Amy, who was initially on the roster for Team Canada at the FISU Games, will lead a Cougars team in search of critical playoff points. The Birtle, MB native leads Canada West with seven goals and 25 points.
“The natural rivalry is always entertaining, but playing the game at the Dome with our fellow Dinos filling the crowd is a unique experience and one that we all look forward to,” said Dinos head coach Carla MacLeod, who will coach her first Crowchild Classic since taking over the role in 2021. “These are moments you want to take in and enjoy. This game is a perk of being a Dino.”
Although both teams are likely playoff bound, the points up for grabs at the Saddledome will be critical for post-season seeding, particularly for cracking the top three that will hold home-ice advantage through the first round.