TORONTO, ON – The UPEI Panthers have their spot clinched at the U SPORTS U CUP as hosts, but as the Acadia Axemen showed in 2022, that’s not a tournament that the team should limp into.
With the U CUP fast approaching on March 15 and just a handful of games remaining in the regular season before playoffs begin in late February, the calendar is starting to turn to the time when programs want to hit their maximum potential.
At this point, we’re starting to see what teams are contenders, pretenders, and totally out of it.
49 Sports has “power-ranked” every team in U SPORTS based on their form and favour heading into the regular season’s final month.
This article includes the top five and full ranking. If you missed ranks #10-#6, CLICK HERE.
1 – Calgary Dinos
There is no doubt that the Calgary Dinos are the best team in U SPORTS right now, as they continue to ride their Canada West record 19-game win streak. They’re miles ahead of the competition in their conference right now, and they don’t look like they are slowing down.
The Dinos managed to navigate a difficult couple of weeks without head coach Mark Howell and mainstay defenceman Noah King, but got both of them back just in time for the Crowchild Classic and a hard-fought win over fellow Calgary contenders, the MRU Cougars.
In particular, King hasn’t lost a game this season through his time with the Dinos and with Team Canada.
On the attack, the Dinos are generating the fourth most expected goals (xG) with 3.9 per game in U SPORTS, only trailing Alberta’s 4.5 in Canada West. Despite not leading many statistical categories, they’ve won their big games against Alberta and MRU, quickly establishing themselves as the most consistent winning team in Canada.
As they look ahead to the post-season, they’re the Canada West favourites by far, and anything but a U CUP appearance is a disappointment.
For playoff success, they’ll have to cut down on shots against and continue to ride the hot hand of rookie netminder Carl Tetachuk in goal, who has looked near impenetrable through their 18-game winning streak.
Really, at this point, they’re favourites for the U CUP, but there’s still a distance to go for the Dinos to reach their desired destiny.
2 – UNB Reds
The UNB Reds are a perennial contender in U SPORTS hockey, and they’ve picked up the pace this season and down the stretch. While the 2022 U CUP didn’t go to plan, a first-round exit to the TMU Bold, they’ve got their sights set on titles again this season.
Led by head coach Gardiner MacDougall, who recently led three Reds and Team Canada to gold at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, UNB sits atop the AUS standings at the end of January. While they aren’t dominating, they’re playing smart hockey.
UNB’S 4.8 xG per game sits atop U SPORTS, and they’re delivering as well, with 4.6 goals per game, as their conversion on high percentage chances is consistent and atop the nation. Their powerplay, clicking along at 28%, is best in U SPORTS by 1.9%.
Although they’ve been strong on special teams, nearly every player makes the most of their five-on-five opportunities, with Austen Keating and Brady Gilmour leading the way as 200-foot players. Meanwhile, Isaac Nurse has avoided a sophomore slump and averages the 10th most shots-per-game in U SPORTS with 4.5.
Jason Wilms and Cody Morgan sit as UNB’s top two scorers with 24 and 23 points a piece.
In net, they’ve found consistency with Samuel Richard, who has thrived with the program as a rookie after getting a chance to train with renowned goaltender coach Ian Clarke and the Vancouver Canucks at NHL Rookie Camp. Through 20 games, he leads the AUS with a .938 save percentage.
UNB’s standards are incredibly high, and the expectations of the fanbase are as well. With the team heating up at the right time and playing intelligent hockey, they’re well on their way to a ninth U SPORTS men’s hockey championship.
3 – Alberta Golden Bears
The Alberta Golden Bears haven’t had a dominant season as they’ve transitioned away from a veteran core that got them to OT of the U CUP last season. Yet, with the likes of rookies such as Jakin Smallwood, they’ve been able to maintain their high standards.
Led offensively by Josh Prokop’s 17 goals and 34 points, the Golden Bears are just three points off Calgary’s pace and look to be a contender for the U SPORTS National Championship once again.
Smallwood isn’t far behind with 32 points to his name.
As well, the Golden Bears lead the nation in most categories, being th only team to average five goals per game while generating over 25 scoring chances per game. They also lead Canada West in scoring, with 131 goals for 23 ahead of the Calgary Dinos.
With Dawson Davidson, Dylan Plouffe and Jared Freadrich acting as responsible two-way defencemen, there isn’t much of a weak point for the Golden Bears this season, outside of their struggles against Calgary, who they’ve lost twice to.
4 – SMU Huskies
There’s a big step off from the top-three ranked teams in our power rankings and the SMU Huskies, who find themselves as our fourth pick.
The Huskies had a bit of a down year last season after losing star forward Mitch Balmas during the COVID break. Still, they’ve refound their swagger building from the backend with FISU gold medalists Matt Welsh in net and Justin MacPherson, who was a highly sought-after recruit, on the blue line. They’ve also got Andrew Coxhead down the middle, who thrived as a defensive forward.
MacPherson also has 22 points, second in team scoring.
Led by second-year head coach Tyler Naugler, the Huskies are U SPORTS’ strongest team in the offensive zone faceoff dots, leading the nation with a 58.5% success rate. Meanwhile, they’re converting on chances with an xG of 3.5 goals per game and a translation of 3.3 goals each night.
Nathan Dunkley’s ability to control play and find pockets of space in the offensive zone has helped him to a team-leading 24 points, pushed ahead by his 17 assists. At the same time, Jackson Bellamy and Keith Getson have been strong in front of goal.
The Huskies have had down points this season for sure, notably a pair of losses to UNB and one to Acadia; they’re playing calm hockey and the type of game that could bring success in the playoffs and good form into the elimination stages.
5 – UQTR Patriotes
The 2022 U SPORTS and OUA Champions didn’t take a step back in 2022-23, and they’re the top OUA team heading into the final stretch of the regular season and likely the top seed in the Queen’s Cup Playoffs.
Led by goaltender Alexis Gravel and the trio of FISU gold medalists Simon LaFrance, Justin Bergeron and Zachary Lavigne, the Patriotes have vaulted their way up the OUA standings. They have a seven-point lead on Concordia, the next-best team in the OUA East.
Their playing style has been notably different than that of other U SPORTS contenders, however, as they’re the only current top three team in any division to rank top five in hits per game across U SPORTS. UQTR averages 14.3 hits per game, while the only other playoff-bound team within the top five is UPEI at 16 hits per game.
With Lafrance continuing to barrel ahead of the national scoring charts with 15 goals and 35 points through 21 games, the Patriotes are well suited to make another OUA and U CUP run come the end of February and March.
FULL U SPORTS MEN’S HOCKEY POWER RANKINGS:
- Calgary Dinos
- UNB Reds
- Alberta Golden Bears
- SMU Huskies
- UQTR Patriotes
- Windsor Lancers
- TMU Bold
- Lakehead Thunderwolves
- Concordia Stingers
- UPEI Panthers
- StFX X-Men
- MRU Cougars
- McGill Red Birds
- Ontario Tech Ridgebacks
- Brock Badgers
- UBC Thunderbirds
- Saskatchewan Huskies
- Toronto Varsity Blues
- Moncton Aigles Bleus
- Carleton Ravens
- Queen’s Gaels
- Ottawa Gee-Gees
- York Lions
- MacEwan Griffins
- Guelph Gryphons
- Manitoba Bisons
- Laurier Golden Hawks
- Western Mustangs
- Acadia Axemen
- Waterloo Warriors
- RMC Paladins
- Nipissing Lakers
- Regina Cougars
- Dalhousie Tigers
- TWU Spartans