TORONTO, ON – There’s an aura of revenge and determination within the Alberta Golden Bears as they head into the 2023 U SPORTS men’s hockey championship.
After letting the 2022 U CUP slip through their grasp in the final moments against the UQTR Patriotes in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, the group is again back at the nationals, looking to avenge their disappointment.
However, this is a different Golden Bears team. No longer led by one of the Philp brothers, Luke and Noah are off to pro hockey careers, and this year, they’re not coming into the U CUP as Canada West champions or favourites.
Depending on how you look at it, the Golden Bears might just be underdogs when they hit the ice at the 2023 U CUP at PEI’s Eastlink Centre.
The Golden Bears take on the OUA runner-up Windsor Lancers in the opening round of the U CUP, and would play either the Calgary Dinos or UPEI Panthers in the second round. Puck drop for the first game is set for 12:00pm AT (9:00 am MT) on March 17.
Led by head coach Ian Herbers, the Golden Bears finished the Canada West season as runner-ups, falling to the #1 ranked Calgary Dinos in a tightly contested three-game Canada West final.
“We are still getting better,” he told Canada West after the final fame. “We haven’t even hit our peak yet going into nationals, and we will just keep playing our game.”
While they couldn’t come out of the season with a Canada West title, they were still one of the nation’s top teams, sporting a 20-5-2 record, good for 43 points in 28 games, securing themselves a bye in the first round of the CanWest Playoffs.
They also finished the season with the best powerplay in Canada, scoring at a 27.7 per cent clip.
While past Golden Bears teams have relied on hard-checking skills, this year’s edition has been quicker while continuing to uphold their offensive juggernaut identity throughout the season.
If there’s one thing that defines Alberta, however, it’s their high-scoring ability. The Golden Bears led the country with 4.9 goals per game through the season while creating chances to the tune of 4.2 expected goals per game. Although the goals scored outperforms the xG, it’s clear they’re a team that puts themselves in an ultra-offensive position.
New stars take reigns at U SPORTS
As part of the transition, freshman Jakin Smallwood made a name for himself this season, taking time in the top six, potting 16 goals and 35 points in just 26 games as a rookie. Meanwhile, second-year forward Josh Prokop grew into a leadership role, potting a team-topping 18 goals and 37 points through the regular season.
The year has been about passing the torch onto the younger players, and that’s precisely how Smallwood and Prokop have led the team this season.
Yet, it’s not all about the youngsters up front. Indeed, veterans are still playing an essential role with the Golden Bears this season.
For example, fourth-year Nolan Volcan has played an essential supporting role while also bringing winning experience to the team. Although his 25 points in 28 games is well off the top pace, he’s been critical to the success at Clare Drake Arena this season.
Meanwhile, the backend is anchored by Dylan Plouffe and Dawson Davidson, two players that helped guide the Golden Bears to within a touching distance of the U CUP last season. The duo lead the way after Clayton Kirichenko’s graduation and have aptly filled the role left by the now-Austrian pro.
Additionally, Jared Frearich has logged big minutes on the backend, as has Wyatt McLeod,
In net, the most well-known name is, by no doubt Matt Berlin, thanks to his Edmonton Oilers NHL cameo in January; however, he’s not likely to see time at the U CUP. Instead, expect Ethan Kruger to take most of the U CUP playing time, having come off a 15-game regular season where he posted a .923 save percentage. In the playoffs, he’s riding a .893 through six games.
Buoyed by the best powerplay in U SPORTS, the 2023 U CUP offers an exceptional opportunity for a re-invigorated Alberta Golen Bears team. For some, it’s a first U CUP dance; for others, it’s a chance to avenge last year’s heartbreak.
Nevertheless, the Golden Bears have championship standards and are never one to count out at the U CUP.