Calgary’s patient game seeking a U SPORTS men’s hockey gold

CHARLOTTETOWN, PEI – It’s been years since a team has been as dominant as the Calgary Dinos has taken on the U SPORTS men’s hockey championship. 

In 2023, the Dinos were near perfect, riding a 23-game win streak from the middle of the fall season to the end of the regular season. While the road was a little bumpier in the playoffs en route to a Canada West title against the Saskatchewan Huskies and Alberta Golden Bears, there’s no doubt that the Dinos have been the best team in Canada this season. 

Records aren’t often broken in U SPORTS hockey, and Calgary’s win streak smashed one that stood for 42 years. So now, as they take on the U CUP as the Canada West champions, they’re not expecting another loss on their record. 

(Calgary Dinos Athletics)

At the end of the conference season, Calgary topped the Canada West standings with a 25-1-3 record, becoming one of the few U SPORTS teams to hit a 50-point plateau. They didn’t lose for 159 days between Sept. 17 and Feb. 23

“We’ve just got to keep doing what we’ve been doing,” forward Bradley Schoonbaert told CTV.  “It’s going to be fun to play some new teams and see how our game translates against different teams across the country.”

U SPORTS does not keep official records, but the Dinos’ streak of 23 straight victories is believed to be the third longest in Canadian university men’s hockey history.

Despite all those accolades, the Dinos have never captured a U SPORTS men’s hockey title. 

As they head east to PEI for their first U CUP tournament since 2015, the Dinos get set to face the host UPEI Panthers in the opening round on Friday night, getting a tough AUS test and a determined opponent on home ice. 

For the Dinos, there are expectations at a championship tournament that they haven’t been at for over half a decade, but with how they played in 2022-23, there’s little reason to think they can’t hoist the U CUP to close the season. 

Patience pays off

(Calgary Dinos Athletics)

Led by head coach Mark Howell, the Dinos were dominant in all areas of play this season. Still, they played the game patiently, waiting for their opportunities in games rather than expending energy with little purpose. 

Helping them reach that level was a rigorous fitness regime that Howell and his staff placed on the players, setting them up for a solid start to the fall season before continuing to elevate their style in the second half. 

Playing composed hockey, the Dinos didn’t have to run and gun with teams offensively but just had to outperform through all areas of the game. While the latest era of Canada West has awarded offensive prowess, Calgary’s consistency has been their secret all season. 

Consistently, they scored 4.6 goals per game, only behind Alberta and UNB, while also cracking the top five in expected goals with an xG of 3.9. With this, they created 21.2 chances per game and averaged the eighth most shots in the country. Although the Dinos don’t top many statistical categories, their all-round performance makes them the best team in U SPORTS. 

King and Tetachuk lead the way

Noah King with Team Canada at the FISU Games (Rich Abney/U SPORTS)

Among their two most important factors are defenceman Noah King and rookie goaltender Carl Tetachuk, who have reached a new level this season and have been critical to Calgary’s rise. 

King took on the captaincy this year as a second-year blueliner and spent January with Howell and Team Canada at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games, winning Canada’s first gold since 2013. However, with that tournament and his time with the Dinos, King didn’t experience a loss until this season until Game 1 of the Canada West playoffs against the Saskatchewan Huskies. 

His composure in big minutes on the blueline has been critical this season, averaging 22 minutes while also roaming higher up the ice to contribute offensively. He’s kept his side of the defensive pairing stingy all season, as seen in the InStat graph below. 

Noah King’s playoff heat map

In net, Tetachuk has been a revelation. As a rookie goaltender, he quickly forced himself into the starter’s role and posted a .914 save percentage through 19 games and has shown consistency in his abilities to make saves all around the net. While he’s not neccarisly got a strength or a weakness, his ability to provide consistent goaltending as a rookie is tantalizing for the Dinos. 

Although those two are key factors, the Dinos also lean on Riley Stotts and Jake Gricius, who led the team’s scoring with 37 and 34 points, with Gricius the leading goalscorer at 15. 

Zach Wyntick and Sean Strange have been critical on the back end, as has Connor Horning. 

The 2022-23 season has been a watershed one for the Calgary Dinos athletics program, as it has been for U SPORTS athletes with Team Canada on the FISU stage. Now, they look to bring their winning swagger to PEI, searching for the school’s first U SPORTS gold medal.

Last shift: It’s a bit of a FISU Team Canada reunion in the U CUP quarterfinal, with Calgary’s Howell and King facing off against UPEI’s Matt Brassard and TJ Shea. Panther forward Kyle Maskimovich was also named to Team Canada, but sustained an injury ahead of the Games and was replaced by Concordia’s Tyler Hylland.

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