VANCOUVER, BC – U SPORTS Canada West hockey showed what it had to offer last season. Even as the UBC Thunderbirds ran away with the CW banner, it was the Mount Royal Cougars that claimed the U SPORTS national title, an underdog run for the ages. The quality of women’s hockey out west was never exactly a secret, but now it’s on full display to the entire nation.
After the long offseason, the Canada West teams are looking ahead to what promises to be another hard-fought, exciting season. There’s a lot of intrigue, and a lot of stories yet to be written. One thing is for certain – this is going to be a fun one to watch.
Here’s how the teams are shaping up for the fall season.
It’s a good crew in Edmonton. Coming off a disappointing semi-final loss last season, the entire Panda squad will be returning for another dance, not losing a single member to graduation. They will, however, have to manage without longtime coach Howie Draper, who left the team to coach the New York PWHL franchise as assistant Darren Bilawchuk takes the helm.
Halle Oswald was one of the most dominant netminders in Canada West last year and will be counted upon to be the backbone between the pipes. The Sanford, MB native recorded a sparkling 1.18 GAA and 0.942 SV% in 2022-23 en route to winning Canada West’s Goalie of the Year award.
A strong mix of veteran experience along with exciting new recruits makes this Panda team tremendously exciting to watch this year. With a strong challenge last season, this team will be hungry to show that they can reclaim the Canada West crown and head to nationals once more.
Player to Watch: Halle Oswald
Unlike their northern rivals, the Calgary Dinos are trying to break back into the upper echelon of Canada West. They’ll have to do it with a talented young squad and a fresh face behind the bench, as Josh Gosling replaces Carla MacLeod who is off to coach the PWHL’s Ottawa franchise.
The Dinos are adding seven recruits, with Solana Cooper, Brooklin Fry, Jada Johns, Evelyn Lawrence, Kyla Mitenko, and Caitlyn Perlinger as true freshmen, while Courtney Kollman transfers in after two seasons with Mount Royal. All of them should factor into important roles in Calgary, with Kollman having the most pedigree of them all.
Though Calgary did lose the likes of Emily Hill, Alli Borrow, and Jada Burke, they stand to have found some very good replacements, young talent that could blossom into something special. This year might not be the year that they challenge for a Canada West banner – but the future remains bright for the Dinos.
Player to Watch: Elizabeth Lang
There aren’t many expectations surrounding the MacEwan Griffins. The Canada West coaches’ poll prior to the season had them finishing dead last in the conference, and it will be up to this young team to prove that opinion wrong.
In their young three-year existence in Canada West, the Griffins have often been shelled by shots. But, the play of 4th year netminder Brianna Sank has often kept them in games, the 641 saves she made last year being the second-most in Canada West. MacEwan is hoping that she can keep up her excellent work between the pipes as they try to supplement her with the offence that she deserves.
This won’t be a year where the Griffins will challenge for a playoff spot. But, they’ll be wanting to take a step forward as a program – and that makes them dangerous within the conference.
Player to Watch: Brianna Sank
Experience is the name of the game for the Manitoba Bisons. It’s a veteran group that has fallen short for the last couple of seasons, and this year they’ll really want to buck that trend as a dark horse in Canada West.
With offence being a struggle last season, the return of a healthy Kylie Lesuk should prove to be a boon to this team. Kate Gregoire, Dana Goertzen, Julia Bird, and Ashley Keller will also all be counted on to have some more offensive output to go with their signature defensive game.
Manitoba is looking to capitalize on years of building this team together. Its a group that has gelled and matured off the ice alongside each other, and now, they’ll be hoping that the on-ice results will follow.
Player to Watch: Kate Gregoire
Mount Royal Cougars
The Cougars surprised everyone in the 2022-23 season by making a run to the Canada West Finals, before stunning the country to claim the U SPORTS national title. This year, they’ll be looking to prove that it wasn’t just a fluke and that the Cougars are here to stay as a big power in the conference.
They’ll have to plug some key holes, with the likes of Tatum Amy, Courtney Kollman, Laura Cook, MacKenzie Butz, and Tori Williams all departing from the U SPORTS championship roster. The Cougars will be hoping that forwards Sydney Benko, Ava Metzger, Lyndsey Janes, and Athena Hauck can take a step up offensively, while Emma Bergesen keeps the back end stable as always.
Kaitlyn Ross is still the story of the MRU Cougars. Last season was a gem, posting 9 shutouts and a 1.41 GAA to backstop her team to the U SPORTS title. It’s likely that she’ll be able to keep this up, and even with some losses in personnel, the Cougars should still be mighty foes in Canada West.
Player to Watch: Kaitlyn Ross
The Regina Cougars did not have a good 2022-23. Finishing dead last in Canada West, the program is currently in some turbulent waters that they’ll have to navigate as they look to improve this season.
There is a good blend of experience and youth on this team, but the question remains if there will be a true step forward. There’s not a game-breaking addition to this group that would really propel them into the playoff conversation. Perhaps Regina is hoping for a player from within to develop into a leader, but until that happens, it’s hard to see this team make their way up the standings.
Player to Watch: Paige Hubbard
Saskatchewan is sporting a veteran-laden roster, one that had to swallow a bitter defeat at the hands of the UBC Thunderbirds in the Canada West semi-finals last year. This time around, they’ll be looking to avenge that loss with much of the same crew returning.
Camryn Drever will be back between the pipes after featuring for Team Canada at the FISU Games in Lake Placid. The netminder was simply brilliant for the Huskies last season, and they’ll be hoping that Sophie Lalor can improve on her team-leading 17 points as the offensive supplement. Defender Isabella Pozzi also returns for a fifth season, having won Lake Placid gold alongside Drever as a fourth year in 2022-23.
Expectations should be high for the Huskies. They’re definitely challengers in the Canada West landscape, capable of big wins against any opponent. With revenge on their minds, Sask could definitely post a threat to UBC’s run at the top of Canada West.
Player to Watch: Camryn Drever
Trinity Western Spartans
Trinity Western is another team that is looking to take a step forward after a solid 6th-place finish in the 2022-23 season. They’ve been making steady progress since joining Canada West three years ago, and perhaps there’s more in store for the Spartans.
The Spartans will be without a key contributor though, as Amy Potomak has graduated. They’ll need to fill that offensive void, with the likes of Brooklyn Anderson and McKenzie Mayo hopefully stepping up their point production in that gap. Stalwart goalie Kate Fawcett will also be counted on to keep up her high standard of play, an excellent 1.77 GAA and 0.937 SV% in Canada West competition.
It’ll be interesting to see if Trinity Western can build off of last year’s mid-table finish, especially with their offensive leader departing the roster. With enough patience and building, perhaps the Spartans could provide a dark horse challenge in the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Brooklyn Anderson
The defending Canada West Champions have only one goal in mind this year: to repeat, and claim that elusive national banner. With their core returning and some dynamic recruits, it makes sense why this group is heavily favoured to win it all.
The team’s leading scorer Chanreet Bassi returns after putting up 28 points in 2022-23. She’ll hopefully reprise that role, with defensive stalwarts Sophia Gaskell and Rylind MacKinnon more than capable of holding down the fort on the back end. Elise Hugens should reprise her role as the starting netminder after a terrific 2022-23 campaign.
The T-Birds boast a strong recruit class, with forwards Leighanna Rizarri, Hanna Perrier, and Makenzie McCallum and defender Jaylyn Morris talented additions to an already potent team. UBC means business this year -and all eyes will be on them to see if they can deliver.
Player to Watch: Chanreet Bassi
Mike Liu’s Prediction:
1. UBC Thunderbirds
2. Mount Royal Cougars
3. Alberta Pandas
4. Saskatchewan Huskies
5. TWU Spartans
6. Manitoba Bisons
7. Calgary Dinos
8. Regina Cougars
9. MacEwan Griffins