Breaking down the competition: CIS hockey

Three teams representing Ontario in national championship

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009

Alberta Golden Bears

Alberta Golden Bears
The Golden Bears come into this year’s tournament as the defending champions and favourites to repeat. Alberta’s success stems from its goaltending. First team Canada West all-star Aaron Sorochan led Canadian Interuniversity Sport with a 1.66 goals against average and a .937 save percentage. Sorochan won 15 games during the season and four during the playoffs, including a dominant performance against a high scoring Saskatchewan Huskies team in the final, allowing two goals on 54 shots. Offensively, Alberta’s strength is its depth. Six forwards have over 20 points on the season, many of which have hit double digits in goals. Second line players Brian Woolger, Derek Ryan and Chad Klassen are the top three point getters on the team and in the top six in Canada West scoring. With top-notch special teams, the lowest goals against total in the country, one of the best offences in the country and the experience of winning it all the year before, the Golden Bears enter the tournament as the team to beat.

McGill Redmen

McGill Redmen
The McGill Redmen might be the weakest team in the tournament, but like Western, have hit their stride at the right time, easily getting through the OUA East to qualify for the national championships. Offensively, McGill is lead by its speedy and talented first line, which features OUA all-star Alexandre Picard-Hooper, Marko Kovacevic and Sam Bloom. However, beyond these three, they don’t have a lot of goal scoring ability. Defensively, McGill is a pretty good team, allowing only 76 goals during the season. Goaltender Kevin Desfosses emerged as a star during the playoffs, leading the Redmen to the OUA championships with a stellar 1.76 goals against average and a .932 save percentage. At the end of the day, this talented team benefited from an easy schedule and has probably achieved as much as it will this season. If this group wins a game at the national championships, it would certainly be an upset.

UNB Varsity Reds

UNB Varsity Reds
If anyone might topple Alberta, it is the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds. Champions in 2007 and runner-up last year, the Reds are hungry to avenge last year’s loss to the Golden Bears. Ranked number one going into the playoffs, the Reds faltered, losing the Atlantic University Sport championship to the Saint Mary’s Huskies. Like Alberta, UNB has few weaknesses. They allowed only 67 goals all season, an average of just over two per game. Goaltenders Travis Fullerton and Derek Yeomans were outstanding all season and continued their strong play throughout the playoffs. The Reds offence is led by Kevin Henderson and Hunter Tremblay " each with 50 points on the season. However, this is by no means a one-line team. The Reds had 14 players hit double digits in points, half of which managed to score more than 20. Much of their offence is gained on the power play, which has a 23 per cent conversion rate. If anyone is going to beat this team, they are going to have to take advantage when UNB takes a penalty, which they do several times a game.

Lakehead Thunderwolves

Lakehead Thunderwolves
The Lakehead Thunderwolves came into this season with high expectations after winning the OUA Far West Division last year. However, despite playing pretty well, they disappointed with a fourth place finish in the division before getting knocked out in the OUA West semifinals against Laurier. Now they host the national championships in Thunder Bay, a huge advantage for a team that is historically difficult to beat at home. If a team is going to beat Lakehead, they are going to have to get by its talented goaltending duo of Chris Whitley and Kyle Moir. Both sport a solid record and a .924 and .921 save percentage respectively. Combined, they allowed only 69 goals on the season, fourth lowest in the country. Offensively, they have two strong lines, led by third team OUA all-star Brock McPherson. However, their weakness is in special teams. They aren’t that successful on the power play and are penalized almost 10 times a game. Lakehead also goes into nationals cold, last playing on Feb. 28. However, the home ice advantage should ensure the Thunderwolves will give both teams in their group a tough battle.

Saint Mary’s Huskies

Saint Mary’s Huskies
Finishing the season ranked fourth overall, the Saint Mary’s Huskies are a team to be reckoned with. After defeating the Varsity Reds in the AUS final, they proved that they are a serious contender. The Huskies have one of the best offences in the country. They finished second in goals scored in the CIS and converted 28 per cent of their power play opportunities. Forwards Marc Rancourt and Cam Fergus finished first and third in CIS scoring respectively. Even the defence has made offensive contributions. First team AUS all-stars Andrew and Scott Hotham finished first and second in the country in scoring among defencemen. However, they will need to focus on keeping goals out of the net, as they gave up 90 this season, an average of over three a game. Goaltender Brandon Verge had a weak .871 save percentage. Expect some high scoring affairs when the Huskies are involved. Despite being nearly perfect at home, the Huskies are only a .500 team on the road, something that may prove to be a factor in Thunder Bay.

Western Mustangs

Western Mustangs
The Western Mustangs are making their first appearance at nationals since 2005. The team came into this season with a lot of youth and it showed early, finishing the first half of the season only slightly above .500. Since then, they have been much improved, losing only four games in 2009. They dominated throughout the playoffs, winning the Queen’s Cup as OUA champions. Western’s strength is its depth overall. The Mustangs featured 14 players with more than 10 points and seven with more than 20. Look for the rookie line of Kevin Baker, Keaton Turkiewicz and Aaron Snow to continue its dominance at the tournament. During the season, goaltending and defence was a surprising issue, with goalies Brad Topping and Keyvan Hunt allowing 86 goals overall. However, in the playoffs, Topping was stellar with a 1.95 goals against average and a .939 save percentage in eight games. As the saying goes, goaltending wins championships, which bodes well for the ’Stangs as long as Topping stays hot.

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