The University of Alberta Golden Bears begin the quest for the third consecutive University Cup, and 16th overall, with a weekend series in Lethbridge against the Pronghorns. If you were curious, Alberta also won the University Cup in three consecutive years in 1977/78 through 1979/80. More recently though, even back to back winners are rare, it’s happened just three times since Moncton lifted the trophy in 1990; Alberta was the back-to-back winner on all three of those occasions.
If this season’s Golden Bears team is to lift the University Cup yet again, they will have to overcome a couple of significant departures, including Ian Herbers who had coached the team for three seasons before leaving to join the Oilers this summer as an assistant to Todd McLellan. Rather than focus too much on the Golden Bears match-up this week, which is difficult on the opening weekend anyway, I’ll instead look at what’s different. Who’s gone and who’s been brought in to help replace them.
The most notable departures from the Golden Bears roster are Johnny Lazo, Jesse Craige, and Kurtis Mucha all of whom graduated last season, as well as T.J. Foster who left to join the Toronto Marlies in the AHL. That group of four includes the team’s leading scorer from last season (Foster), their number one goalie (Mucha), and the CIS Defenceman of the Year (Craige). Those are some not so insignificant holes to fill but if the first coaches poll of the season is any indication - the Bears received seven of eight first place votes, but coaches can’t vote for their own team so really it’s seven of seven - the players left behind should be able to pick up the slack.
Fifth year forward Jordan Hickmott, who led the team with 19 goals last season, one more than Foster, will be leaned on heavily this season to keep the Bears offence rolling in his final season with the Golden Bears. Hickmott along with Stephane Legault, ex of the Oil Kings, and three other fifth year players, Brett Ferguson, Levko Koper, and Kruise Reddick will likely provide the Golden Bears with majority of their offence this season. I expect Riley Kieser to play a much bigger role this season as well.
On the Golden Bears blue line Jordan Rowley and Thomas Carr - both fifth year players - will lead the way. And between the pipes you’ll find Luke Siemens who will look to improve upon his 0.899 save percentage from last season; something closer to the 0.919 he posted as a rookie, perhaps. Siemens’ save percentage might seem concerning to some, but in a dozen games, facing just over 200 shots, a couple bad bounces will have a huge impact on save percentages so that number is almost certainly not as bad as it looks, and shouldn’t be a major area of concern for the Bears.
Joining Alberta Golden Bears this season are eight new recruits:
Dakota Conroy - F - Penticton Vees (BCHL)
Jayden Hart - F - Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Lucas Nickles - F - Tri-City Americans (WHL)
Sawyer Lange - D - Prince Albert Raiders (WHL)
Brayden Low - D - Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Joel Topping - D - Red Deer College (ACAC)
Ryan Demharter - G - Spruce Grove Saints (AJHL)
Marc Olivier-Daigle - G - Drayton Valley Thunder (AJHL)
So about this weekend against the Pronghorns, let’s take a quick look at the matchup.
|2014/15 Record (CWUAA Rank)||24-3-1 (1)||5-23-0 (8)|
|2014/15 Goals For/Goals Against||125/56||56/134|
|2014/15 PIM (Rank)||382 (3)||330 (6)|
The pucks drop is at 7PM both Friday and Saturday night.
The Pronghorns aren’t one of the best teams in Canada West. Aside from a single season when they coached by Mike Babcock they’ve never really been very good (that year they did win a national title though). This weekend is probably less about "Will the Golden Bears win?" and more about "How much will they win by?" But early in the year you never know what can happen, that’s why they play the games.
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