The 2015/2016 season wasn't one full of championship glory for Edmonton hockey; the Oilers finished 29th in the NHL, the Edmonton Oil Kings were eliminated in the first round of the WHL playoffs, the Golden Bears finished second in the Canada West and were eliminated in the CIS National Quarterfinals, and the Pandas were knocked out by a crushing overtime goal in the deciding game of their semi-final series against the Manitoba Bisons. Edmonton's hockey teams didn't have the year for which they (and fans) were hoping.
Now attention turns to how the Oilers might fare in the upcoming NHL Draft, but there are also other Edmonton teams facing major changes this offseason. All levels of hockey in Edmonton will see some turnover during the summer, but it has been especially notable in regards to the University of Alberta teams.
The good thing is that as rough as the 2015/2016 season was, it's over. In a refrain that has become all too familiar to Oilers fans over the past decade, next year will be better. Edmonton hockey fans may not be used to NHL success, but they have seen a great deal of success at other levels - especially the University of Alberta. The University teams will definitely be spending part of their off-seasons rebuilding as both the Golden Bears and Pandas need to fill vacancies left by graduating players.
The University of Alberta Golden Bears and Pandas saw their teams losing key pieces - for the Bears many of these players have since started professional careers - but these losses change the faces of both University teams in the next season. Both teams saw their captains graduate this year, leaving the question of who will step into leadership roles up in the air as well. The Golden Bears lost the majority of their leadership group in their graduating class - Reddick, Rowley, and Carr all graduated this year. That leaves Riley Kieser as the only player in a formal leadership role returning next year. The Bears will be a very new-look team next year as their top line and top defensive paring have all moved on. The Bears are also continuing to adapt to the coaching style of Serge Lajoie as he will be entering his second year as head coach of the program.
The Pandas also lost their core leadership group - Froehler, Houston, and Campbell -- to graduation. The Pandas leadership will also be very different for the 2016/2017 season, but they will find the stability behind the bench in their head coach Howie Draper, who will start behind the bench for his twentieth season in September. Buoyed by this stability, returning Pandas will be able to get a feeling for their new leadership group and their new members. The Pandas also have an advantage in that key players - such as Eady, Post, and Lutz—are entering their fifth year and more than capable of guiding their team even if they don't become the formal leadership group.
The Pandas have been announcing the commitments of players to the program for the upcoming season and beyond. However, what each of the selections will bring to the team, and if these contributions will fill the holes left by those leaving, is something only time will tell. The Pandas have announced five commitments dating from April 13, 2016. With these commitments, most of the open roster spaces should be filled.
It will now be up to Head Coach Howie Draper and the rest of his coaching team to guide both new and returning athletes down the road to success.
The Pandas are also about to embark on an exciting new venture with Hockey Edmonton that will see them working with a variety of Midget AAA teams to help develop new skills and grow existing programs. This acknowledges the Pandas as one of the leading forces in women's hockey in the Edmonton area and calls on the 20 years of developmental experience head coach Howie Draper has amassed to help improve the quality of programs found throughout Edmonton.
Unlike the Pandas, the Golden Bears have yet to announce any players having made a commitment via social media. Since a fair majority of players who join the Bears do so after spending time in the WHL, this is to be expected. Some of the players leaving the WHL are still draft eligible and will wait until the NHL entry draft before finalizing their commitments. Many others come as free agents and require some time over the course of the summer to select the course of action with which they are most comfortable. Unlike the situation with the Pandas, there are different paths of hockey open to some of the players in which the Golden Bears might have an interest.
It will take time to see which players decide to come and join the legacy of the Golden Bears, but it can be expected that as the summer truly arrives, commitments will be announced, and the roster will start to be filled in. For the Bears, however, their problems are magnified.
Unless they find a rookie player capable of playing on their first line or playing in their first defensive pairing, they need to see which remaining players can step into that role. Crooks and Legault had impressive point production but also considerable struggles maintaining their composure. The Bears need a first line that is fairly reliable both in production and temperament.
Rachinski, who will be the only fifth year forward, spent some time on the second line over the course of the season but wasn't consistent. The same can be of Yadlowski in regards to the defense. He played considerable minutes for the Bears defense, but his minutes were not the minutes that Carr and Rowley played, not the type of minutes he could be expected to play in the coming year.
The Bears will be selective in who they recruit, as all top tier teams are, but they must also be very aware of what gaps this coming year's rookies may be asked to fill. Looking at the composition of the remaining players, it seems that no player has a definite advantage over the others. No one player seems to be the next star defenseman or first-line centre. This will certainly make the Bears off -season an interesting one.
When the University teams take to the ice again in September, it will be with a lot to prove and no shortage of talent. The only question that remains is if they'll be able to achieve the results they desire.