The University of Alberta hockey program will open the 2017-2018 season against the Mount Royal Cougars. October 6thwill see the Golden Bears play at Clare Drake while the Pandas start their season on the road at the Flames Community Arenas. The teams will then switch places and the Pandas will play their first home game on October 7th.Both teams will raise championship banners during their pregame ceremonies.
The Golden Bears had a successful 2016-2017 season. They won the Canada West Conference Title, their 53rd conference title, and competed at the U Sports National Championship. The Bears had only three fifth year players last season meaning their team is similar. The Golden Bears added four new faces over the summer and just wrapped up a successful preseason where they had five wins and only one loss. The final portion of their preseason was played against two NCAA teams – the UMD Bulldogs and the University of Minnesota Gophers.
The Bears Mount Royal Cougars had different results in their three preseason games. The Cougars suffered two losses and only one win. However, they have had some time to regroup since their last game in late September. The Cougars are a very young team; they have 10 freshmen and seven sophomores. As with many young teams there is an element of unpredictability to Mount Royal. They’re a team with a lot of potential, but they also could have any number of problems including maintain discipline.
Having lost all four meetings with the Bears last season, Mount Royal will have a lot to prove. The Golden Bears will be looking to continue their success against the Cougars relying on a mix of veterans and rookies. A standout from last year, Tyson Balilie will be looking too build on his rookie success. Veterans like Stephane Leagualt will be attempting to make sure their presence is also felt. Both teams will also want to start their season on a winning note.
The first game of the regular season is always a bit of a feeling out process. Both teams will be looking to discover each others’ weaknesses as there will be considerably less material for each team to review about their opponents. In October 2015, the Cougars shocked the Bears by winning the Bears’ home opener by a score of four to two.
Saturday night will see the Pandas return to Clare Drake to raise their record breaking eighth U Sports National Championship banner. The Pandas lost in the Canada West Conference Finals to the University of British Columbia Thunderbirds, but surprised many by defeating McGill for the National title. After the banner has been raised to the rafters, the Pandas will host the Mount Royal Cougars in the second half of a home and home series.
The Pandas were considered a young team in March when they won the National Championship and the 2017-2018 iteration of the Pandas isn’t that much different from their championship team. The most notable change to the Pandas’ line up is the loss of veteran goaltender Lindsey Post. Post has moved on the CWHL after earning MVP honours in her last U Sports tournament. Replacing Post in net will be Danya Owen. Owen has looked formidable in her limited starts over the last two years.
There are several key components returning to the Pandas roster. Abby Benning and Cayle Dillion will anchor a strong blue line. Kennedy Ganser, Amy Boucher, and Autumn MacDougall will join top scorer Alex Ponzikoff in providing offense. The Pandas may be young, but they still have enough experience to be dangerous in each position. The Pandas look to be a contender for the Canada West title this season.
Mount Royal had a small graduating class of players with only two fifth years on their 2016-2017 team. With the largest changes to the Cougars team coming to their defense, the Cougars team that takes the ice this weekend should be similar to last season’s team. The Mount Royal Cougars finished sixth In the Canada West Conference in the 2016-2017 season with 36 points. In comparison, the Pandas finished second with 62 points.
While the Pandas and the Golden Bears share Clare Drake Arena this weekend, next weekend the arena belongs to the Golden Bears as the Pandas travel to Manitoba to take on the Manitoba Bisons. The Bears host the Bisons on October 13th and October 14th.