The 2017-2018 Canada West Conference season is right around the corner. Starting on October 6, 2017, the University of Alberta Pandas will start a quest to break their own record and win a ninth U Sports National Title.
The Pandas are a young and talented team. They have several forwards who made an immediate impact in the Canada West Conference last season, defensemen who excelled in shutting opposition down, and a young goaltender who has already made a name for herself as a back up. With the combination of returning and new talent, the Pandas will be a difficult team to beat. However, there are some players that stand out as ones to watch based on their excellent 2016-2017 seasons.
The first of these is Alex Poznikoff, who lead the Pandas in scoring. The dynamic forward had 13 goals and 12 assists in just 24 games played and lead all players on the Pandas team in points. Ponzikoff also represented the U Sports All Stars during Hockey Canada’s Summer Showcase. Ponzikoff built on the success of her rookie season in her second season with the Pandas. She represented Canada at the 2017 Winter Universiade where she won a silver medal during the 2016-2017 season as well. And added a hat trick to her season during the U Sports National Finals. Pozinkoff is a fast and creative player who has an abundance of hockey sense and a scoring touch. She’s difficult to move off the puck and tenacious. Many will be expecting that Poznikoff will be one of the Pandas biggest offensive threats again this coming season.
Another small forward who had a big impact on the Pandas offense is Autumn MacDougall. MacDougall finished second in regular season scoring for the Pandas with 11 goals and 10 assists in 28 games played. MacDougall and Poznikoff were line mates for part of the season and were able to work well together creating chances around the net and avoiding the opposition’s attempts to slow them down. MacDougall’s role increased from the one she had in her rookie year, and the young Cole Harbour native seemed to thrive with more ice time. It will be interesting to see if she can produce similar, or better numbers, in the coming season when the Pandas scoring is typical spread through out the team. MacDougall’s a player who is active around the net and unafraid of physical play in an effort to score. MacDougall speed and fearlessness make her a threat every time she’s on the ice.
Kennedy Ganser has played just one season for the Pandas, but she’s certainly made the most of it. There were no apparent nerves for the rookie in the 2016-2017 season. She finished fourth in team scoring with 17 points (seven goals and 10 assists) and spent time on a line with MacDougall and Ponzikoff, which was arguably the Pandas first line for the later part of the season. Ganser was impressive in her rookie season, but the Canada West playoffs are where she really shone. Ganser managed five points in five games, bettering her points per game from the regular season. Ganser will enter her second season with the Pandas looking to build on her strong rookie season.
Though the Pandas team is full of forwards worth watching for speed and skill such as Amy Boucher and both Morins, Hannah Olenyk will also be providing a veteran presence as a fourth year forward for the Pandas. Olenyk is a gritty forward who exploded in her rookie year but struggled to find the same scoring touch in her sophomore season. With a solid eight points (four goals and four assists), Olenyk had a successful junior year with the Pandas. With two power play goals over the regular season, Olenyk excelled when the Pandas had the number advantage. A power player, Olenyk is fantastic along the boards and is able to play a physical game while avoiding too many trips to the penalty box. Olenyk’s mix of speed, power, and ability to score will make her a player worth paying attention to in the coming season.
One of the best young defenders on the Pandas last season was Taylor Kezama, who scored a somewhat important goal to finish the season in double overtime at the U Sports National Championship. Kezama was a steady defensive presence for the Pandas through the season where she assisted on six goals but didn’t score any goals of her own until the Canada West playoffs. Her consistent play earned Kezama a consistent spot in the Pandas line up. Kezama, much like Olenyk, isn’t afraid of the physical side of the game and is difficult to move off the puck. Not afraid to jump up in the play, Kezama’s point totals might be higher this year as she’s had some time to adapt to the speed and style of play found in the Canada West Conference.
Abby Benning is another defender to watch though she and Kezama won’t be the only players the Pandas will be depending on. Abby Benning was one of Pandas best defenders in the 2016-2017 season and her contributions during the Canada West playoffs were vital in the Pandas sweep of the Manitoba Bisons. Benning’s hockey sense and positioning during the season underscore the importance of her nine points, the most of any Pandas defender. Benning’s willingness to jump up in the play is backed up by her speed which allows her to backcheck when required. Over 28 games played last season, Benning balanced the offensive and defensive elements of her game making her influential to the Pandas success. Benning looks to be one of the Pandas top two defensemen in the coming season and should make a large impact.
With veteran goaltender Lindsey Post graduating from the Pandas program at the end of the 2016-2017 season, backup goalie Dayna Owen will step into the spotlight for the upcoming season. Owen will be in her third year of eligibility with the Pandas and has been a solid presence in the net during limited playing time in the first two years. Owen played 10 games in the 2016-2017 season with a goals against average of 1.24, giving her the lowest goals against in the Canada West among qualified goaltenders. Owen’s 0.923 save percentage ranked sixth in the Canada West and her three shut outs ranks her fourth over all in the Canada West. Based on her performances as the Pandas back up goalie, the Pandas are transitioning to a goaltender who will give them a good chance to win each game.
The University of Alberta Pandas enter the coming season with a target on their backs which only comes from being the best in the country. With a mix of experience and youth, the Pandas have a deep line up which looks to once again make them contenders in both their own Canada West Conference and nationally. With a team packed with talent, the players above are just some of the talent which will be looking to make an impact for the Pandas.