After securing a record 53rd conference title in the 2016-2017 season, the University of Alberta Golden Bears look to repeat their success as Canada West Champions in the coming season. The Golden Bears were a young team last year with a lot of first and second year players and so should see a lot of returning talent for the upcoming season. The Bears season will open at home against the Mount Royal Cougars on October 6th at Clare Drake arena. Preseason will start for the Golden Bears on September 8th in Athabasca when they face the NAIT Ooks.
One area where the Golden Bears may have too much talent is in net. If one of their goaltenders from last season hasn’t chosen to move on, the Bears will have four goaltenders in their roster. The newest of these potential netminders is Zach Sawchenko. Sawchenko will be in his first season with the Bears having just finished his WHL career with the Moose Jaw Warriors. Sawchenko had 88 wins during his junior career and in his last season had a save percentage of 0.917 with a 2.79 goals against average. It will be interesting to see how the Golden balance their complement of goaltenders. Normally a first-year goaltender would have a more limited role, however, Brian Burke played a large part in the Golden Bears success as a first-year last season. If Sawchenko can do the same, the Golden Bears would have a solid tandem of goaltenders.
The Bears also have several influential returning defensemen such as Graeme Craig who at 6’5” is a considerable force on the ice. Craig had 12 points (5 goals and 7 assists) in 28 games for the Bears last season which was good for the second most points by a defenseman. He added one more goal and another assist in the Canada West playoffs Craig spent 30 minutes in the penalty box over the 2016-2017 season (he added another six penalty minutes in the playoffs) which is lower than one might expect given Craig’s size advantage. Craig played a physical game last season and depended on a powerful shot from the point to help put pucks on net and contribute.
The only defenseman who had more points than Graeme Craig last season for the Bears was Dylan Bredo. Bredo was the defenseman with the most points in the regular season with 20 (three goals and 17 assists) and the playoffs (three assists). Overall, Bredo having only 12 penalty minutes was advantageous. Nine of Bredo’s assists came on the power play. Bredo’s speed allowed him to jump up into the play and contribute at both ends of the ice. Bredo will be a player to watch to see if he can reproduce or even build on his 2016-2017 success.
Up front the Bears have aa host of talented young players. Chief among these is Jaime Crooks. The forward will be entering his fifth season with the Golden Bears and was their top scorer last season with 26 points (15 goals and 11 assists) on 27 games played. Crooks’ point totals have increased each year that he has played for the Golden Bears. The Bears will rely on Crooks and other veteran players to help balance and steady their relatively young team. Crooks will be an important player for the Bears, but he will need to control himself.
Another forward worth watching is Trevor Cox. Cox is entering his second season with the Golden Bears. The small and speedy winger had 17 points (six goals and 11 assists) in 23 games and four more assists in five Canada West play off games. Cox was one of a large class of players joining the Golden Bears last season. With experience, it is likely that Cox’s totals will increase. Cox has all the tools to make an impact for the Golden Bears. Cox will likely feature in the Golden Bears top six forwards and on the Golden Bears power play where his speed and strong positioning will have a the most effect. Cox will undoubtedly wish to recreate his special teams performance as he managed two power play goals and one shorthanded goal.
Finally, there is Tyson Baillie. The talented first year was second in team scoring last season. Close behind him were talented players like Jaden Hart an Stephane Legault proving the depth of the Bears team. Baillie had 26 points in 28 games played, evenly split as 13 goals and 13 assists. With this being his rookie season, Baillie took a few games to find his stride and after that he was off. Baillie faltered a little bit in the playoffs as he only managed two assists, but his rookie season was still a standout. What he can accomplish in the coming season is definitely something to look forward too. Like many of the Golden Bears forwards, Baillie is smaller and fast. His speed and agility feed his strong positional play and help with his efforts around the net.
The Golden Bears are a team with incredible depth in throughout their team. One of the stalwarts of the Canada West Conference, they attract some of the top talent coming to the Canada West. This season as well as Sawchenko the Bears are adding forwards Magee and Owre and defenseman Kirichenko. The Golden Bears will be their multiple offensive threats and strong defending and goaltending to make tem contenders for the Canada West title. The Golden Bears are gearing up to start