Canada West hockey has returned to the University of Alberta. In a staggered start, the Golden Bears opened their season on September 29th and 30th against a tough University of Saskatchewan team. The Pandas waited until October 5th and 6th to start their season on the road against Saskatchewan. Despite starting their seasons at different times, the Pandas and Golden Bears will maintain their home and away schedule.
The Golden Bears raised their record setting 16th National Championship banner to the rafters on Saturday evening. The Golden Bears are the most decorated team in men’s university hockey. Their 16 National Championships is significantly more than the Toronto Varsity Blues’ 10 National Championships. The Golden Bears have also won 25 Conference titles since 1973. The Golden Bears are an acknowledged power house in men’s university hockey.
The Golden Bears opened their season against another Canada West powerhouse – the Saskatchewan Huskies. After a disappointing 5-2 loss on Saturday night, the Bears salvaged the spilt with a 5-1 victory on Sunday.
Both of the Golden Bears’ first year players – Pawlenchuk and Miske – both had points on the weekend, starting their university hockey careers on a positive note. Taylor Cooper had a fantastic game on Sunday night with three points – including one shorthanded goal.
The Golden Bears face the University of Manitoba Bisons. The Bisons also opened their season with a 5-2 loss to the University of Calgary, but also rebounded to split the series. The Bisons will virtually be a new team with 10 first year additions to their roster. The Golden Bears will be looking to solidify their position in the U Sports Top 10 with a sweep of the Bisons.
The Pandas also opened with a split against the Saskatchewan Huskies, though with 1-0 and 2-1 score lines, their games had a few less goals. With goals from Autumn MacDougall and Kennedy Ganser on Saturday night, the Pandas got their season off to a 0.500 start. With only one team – the Manitoba Bisons – recording two wins on opening weekend, the Pandas are in a cluster of six teams with a 1-1 record and a zero goal differential.
This weekend will be a test for the Pandas. They will host the National Champion University of Manitoba Bisons in their home opener on October 12th and 13th at Clare Drake Arena. The Bisons started the season with a sweep of the University of Calgary Dinos. They currently sit on the top of the Canada West and U Sports Top 10 standings. The Bisons will rely heavily on the experience of their eight fifth year players. But the Pandas will be relying on their own veteran players.
There two teams met in the Canada West semi-finals last season. The series went to three games and quadruple overtime in the third game before the Bisons managed to break the deadlock on their way to a their first national title.
The Pandas will be looking to dethrone the Bisons and make a statement early in the Canada West season. All things considered, the Pandas and the Bisons is the Canada West hockey series to watch this weekend as the level of play is always incredibly high and these teams bring out the best in each other. The Pandas will just be hoping for a different result than last year to open their 2018-2019 season at home.