This weekend will see both the Golden Bears and Pandas hockey teams play in the U Sports National Championships. Both teams have entered their respective tournament as the number one seed. Both teams come into the tournament having won Canada West banners and had very successful regular seasons. The quarter finals begin on Thursday night and the format is a single loss elimination.
The Golden Bears are back in familiar territory. The defending National Champions have more titles than any other team. In fact, they’re breaking their own records with each new title. This year they’re looking for lucky number seventeen. If they make the finals, they play on March 17th and hope the luck of the Irish is with them.
The Golden Bears open their tournament on Thursday night against the eight seed or the hosts – Lethbridge. The Golden Bears played the Pronghorns four times in the Canada West regular season; they won all of those games. In fact only one of them was even close.
If the Golden Bears make it past the Pronghorns – which looks likely – they’ll play again on Saturday. A victory in their semi-final game would mean they were back in action on Sunday as well. By the end of the weekend, a U Sports National Champion will be crowned. The Golden Bears have had a lot of success with this new format, but every once in a while there’s a surprise result. In 2016, St. FX knocked the Golden Bears out in the quarter-finals.
The field for the weekend is set
· Alberta Golden Bears (Canada West Champions)
· UNB Reds (AUS Champions)
· Queen’s Gaels (OUA Champions)
· Guelph Gryphons (OUA Finalists)
· Saskatchewan Huskies (Canada West Finalists)
· St. FX X-Men (AUS Finalists)
· Carleton Ravens (OUA Bronze Medalists)
· Lethbridge Pronghorns (Hosts)
The Pandas, meanwhile, have decamped clear across the country to participate in the National Championship tournament. The tournament this year is a blend of the familiar and the new. Teams like McGill, Montreal and Manitoba have had recent success in this tournament. However, teams Guelph, St. Thomas, Toronto, and UPEI haven’t had recent success at Nationals. Several teams haven’t won a National banner, which isn’t statistically odd, but does seem a little odd as normally there aren’t that many new characters in the cast at the same time.
The Pandas start the tournament against the Toronto Varsity Blues. Toronto, the eight seed, were the OUA finalists. However, the Pandas and the Varsity Blues haven’t played each other in recent memory. The Pandas dominant Canada West season makes them strong contenders for a record breaking ninth National championship. Since, there have only been National Championship in women’s hockey since 1998, the fact the Pandas have won approximately half of them is an impressive statistic.
If the Pandas move past the Varsity Blues, they will play in a semi-final on Saturday. A successful semi-final would see the Pandas play in the final on Sunday. The Pandas’ last trip to Nationals saw them walk away with the title in a double overtime thriller. The Pandas will be hoping for a similar result.
The field for the weekend is set
· Alberta Pandas (Canada West Champions)
· Montreal Carabins (RESQ Champions)
· Guelph Gryphons (OUA Champions)
· St. Thomas Tommies (AUS Champions)
· McGill Martlets (RESQ Finalists)
· Manitoba Bisons (Canada West Finalists)
· UPEI Panthers (Hosts)
· Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA Finalists)
It is a bit puzzling to have the Varsity Blues ranked below the Panthers (who were only AUS quarter finalists), but it may speak to the relative strength of both leagues.
By the end of the weekend, the season for University of Alberta hockey will be completely over, and hopefully the rafters at Clare Drake will be even more crowded.
It’s National Championship hockey time and it all gets started tonight!