With the Canada West hockey season set to open this weekend, it's time for a look at each of the conference's seven teams. Please click through!
Alberta - '08-'09: 22-4-2 - Regular season finish: 1st (5th nationwide in RPI) - Canada West champions
Power play - 1st 21.4 %, Penalty killing - 5th 83.9%, Goals for - 1st 120, Goals against - 1st 63
'08-'09 Recap: It was another successful season in Edmonton, as the Bears managed to secure first place in the regular season with 46 points, 10 more than second place Saskatchewan. The Bears relied heavily on fourth-year netminder Aaron Sorochan in goal. Sorochan led the conference in GAA, save percentage and wins. As has been the story for so many years, the Bears met up with Saskatchewan in the conference final and swept the Huskies to secure the conference's lone ticket to the national tournament. The season ended on a sour note for the Bears, getting lit up by UNB 6-3 in game one of the tournament, which all but ended the Bears' hopes at a repeat as the season ended on a sour note.
Key Losses: Aaron Sorochan (G), Ben Kilgour (F)
Newcomers: Reade Wolansky (Spruce Grove - AJHL, D), Sean Ringrose (Medicine Hat - WHL, F), Michael MacAngus (Regina - WHL, F), Colin Joe (Saskatoon - WHL, D), Ian Barteaux (Kootenay - WHL, D), Mark Ashton (Lethbridge - WHL, D) Travis Yonkman (Swift Current - WHL, G)
Coach: Eric Thurston (5th season). Thurston took over the Bears program in August of 2005 after former coach Rob Daum moved onto the pro ranks to coach the AHL's Houston Aeros. Thurston is a two-time Canada West Coach of the Year, including picking up the award last season, when he was also named the CIS Coach of the Year. Thurston has hoisted the University Cup six times, once as a player with Alberta in 1986, three times as an assistant (1999, 2000, 2005), and twice as a head coach (2006, 2008).
'09-10 outlook: The defence needed an overhaul after last season - and it's gotten it. Joe, Wolansky, Barteaux, and Ashton give the Bears depth at the position and have turned the Bears defence into arguably the team's strength for the new season. The Bears have the core of their forwards back from last season, but Ben Kilgour's big game play and leadership will be missed greatly. The biggest question mark for the Bears remains in net, where newcomer Travis Yonkman and second-year goalie Real Cyr continue to battle for the starters job.
Projected finish: 1st place - The Bears are without Sorochan, but the D is going to be better, and the forwards haven't taken a step back. They should be the favourite, but the gap between first and second at the end of the season won't be as wide this time around.
British Columbia - '08-'09: 11-14-3 - Regular season finish: 5th (22nd in RPI)
PP - 5th 12.8 %, PK - 3rd 85.1%, Goals for - 7th 59, Goals against - 2nd 95
'08-'09 Recap: The T-Birds had a relatively solid season given the circumstances with a pile of injuries in the first half, finishing the season strong going 5-4-1 down the stretch in the regular season including a sweep of the Calgary Dinos in final weekend of the season to jump frog Regina and take fifth place in the conference and securing a playoff series victory. The T-Birds were offensively challenged last season as they scored a measly 59 goals - a conference low. The T-Birds couldn't challenge the conference's best - going a combined 1-9 against Alberta and Saskatchewan last season.
Key losses: Gerry Festa (G)
Newcomers: Justin McCrae (Spokane Chiefs - WHL, F), Scott Wasden (Kamloops - WHL, F), Max Grassi (Pentiction - BCHL, D)
Coach: Milan Dragicevic (6th season)
Dragicevic's teams have been hard, gritty teams to play against over the years. Dragicevic led Team Canada's entry last season at the FISU Winter Games in China, where the Red and White captured the silver medal. The T-Birds will once again be a tough, physical team this season.
'09-'10 Outlook: The T-Birds had injury problems last year which hindered their development with a lot of new faces entering the fold last season, and not a lot of games with the same roster. UBC was solid towards the end of the season and were able to beat Lethbridge in the opening round of the playoffs. Francois Thuot will get the vast majority of the starts in net with Festa's graduation - that should be a good thing for Thuot who will be the unquestioned number one. Brandon Campos showed signs that he can finish when healthy, as he was good down the stretch scoring six playoff points in five games.
Projected finish: 6th - The T-Birds will be in the thick of the playoff picture, but haven't added enough offensive firepower to a lineup that simply couldn't score last season. If they can stay healthy, they will benefit from some much needed cohesion.
Calgary - '08-'09: 10-16-2 - Regular season finish: 7th (25th in RPI)
PP - 4th 13.3 %, PK - 6th 83.5%, Goals for - 3rd 85, Goals against - 5th 90
'08-'09 Recap: It was a season to forget in Cow Town, as the Dinos missed the playoffs for the first time in over 20 years. The Dinos struggled for an identity, and despite having a chance to squeak into the postseason the final weekend of the regular season at home, the Dinos got swept by UBC. That weekend summed up the season, and ended up being the last time behind the Dinos bench for Scott Atkinson as he was relieved of his duties in the summer. Torrie Wheat and Brock Nixon were the bright spots for the Dinos, as Wheat led the team in scoring with 26pts, tied for 7th in the conference and Nixon finished the season with 25pts, 10th in the conference.
Key Losses: Adam Redmond (D), Travis Friedley (D)
Newcomers: Tyler Swystun (Medicine Hat - WHL, F), Eric Frere (Calgary -WHL, F), Graham Potuer (Everett - WHL, D), Luke Egener (Red Deer - WHL, F), Tylan Stephens (Kootenay - WHL, F)
Coach: Mark Howell (1st season)
Howell will enter his first season at the helm of the Dinos. Howell has CIS experience as a player, suiting up for the Bears in the early 90's and was a member of the 1992 national championship squad. Howell has spent the majority of his coaching career at the junior tier II level, coaching Drayton Valley of the AJHL and most recently with the Westside Warriors of the BCHL. Howell has assembled an impressive supporting cast, as far as NHL playing experience goes, with Cory Cross and Brad Isbister working as assistants with the team. Cross was Howell's teammate at the U of A.
'09-'10 Outlook: There's nowhere to go but up for this team after a season that was a major reason their previous coach got fired. It was an embarrassing season for the Dinos and that won't be repeated this season. A playoff berth will surely be the goal, but with only four spots up for grabs, Howell will have his work cut out for him. It will be a turnaround year for the Dinos, and there is talent in place to work with.
Projected finish: 4th - This will be a big year for the Dinos as they go from the bottom of the conference back to respectability. A playoff berth in his first season would be a big feather in Howell's cap after the debacle of '08-'09.
Lethbridge - '08-'09: 14-13-1 - Regular season finish: 4th (16th in RPI)
PP - 2nd 19.5 %, PK - 7th 82.3%, Goals for - 4th 84, Goals against - 7th 99
'08-'09 Recap: The Pronghorns were in the thick of the race for third place in the conference right up until the end of the season, and were a surprise last season after finishing in last place in '07-'08. Dustin Moore led the 'Horns offensively with 26 points and was third in conference goal scoring with 14. The season ended in disappointing fashion for the Southern Alberta boys as UBC downed the Pronghorns in a three game playoff series that saw all three games go into OT. Specialty teams were polar opposites last year in Lethbridge, as Greg Gatto's team featured the second best PP in the league - clicking at 19.5%, but had a league low PK at 82.3%.
Key losses: Steve Zmudczynski (F), Tyler Stella (F)
Newcomers: Adam Chorneyko (Saskatoon - WHL, F), Brayden Nargang (Weyburn -SJHL, F)
Coach: Greg Gatto (5th season)
Gatto spent five seasons at Lethbridge as a player, where he won the 1994 National Championship under current Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. Gatto has done a good job at a school that is the smallest of the seven hockey playing schools as far as student enrollment. Gatto has one CW Coach of the Year Award to his credit - winning the award in 2006-07 after he led the team to its first playoff home date in 13 years.
'09-'10 Outlook: Scott Bowles is a solid netminder who was tied for third last year in the conference for wins with 13. Bowles is one of only six WHL grads on the Pronghorns roster. The Pronghorns are a relatively experienced bunch with 17 players in their 3rd year of eligibility or higher. That bodes well for the team if it hopes to be competitive and avoid a serious slip down the standings. It will be a battle with UBC, Regina and a rebuilt Calgary team for the playoffs as Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba should be the top three in the conference.
Projected finish:5th - They could finish anywhere from 4th-7th, just like the rest of the bottom four. Adam Chorneyko will be a welcome addition, and if Gatto can get some consistency on the specialty teams, they could continue to surprise.
Manitoba - '08-'09: 13-9-6 - Regular season finish: 3rd (20th in RPI)
PP - 7th 9.5 %, PK - 2nd 85.5%, Goals for - 5th 81, Goals against - 2nd 82
'08-'09 Recap: The Bisons had another steady season under Don MacGillivray, finishing third in the regular season despite struggling mightily on the PP. That stat killed the Bisons, as they couldn't take advantage with the extra man against the conference's elite. The Bisons met up with the Regina Cougars in the conference quarter finals, and were swept by the Cougs in two straight games to end the season.
Key losses: Mark Olafason (F)
Newcomers: Jesse Deckert (Prince Albert - WHL, G), Brandon Lockerby (Edmonton - WHL, D), Chad Erb (Brandon - WHL, F), Ian Duval (Kelowna - WHL, F)
Coach:Mike Sirant (14th season)
A familiar face returns to the Bisons bench in the form of Mike Sirant. Sirant, who had been on a leave of absence from the program since the '06-'07 season, returns to Manitoba after applying his trade for the Danish national team. Sirant's teams have long been big, physical squads and that is sure to continue. In 533 career games as head coach of the Bisons, Sirant owns a 259-223-51 record. Sirant is a two time winner of the CW Coach of the Year Award.
'09-'10 Outlook: The Bisons have brought in some good Manitoba talent out of the WHL, and should improve offensively. Their powerplay can't go anywhere but up after last year - the PP was simply painful to watch at times. Sirant's teams have been plagued at times in the past by penalty problems, so that will be a key area for the Bisons if they hope to compete for one of the two berths to Nationals.
Projected finish: 3rd - The Bisons haven't lost much from last season, and were still third last year with a horrendous PP. Steve Christie was a horse in net last season playing in all 28 regular season games.
Regina - '08-'09: 11-15-2 - Regular season finish: 6th (16th in RPI)
PP - 6th 12.5 %, PK - 1st 87.3%, Goals for - 6th 65, Goals against - 3rd 83
'08-'09 Recap: The Cougars secured the final playoff spot in the conference last season with their 6th place finish and went into the conference quarter finals against a stingy Manitoba team. Both those teams struggled to score all season long, and in both games of the series Regina got the first goal and wouldn't look back - sweeping the series in two. The Cougars met the Bears in the conference semis, and took game one in Edmonton, but couldn't take either of the next two as Alberta downed the surprising Queen City crew.
Key losses: Kyle Ross (F), Dustin Bru (F), Ryan Cruse (D)
Newcomers: Partik Bhungal (Chilliwack - WHL, F), Craig Cuthbert (Bonnyville - AJHL, F), Carter Smith (Red Deer - WHL, F)
Coach: Blaine Sautner (5th season)
Sautner has maximized his talent over the years, as evidenced by the Cougars three playoff wins last season. Sautner's teams are extremely sound fundamentally, and if it weren't for a lack of offensive firepower - the Cougars would be more of a threat in the Canada West. Sautner played five seasons with the now defunct Brandon Bobcats when they were a member of the Canada West hockey scene.
Outlook: Ross was far and away the team's best offensive player last year, as he brought the games of those around him to a higher level. Sautner has been able to bring in some WHL talent - Smith was a 20 goal man last season on a subpar Rebels team. The duo of Brant Hilton and Adam Ward will give the Cougars depth at the goaltending position, but neither one has shown yet they will take the job and run with it.
Projected finish: 7th - The Cougars were a sixth place team last year with Ross in the lineup, and although they've downed Saskatchewan twice in the preseason - the Cougars will be in tough this year. Calgary will be vastly improved, UBC will be better, Lethbridge is still solid and Manitoba will be in that same category - leaving the Cougars looking up in the standings.
Saskatchewan - '08-'09: 17-9-2 - Regular season finish: 2nd (12th in RPI)
PP - 3rd 18.1 %, PK - 4th 84.5%, Goals for - 2nd 104, Goals against - 4th 86
'08-'09 Recap: Eventual conference MVP and CIS Rookie of the Year Steven DaSilva and the rest of the Dogs came charging out of the gate last season. At times in the first half the Huskies looked like the best team in the conference, but both DaSilva and the Huskies slowed down in the second half of the season and finished 10 points behind Alberta in the regular season standings. The Huskies made it to the conference final after downing UBC in the conference semis, and headed to Edmonton looking to secure the conference's lone berth to Nationals, but came up short being swept by the Bears in two games.
Key losses: Derek Endicott (F), Casey Lee (F), Trent Adamus (F), Colin Patterson (F)
Newcomers: Andrew Bailey (Kootenay - WHL, F), Kyle Bortis (Calgary - WHL, F), Brennan Bosch (Medicine Hat - WHL, F), Ilan Cumberbirch (Surrey - BCHL, D), Brenden Dowd (Edmonton - WHL, F), Cody Hobbs (Prince George - WHL, D), Brett McCullough (Calgary Canucks - AJHL, D), Kyle Ross (Regina - CIS, F), David Reekie (Everett - WHL, G), Brett Ward (Chilliwack - WHL, D)
Coach: Dave Adolph (18th season)
Adolph is the veteran in the coaching ranks of the Canada West. He's seen just about everything in his time at the U of S - except a national championship. Adolph was a part of the 1983 Huskies team that won the program's lone national championship. Adolph has brought in one of the school's best ever recruiting classes, so the talent will be there.
'09-'10 Outlook:The Huskies should be in Thunder Bay come March. They have arguably the best recruit in the conference coming their way in the form of Kyle Ross - he's proven he can score at the CIS level while with a Regina team that was far from explosive. The Huskies season may hinge on whether Jeff Harvey can step out of the shadow of Aaron Sorochan who was the conference's best stopper last season. With Sorochan's departure, Harvey has a chance to be the preeminent CW goalie this season.
Projected finish: 2nd place - Are they going to be better? Absolutely. Do they have the firepower to win the conference? Absolutely. The Huskies have the skill up front to take on the nation's best, but they need a season or two of experience with so much youth. Netminder Jeff Harvey remains the 'X' factor in Toon Town. If he raises his game to a new level, this team will be a force - if he doesn't, they'll remain the second best team in the conference.