It's exam time on university campuses from coast-to-coast, and while I should be studying for my exams I would much rather be the one handing out the grades for once. Here's a look at all seven Canada West teams and how they stack up after the first half of the season. In the spirit of higher learning, each category will be assigned a letter grade, and each team will receive an overall grade (on the four-point scale of course).
Simply the cream of the crop through 16 games. With all five of the conference's leading scorers wearing the Green and Gold, it's hard to argue with the fact that this group of snipers has been explosive. Chad Klassen's 28 points has him tied for third in the nation in scoring, and has led a team that has scored 89 goals through 16 games (26 more goals than the second leading offensive team in the conference Lethbridge). Jesse Gimblett has had his best first half as a Golden Bear and is part of a top six that has given opponents fits all season. The forwards have been responsible defensively as well, with the Bears having five of the top-10 +/- players in the conference, with Klassen and Brian Woolger at the forward position.
Other than the question mark as to who would come in and take over between the pipes this season for the Bears, the defence was head coach Eric Thurston's number one priority coming into the fall. Newcomers Reade Wolansky, Colin Joe, Ian Barteaux, and the return of Mark Ashton have been tremendous additions to the blue line. Joe leads the conference in +/- with a +18 rating. Wolansky is tops in conference defenceman scoring with 17 points - 2 more than fellow Bear Kyle Fecho. This revamped group has been excellent, and has tremendous upside heading forward.
The question remains who will take the reigns in goal and become the number one netminder for the Bears in the second half of the season. So far Alberta has split goaltending duties between second-year goalie Real Cyr and rookie Travis Yonkman. Through 16 games the dynamic duo has been effective, with Cyr's record of 6-1-1 and Yonkman's a perfect 8-0-0 record helping the Bears sit firmly atop the Canada West. Yonkman leads the league in GAA at 2.11, and sits second in save%. Yonkman along with Manitoba's Steve Christie have been the conference's best netminders thus far.
Specialty teams: A
With a power play that's clicked at nearly 36%, and away the best in the conference, and a second ranked penalty kill, the Bears have been more than solid on specialty teams. The power play especially has been impressive, bolstered in large part thanks to the excellent play of the defence and forward Ian McDonald who plays the point with the man advantage.
The Bears were far and away the best team statistically in the first half of the season in the Canada West, and have given themselves a healthy nine point lead atop the standings heading into January. They've held down the number-two spot all season long in the top 10 and appear poised for a return to Thunder Bay. A passing grade thus far -with flying colours.
The Dinos forwards have been solid through the first half. Calgary has been led offensively by Reid Jorgensen who has 16 points on the season, Torrie Wheat who leads the team in goals with nine, and Brock Nixon's 14 points. Those three are Calgary's lone scorers inside the top 20, but the Dinos have seen Teegan Moore and Kyle Annesley chip in when needed as both have 13 points.
Head coach Mark Howell has seen his defence remain steady through out the first half of the season with Jerrid Sauer leading the team in defenceman scoring with eight points in 16 games. Dan Ehrman has been among the most reliable defenders thus far this season for the Dinos, leading the team in +/- with a rating of +4.
The goaltending situation in Calgary has been like the rest of the squad has been good, but not tremendous through 16 games. Dustin Butler has gotten the majority of the starts for the Dinos, posting an 8-2-1 mark with a 2.53 GAA and .907 SV% in 13 games played. Butler has at times been great for the Dinos, as was the case in their opener against Alberta. Butler sits tied for the league lead in wins with eight along with Alberta's Travis Yonkman and the Bisons Steve Christie. Other than being among the leagues leaders in wins, Butler sits in the middle of the pack as far as GAA and SV% goes. Backup Jeff Weber has struggled when called upon, with a 4.42 GAA and .868 SV%.
Specialty teams: B+
The Dinos are tied for third in the conference with a power play efficiency of 19.8% (tied with Lethbridge), and sit alone in third on the penalty kill with a succesful kill rate of 83%. Both numbers are respectable, but not spectacular.
It wasn't a surprise to see a much-improved Calgary team over the 2008-09 version. Calgary proved they could play with the leagues established elite at times (wins over Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba) over the course of the first half, but still are a step or two away from beating those teams in a three game series. The pieces are there for the Dinos to make a potential run to the conference final and earn a berth to nationals, but the PP has to chip in a few more goals at critical moments to boost overall goal production slightly (50 goals for - 54 against). All in all a good start to the season for the Dinos sitting in third place heading into the second half, but more will be needed to hold onto that spot in the standings with a surging Saskatchewan team hot on their heels.
A handful of Pronghorns have been the offence thus far this season, but aside from a relatively small group, more is needed from the forward position to provide some much needed secondary punch. Dustin Moore leads the 'Horns in scoring at the midway point of the season with 20 points, with five goals. Moore sits sixth in conference scoring, behind the Fab Five from Alberta. Andrew Courtney has also been a bright spot for Lethbridge this season, as his 13 goals are tops in the conference and tie him for third in the nation - two goals behind Francis Verreault-Paul of McGill. Third on the Pronghorns in scoring this season is rookie Adam Chorneyko. The St. Albert, Alberta native is third in rookie scoring with 12 points. Jason Roberts is the only other Pronghorn forward in double-digit point production.
Defensively the Pronghorns have been far from impressive. Lethbridge has surrendered the most goals in the conference (72), and have hung their goaltenders out to dry giving up an average of nearly 35 shots per game - the highest mark in the conference. Ryan Potruff and Andrew Marshall, have both chipped in at times on the offensive side of the puck as Potruff has 10 points on the season, while Marshall has eight. Lethbridge has given up too many offensive opportunities, coupled with undisciplined play which has lead to opposition power play chances.
Scott Bowles gets peppered night after night. With the opposition generating so many scoring chances against the 'Horns, and a team that's given up the second most power play opportunities, every game is a busy one for the 5 '11 goalie. Bowles has played all 16 games in goal for Lethbridge and with the poor defensive play and lack of discipline exhibited at times by his team, it should come as no surprise his numbers are far from sparkling. He sits ninth in both GAA at 4.11 and SV% at .880.
Specialty teams: B-
If it weren't for a decent power play, Lethbridge would be in an even deeper hole in the Canada West standings. 36% of the Pronghorns goals this season have come on the power play, and while that isn't the highest mark in the league (Alberta has scored 43% of their goals on the power play) it illustrates the fact that the 'Horns have struggled to generate scoring chances 5-on-5, as much as it indicates the power play has been steady. The PP is tied for third in the conference, clicking at 19.8%. The penalty kill is a different story for Lethbridge, however, as the PK is sixth in the conference with an efficiency of 75.8% - a stat that needs to improve as soon as the puck drops on the second half.
After starting the season 3-2-1, it was downhill from there for Lethbridge as they closed out the first half by going 1-7-1 in their final eight contests. Defensively the Pronghorns will have to tighten up, and can't afford to be among the leagues most penalized teams with a PK that has been more than suspect at times (Alberta went 6 for 12 in the two teams first series of the season). Lethbridge is among the conferences second tier at the break, and have no time to turn things around sitting eight points out of fourth place already.
Offence hasn't been the Bisons specialty this season, scoring only 45 goals through 14 games. Veteran forwards Mike Hellyer and Rick Wood have led the the Herd this season offensively with 13 and 11 points respectively. Providing some secondary scoring for Manitoba has been a pair of rookie forwards: Blair Macauley, and Ian Duval. Macauley and Duval are seventh and eighth in rookie scoring. While the forwards haven't scored at a torrid pace this season, they have been sound defensively, playing within Mike Sirant's defensive oriented first system.
This defence core has been excellent thus far for Manitoba. As mentioned above, Sirant's tight defence first system has paid dividends for the Bisons, as they have given up the fewest goals in the conference this season (33). Rookie Brandon Lockerby has been impressive, as he leads the team in defenceman scoring with 9 points and has a +10 rating. While not putting up big offensive numbers, Stephane Lenoski, Travis Mealy and Kip Workman have been reliable.
Defence and goaltending are the keys for the Bisons, and with the defence playing well, it should come as no surprise that Steve Christie has had a tremendous start to the season in goal for Manitoba. Christie has been rock solid in between the pipes in 13 starts this season, posting a 2.13 GAA (second best in the conference) and a .926 SV% which is tied with Alberta's Travis Yonkman for tops in the Canada West. Christie had a terrific 2008/09 campaign and heads into the second half of this season looking to backstop Manitoba to a nationals berth.
Specialty teams: C
If the Bisons could find a way to score on the power play, this team would be far better. With the PP clicking at an abysmal rate of 10.5% (sixth in the conference), improving the power play even slightly will be priority number-one heading into January, and would pay major dividends. The penalty kill has been just OK for Manitoba so far, sitting at 82.6% (fourth in the conference). On the brightside for Manitoba, which at times under Sirant in the past has been undisciplined, the Bisons have given up a conference low 69 power play opportunities.
So far they've struggled to score, especially on the power play, but defensively this team is very good and with an experienced netminder in Christie, the Bisons should remain a top-10 team with their sights set on Thunder Bay. With the Bears nine points clear of them, the Bisons will in all likelihood find themselves fighting for second-place in the conference come the stretch run. It's been a good start to the season in Sirant's return behind the bench, but the Herd need to find some more scoring touch.
They haven't been able to score - simple as that. 26 goals scored, which is far and away the fewest in the conference is the reason for this near fail grade. Kyle Ross' departure at the end of last season was sure to hurt the Cougars offensive attack, with the question of who was going to score for the Queen City Crew heading into the season being the biggest unknown for this team. So far the answer to that question has really been no one. Tanner Shultz, rookie Craig Cuthbert and Mark Nelson lead the team in scoring with six points a piece - accounting for almost a third of the team's goals this season. Not enough offensive firepower for Regina.
The defence hasn't been overly impressive this season for the Cougars, without a single defender on the plus side. Dylan Chapman leads the team in defenceman scoring with five points and leads the team in +/- with a +2 rating . The relatively poor +/- ratings among the defence are just another indication of the teams lack of offence coupled with mediocre defensive play from a team that battled to a first round playoff series win last season on the back of it's excellent defensive play.
Adam Ward and Brant Hilton have split starting duties in Regina, with Ward having the better numbers of the two. Shayne Barrie has also started a pair of games for Regina, compiling a 1-1-0 record. Hilton has a record of 1-6-0 with a 4.61 GAA and .863 SV%, while Ward has put up solid numbers - 2-3-0, 2.34 GAA and .929 SV%. The Cougars, who like to clog up the neutral zone, have given up only 449 shots on goal, which is the second fewest in the league behind Manitoba (411 shots against). Ward's play especially has been the strong point of this team, which is well out of the playoff picture heading into January.
Specialty teams: D
The Cougars struggles thus far include specialty teams. Regina has the worst power play in the nation clicking at 5.2%, having scored only four power play goals in 14 games and 76 opportunities. The penalty kill hasn't been impressive either, as it is third worst in the conference at 76.3%.
It was a poor start to the season in Regina, as the Cougars are 11 points out of the playoff picture and didn't show anything towards the end of the first half that points to a momentum swing enterring January. It could be a very long second half in Regina with six games against Alberta and Manitoba yet to come for the cellar dwelling felines.
It wasn't a good start to the season for the Huskies after coming into October with high expectations thanks to an extremely deep recruiting class, but as of late Saskatchewan's snipers have been in good form. Saskatchewan has six forwards inside the top-20 in conference scoring, including last season's CIS Rookie of the Year and conference MVP Steven DaSilva. DaSilva leads the Huskies with 19 points. Steven Gillen, Chris Durand and rookie Kyle Bortis have provided secondary scoring for Saskatchewan, as each have 15 points on the season.
After the slow start, much like the rest of the team the Huskies defenders have settled in. Chad Greenan leads the team in defenceman scoring, and is third in the conference in that category with 14 points. Matt Swaby leads the Huskies in +/- with a +12 rating. Rookie Brett Ward and veteran Zach Sim have also performed well for the Sled Dogs.
Veteran goalie Jeff Harvey and rookie David Reekie have both seen significant time in goal for the Huskies. Harvey's numbers have been solid aside from the wins and losses, as he sports a mediocre 5-4-1 record. His 2.33 GAA is third best in the conference, and he boasts a .925 SV% - with both stats being comparable to Yonkman and Christie - the top two netminders in the conference through the first half.
Specialty teams: A
Specialty teams have been a stong point for Saskatchewan this season with the number-one penalty kill in the league and the second best power play in Canada West. The PK has an efficiency of 90.1%, and has been extermely consistent. While the power play is a distant second in the conference behind Alberta's blistering attack, it has performed relatively well clicking at 23.7%.
In the spirit of my econ class last year, here's an analogy to descride the Huskies first half: Saskatchewan was that kid who can be found in every university class who doesn't show up to the first two months of class, somehow does OK on the midterm and decides to pull it all together for the final and salvage a pretty good grade. Saskatchewan's raw skill, that seemingly wasn't being applied properly early on, has given way to the Sled Dogs seemingly fidning the recipe for success heading into the new year. They've yet to make a top-10 appearance, but that should change soon enough in 2010.
Tyler Ruel is the lone T-Bird inside the top-20 in conference scoring with 14 points. The T-Birds have gotten some secondary scoring from Brandon Campos, Justin McCrae and others, but overall UBC has scored the second fewest goals in the conference with just 40 (still miles ahead of Regina's conference low 26). The lack of offence that has plagued UBC will be a continuing concern heading forward.
UBC's defence core at times has been undisciplined. Matt Pepe (40 PIM), Theran Yeo (36 PIM) and John Flatters are all in the top-10 in penalty minutes through 16 games. Craig Lineker leads the T-Birds in defenceman scoring with 8 points. The backend hasn't been overly impressive so far, and the lack of discipline is a recipe for disaster.
Goaltending has been subpar this season for the T-Birds with Francois Thuot getting the majority of the starts in goal. Thuot's .864 SV% is second worst in the conference among goalies with at least 300 minutes played, ahead of only Regina's Brant Hilton (.863). Thuot has a 3.81 GAA in 12 games and has compiled a 3-8-1 record.
Specialty teams: D
Along with Regina, UBC has been the worst team on specialty teams this season. They rank fifth on the power play, with a success rate of only 13%, and are dead last on the penalty kill at 68.2%. The power play struggles aren't a huge surprise for the West Coast side with the overall lack of offence this season, but a sub 70% penalty kill is something that needs some technicaly work. Head coach Milan Dragicevic's team scratches and claws for every goal and just like Regina, can't afford to give the opposition tic-tac-toe goals on the power play.
Overall the T-Birds haven't shown a great deal of improvement over last season's campaign. Injuries were pointed to as a reason for the struggles last season, especially offensively, but even with a healthy Campos and Dalton Pajak, the red light at Thunderbird Arena has still been lit far too many times by the opposition, and not the home side.