Hockey: Canada West set for puck drop

It's been exactly 185 days since a Canada West hockey team played a meaningful game. That game of course was the national final that featured the Alberta Golden Bears, who fell 3-2 in overtime to the Saint Mary's Huskies.

Thankfully for CIS hockey fans out west, the wait will finally come to an end tomorrow night, as a new season of Canada West hockey gets underway with a pair of games.

With the Regina Cougars and Saskatchewan Huskies set to officially drop the puck on the 2010-11 season tomorrow night in the Queen City, it's time to preview each of the conference's seven teams. If these short previews leave you wanting more, just click on the links at the end of each team to read my full-length previews over at South Campus Sports.

Alberta Golden Bears ( '09-10: 23-4-1 CW - 1st, 1st nationwide in RPI) Conference champs, National runners-up

The Bears in 250:

Talk about new faces. The defending conference champs went through major changes this offseason with 11 new players joining the fold for the 2010-11 season.

Alberta will have a very different look up front after the departures of six forwards including top six producers Jesse Gimblett and Brian Woolger.

Those two holes have been filled by newcomers Johnny Lazo, who will play with Gimblett's former linemates Sean Ringrose and new captain Eric Hunter, and Alex Rodgers who will get the opportunity to play with reigning CW MVP Chad Klassen and centre Derek Ryan.

Defence could be the Bears' greatest strength this season, with Kyle Fecho, Jason Fransoo, Colin Joe, and Ian Barteaux all back along with the additions of Ben Lindemulder, Jesse Craige, Jarrett Toll and Drew Nichol (who very well could end up in a forward role). Lindemulder could be the biggest addition to the Green and Gold this season, with his skating ability putting him in an elite category.

Not to be left out of all the change was the goaltending situation. Travis Yonkman is no longer with the program (he's signed on with Alaska of the ECHL), but Real Cyr is back for his third year. Cyr split the regular season last year with Yonkman, before Yonkman was tabbed as the starter for the entirety of the playoffs. Cyr will be joined by newcomers Kurtis Mucha, and Linden Rowat.

Expect a short leash for the goaltenders this season, with three viable options in net for head coach Eric Thurston.

Quoting the coach:

Thurston on blue-chip recruit Johnny Lazo - “He’s obviously not a big guy, but man, can he shoot the puck. I think he’s got a great wrist shot and snapshot. Playing with Ringrose, who works very hard along with Hunter — who also works very hard and is sort of a thorn in the side — Johnny will add that offensive upside.”

U of A hopes new faces bring big results – South Campus Sports

UBC Thunderbirds ('09-10: 8-19-1 CW - 7th, 29th in RPI) Missed playoffs

The T-Birds in 250:

It could be a long season in Vancouver where the T-Birds will be looking to improve on a dismal 2009-10 season.

Head coach Milan Dragicevic had a lot of holes to fill this offseason with double-digit departures from the program including second leading scorer Brandon Campos who signed on with Idaho of the ECHL.

In goal Francois Thuot's graduation after four years with the program left Dragicevic needing to fill the void left by the serviceable starting netminder.

For a while it appeared that the T-Birds had found that goaltender with the commitment of Torrie Jung, but not so fast. In mid-August Dragicevic got word from the former Edmonton Oil Kings starting goaltender that he would be plying his trade with Laredo of the CHL instead of at the CIS level with UBC.

That recruiting loss would be a big blow, with Jung the centrepiece of a recruiting class lacking much in the way of highly touted talent.

With not much in the way of offensive talent coming to UBC this season, and an inexperienced CIS goalie in Jordan White most likely getting the majority of playing time in net, the T-Birds will once again be forced to play a defence-first style, taking whatever they can offensively.

With little in the way of potential impact rookies, and a core that is going to have to shoulder more than its fair share, the T-birds may be left well back of the Canada West playoffs again.

Quoting the coach:

Milan Dragicevic on his team's identity - “We're not blessed with a whole lot of offensive players - we know that. That's not our identity, that's not who we are. We're going to be a hard working, defensive team, and a team that has to do all the little things to be successful."

UBC looking to rise from the ashes – South Campus Sports

Calgary Dinos ('09-10: 13-9-6 CW - 4th, 16th in RPI) Lost to Alberta in CW semis

The Dinos in 250:

A return to the postseason in 2009-10 was the story in Calgary, where the Dinos will be looking to continue improving as a program under now second-year head coach Mark Howell.

Offence could be an issue however for Calgary, after the Dions netted 84 goals last season compared to 91 against, making them the only team out west to qualify for a playoff spot while being outscored by their opponents.

On the recruiting front Howell's class is highlighted by netminder Kris Lazaruk who put up solid numbers at the WHL level, including his career year back in 2007-08 with Kootenay when the Edmonton product posted a 26-17-4 record. Lazaruk will be battling last year's number one Dustin Butler for playing time.

Along with Lazaruk two other recruits carry major junior résumés. Defenceman Brett Bartman who played with Spokane will be a serviceable defender who should play good minutes, and Colton Grant of the Chilliwack Bruins will most likely slot into a secondary role offensively this season. Those additions though in themselves won't be enough for the Dinos to garner a home playoff date.

Calgary appears to be in for a dog fight when it comes to a playoff berth this season, but just how much Howell can get out of returning players remains to be seen. He illustrated that he could get more out of a team last year than his predecessor, and if that continues the Dinos will once again be in the postseason.

Quoting the coach:

Mark Howell on changing the culture of the program - "We wanted to come in as a coaching staff, and that was our biggest thing, make sure our players started to respect and appreciate what was required to move forward and become a championship team. I think we laid that groundwork and now we can move forward."

Dinos eying more progress – South Campus Sports

Lethbridge Pronghorns ('09-10: 13-11-4 CW - 5th, 15th in RPI) Missed playoffs

The 'Horns in 250:

After coming on late last season with to a 9-3-1 second half record (but just narrowly missing the playoffs), head coach Greg Gatto and company will be looking to carry over their success from the end of last year into 2010-11.

With some big losses up front, including their second- and third-leading scorers in Adam Chorneyko and Jason Roberts, finding players to fill the offensive void left by those two players will be crucial to any success the Pronghorns will have this season.

That being said, Gatto will have Brian Matte and Winston Day Chief in the lineup from the get-go; both those players joined Lethbridge after Christmas last year and combined for 31 points, coming out and suddenly catapulting the 'Horns into the playoff hunt.

Recruits Taylor Gal from Medicine Hat, Tyler Melancon who played junior A in Ontario last year after three OHL seasons, Ryan Letts from Spokane, and Nicholas Hotson who transfered from Manitoba will all be looked to for some offence.

Scoring, however, wasn't Lethbridge's biggest concern last year, notching the third most goals in the conference (96), but giving up the second most in Canada West as well (106).

Tightening up defensively will be the key if the Pronghorns hope to make a return to the playoffs after falling just two points short of the postseason last year.

With a decent recruiting class, the confidence of last season, and an experienced goaltender, Lethbridge should challenge for the playoffs and could surprise.

Quoting the coach:

Greg Gatto on expectations - "We're setting expectations high. Two teams are going to nationals - why can't we be one of the two? We've shown we can play well with every team in our league. We've played well against the U of A, great against U of C."

'Horns look to pick up where they left off – South Campus Sports

Manitoba Bisons ('09-10: 16-10-2 - 3rd, 6th in RPI) Lost to Alberta in CW final, qualified for nationals

The Herd in 250:

It was a breakout season for the Manitoba Bisons last year, making it all the way to the national tournament thanks to a second place finish in the conference playoffs.

Backstopped by the winner of the inaugural CIS Goaltender of the Year award in Steve Christie, the Bisons put together a season that should have hopes high for the 2010-11 campaign in the Manitoba capital.

With Christie back in goal, and the additions of some good recruits, Manitoba will once again be a playoff team – there should be little doubt about that, but just how good is the real question.

Defenceman Dane Crowley, who was a 6th round pick of Tampa in '06, along with Jeremy Schappert who put up 48 points last year in Seattle will both bolster an already strong blue line. Myles Rumsey also rejoins the team after a one year hiatus from the program.

Couple an improved defence core with the return of the best goaltender in the nation last year, and shutting down the opposition shouldn't be the issue in Winnipeg.

With fifth leading scorer Rick Wood and his 16 points being the only major scoring threat leaving the team from last year, Manitoba should still be able to put up enough offence to win close games with the strength of their defence and goaltending.

Apparently the coaches agree with me: the Herd garnered three first place votes in the preseason coaches poll, finishing only one point back of Alberta for top spot.

Quoting the coach:

Mike Sirant on why Manitoba boys love playing in the 'Peg (all of Sirant's 2010-11 recruits hail from Winnipeg) - "We have an excellent university, and an excellent hockey program here to offer them that really is a tremendous opportunity for them. We emphasis and build on that pride of being from Manitoba, and coming back to represent your province.”

Bisons hoping to build on big year – South Campus Sports

Regina Cougars ('09-10: 9-17-2 - 6th, 22nd in RPI) Missed playoffs

The Cougs in 250:

Goals were hard to come by in the Queen City last year, so what did head coach Blaine Sautner do this offseason? He went out and got two 30 goal players from the WHL to hopefully spark the renaissance of Regina's hockey program. Those 30 goal scorers are former Regina Pats Matt Strueby (37 goals last season) and Brett Leffler (33 goals in 2008-09).

Whether those two additions will be enough to turn the Cougars into a legitimate top-four team in Canada West remains to be seen, but it was certainly a step in the right direction for a program that has been outpaced by its provincial rival for top end Saskatchewan talent for a long time.

Along with optimism thanks to the addition of two gifted WHL players, head coach Blaine Sautner and company will also have some fancy new digs to call home. Regina will be moving into a new arena this year, practicing and playing out of the Co-operators Centre which sits just a stones throw from the home of the Pats - the Brandt Centre.

After splitting time in goal last year, Adam Ward will be the undisputed number one after the departure of Brant Hilton who signed on with Mississippi of the CHL this summer.

Sautner has certainly improved his team this offseason, and the Cougars should be more competitive, but don't expect a huge breakout from this group. Regina is building in the right direction, but are still laying the foundation for the future.

Quoting the coach:

Blaine Sautner on landing some offence - "We've always wanted to score more, we just haven't been able to. We've been able to land 20 goal guys out of the Western League, and now we have a couple of 30 goal guys. We're hoping that helps our offence, but we need more than Strueby and Lefler to score for us. If we're just relying on two first-year guys to score for us then it won't happen."

Cougars add offensive bite – South Campus Sports

Saskatchewan Huskies ('09-10: 16-8-4 - 2nd, 13th in RPI) Lost to Manitoba in CW semis

The Dogs in 250:

Last year was a major letdown in Saskatoon where the Huskies started the season slow, and finished with a whimper.

With a three game series loss to Manitoba in the conference semis, head coach Dave Adolph and the Saskatchewan Huskies headed into the offseason looking to add some gritty pieces to the puzzle for 2010-11.

Focusing on players that would come to the rink ready to compete every night, Adolph brought in a number of hard-nosed players to help add some grit to his team after being a self-confessed easy team to play against last year.

Enter Craig McCallum, Cody Smuk, Ryan Funk, Curtis Kulchar, and Garrett Thiessen who will all play a role in the character rebuild. McCallum had the most prolific junior numbers, with 72 points last year in Prince Albert, but also brings a well-rounded game to the table.

Adolph will be hoping those players help mould his group into a harder team to play against, while some of his skilled players who didn't impress last year with their competitiveness do so this time around.

In the crease Saskatchewan will have a new look, after fifth-year Jeff Harvey graduated from the program. The backup last season David Reekie – who got the start over Harvey in Game 3 of the CW semis – will likely split time with rookie and former Medicine Hat Tiger Ryan Holfield.

Expectations will again be high for the Huskies, with Saskatchewan looking to return to the national tournament after a two year hiatus.

Quoting the coach:

Dave Adolph on finding character players - "The character in our dressing room was somewhat lacking [last year]. We went interviewing kids - I spent an awful lot of time in April, May, June trying to introduce myself to all the 20 year-olds in the Western Hockey League. I got around Western Canada and had good chats with most of them. Character was a big thing and I really wanted to be impressed by guys who wanted to come to university and make a difference."

Hustlin' Huskies look for more heart – South Campus Sports
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1 comment:

  1. Should mention that UBC has added two recruits:

    Michael Liambas, and Nolan Toigo. Yes, that Liambas.

    Here's the Vancouver Sun story from Elliott Pap -

    Neate has a post on Liambas over at Buzzing the Net -