Over the course of this weekend, the conference playoffs wrapped up for the country's university volleyballers. We recap the OUA and Canada West Final Four tournaments and look ahead to the upcoming CIS Championship in Langley, BC.

OUA Final Four at Western

Friday, Feb. 25 - Semifinal: McMaster 3-1 Queen's (25-14, 25-19, 23-25, 25-23)
Friday, Feb. 25 - Semifinal: Guelph 1-3 Western (25-15, 28-26, 21-25, 25-15)
Saturday, Feb. 27 - Final: McMaster 3-1 Western (25-17, 25-23, 18-25, 25-22)

How it Happened: Interestingly, as the scores can tell even the most casual reader, all three matches in the OUA tournament this past weekend played out in nearly the same fashion. The eventual winners handily took the opening sets, won the second by a much tighter margin, dropped the third, and reestablished their dominance in the fourth. Odd coincidence? Maybe not.

What it tells you is not that the teams covertly met and agreed that four sets would be the norm, but rather that each match played out according to powerful and palpable momentum shifts. In each case, one team held the lion's share of the energy and impetus, and it showed on the score sheet.

In the opening match of the weekend, the Marauders continued their intriguing domination of the Queen's Golden Gaels. Despite the supposed vulnerability of McMaster at the setting position, with OUA All-Rookie Austin Campion-Smith holding the reigns, it was the Kingston outfit that faced the greater crisis with the loss of their starter Daniel Rosenbaum to injury. Whether it was Rosenbaum's absence or the presence of their rivals across the net, Queen's looked exceptionally tense and tentative to begin the match. Despite some improvement in the third, they would not prove able to maintain a high level of play, and their All-Star starters would almost unanimously struggle. First-Team middle Michael Amoroso was almost entirely shut down by the opposing central combination of Tyler Santoni and Michael Sjonnesen, notching only 9 kills on 22 attempts, with six errors. Joren Zeeman, the left side with National B Team credibility was similarly ineffective, tallying a game-high 24 points but hitting for a paltry percentage of .151.

By comparison, McMaster enjoyed a standout performance from their own left side Kevin Stevens. The Marauder sophomore found great success by doing what he does best: using an assortment of shots and angles to carve out points. As a fairly small outside, Stevens relies on his off-speed savvy to produce kills where larger and more powerful men can rely on brute force alone. His deep bag of tricks helped the Winnipeg native to score a team-high of 16 kills of grab player of the game honours for the Marauders in their semi-final win.

With McMaster through to the final, Guelph and Western played to determine their opponent, and enjoyed a very similar match to that which had preceded them. Western grabbed the opening set by a ten-point margin and eked out the second in extra points, eventually winning in four after a Guelph resurgence. The key for Western was the superior efficiency of its hitters, who continued to swing with authority in the face of a stout defensive effort from the Gryphs. Guelph tallied an incredible total of 90 digs over the four sets played, but could not weather the power of Western's outside stars Matt Poulin and Reid Halpenny. Poulin was particularly immense, wracking up 20 kills on 41 attempts and totalling 21.5 points.

In the final, McMaster managed almost an identical result against the host Mustangs as they had the previous night against the Gaels. With a boisterous traveling crowd behind them, the Marauders stormed out to an early lead and outlasted Western in a very close fourth set that could have broken in either direction. What truly tipped the scales in the visitors' favour was their superior defence, with the Marauders out-blocking and out-digging the Mustangs on the night. The stalwart defence translated into a clear McMaster advantage in longer rallies, and seemingly frustrated Western's decorated hitting corps. And unlike the Gryphons before them, the Marauders possessed an attacking bite that rewarded their defensive prowess. First-year right side Jori Mantha was pivotal on the defensive side of the ball, notching 22 digs on the night.

What it Means: What it all means is that McMaster claims the final golden ticket to Langley, BC and the opportunity to represent Ontario amongst the best volleyball squads this country has to offer. A sixth seed means that McMaster will meet the third-ranked Brandon Bobcats in the quarterfinals.

Canada West Final Four at Alberta

Friday, Feb. 25 - Semifinal: Brandon 3-2 Alberta (25-27, 25-20, 17-25, 28-26, 15-12)
Friday, Feb. 25 - Semifinal: Trinity Western 2-3 Calgary (25-27, 25-17, 25-21, 19-25, 15-11)
Saturday, Feb. 26 - Bronze Medal: Trinity Western 3-1 Alberta (21-25, 25-19, 25-18, 25-15)
Saturday, Feb. 26 - Final: Brandon 2-3 Calgary (25-19, 25-21, 25-27, 23-25, 16-14)

How it Happened: What an odd weekend in Canada West. Having not seen any of the match play, what with bustling back and forth between Hamilton and London for the OUA festivities, I can only speculate on what brought about the results on offer. First and foremost, one has to wonder at the polar fortunes of Alberta and Brandon, who seemed to be on two very different planes of existence for much of this season.

Had I actually written a preview of this past weekend, I would have picked the Golden Bears to beat the Bobcats without too much trouble. Likely in four close but never doubtful sets. Instead, Brandon turns around and one-ups the hosts in five sets. What accounts for this? I think there's a combination of a few factors at play.

First, Brandon is undoubtedly gaining steam as the year winds down, and their quarterfinal series win over the Bisons seems to have given them a renewed sense of confidence. Paul Sanderson is a known quantity, as the single most prolific hitter in the country. But what is most encouraging for the Bobcats is the effectiveness of Kevin Miller on the opposite wing. With the two sharing passing distribution evenly in recent weeks, it is the play of Miller that seems to be the most telling indicator of whether Brandon wins or loses. When he hits above .200 or so, the Bobcats win. When he doesn't, they lose. Case in point: in Friday night's victory over the Golden Bears, Miller put up 24.5 points on 23 of 48 hitting with 11 errors, for a percentage of .250. By comparison, in Saturday's five set defeat to Calgary Miller was 22 of 58 with 12 errors. His percentage? .172.

On the other side of the net, Alberta was alarmingly flat in both of its matches, begging the question of what exactly caused the conference leaders to cool off so suddenly. Are they simply overrated? Or was the bye week a damper on their preparations? At this point, it hardly matters. Because of their struggles, the Golden Bears now face the unenviable task of playing Trinity Western on their home floor at the National Championships. And that match becomes even less appetizing after the relatively sound beating the Spartans handed Alberta in the bronze medal match.

What about Calgary, the team I lauded for much of the season as the best in Canada? Well, it's hard to tell what this past weekend had to say in their case. They won a championship and grabbed the premier seed in the CIS Championships as a result. If nothing else, that guarantees them a virtual free pass in the quarterfinal round against a game but undoubtedly overmatched Sherbrooke team.

One thing that continues to puzzle me from the Dinos is the level to which they are distributing the ball at this stage. Typically, that would be a source of praise, but with a player of the calibre of Graham Vigrass on the floor, I'm not sure it is. In Friday's win over Trinity Western, Vigrass was eclipsed in repetitions by Allen Meek, who did admirably in his leading role. However, I'm still strongly of the belief that if the Dinos are to repeat their success of a year ago, the road will lead squarely through Vigrass.

What it Means: Very little to be honest. With all four teams already having qualified, the results of the weekend served only to shake up seedings at the Championship tournament. Their struggles see Alberta drop to the fifth seed, and Brandon rise to number three. Calgary's victory propels them into top spot.

Seedings and First Round Match Ups at the CIS Championships:


Friday, Mar. 4th -

(7) UNB v. (2) Laval - 1:oo p.m. PST
(6) McMaster v. (3) Brandon - 3:00 p.m. PST
(5) Alberta v. (4) Trinity Western - 6:00 p.m. PST
(8) Sherbrooke v. (1) Calgary - 8:00 p.m. PST

In case anyone has forgotten, I went on a bit of a rant a few weeks ago about the pending shakeup with the St. Thomas head coach and athletic director positions, both held by former NHLer Mike Eagles.

Well the Aquinian, the student newspaper at St. Thomas, is reporting today that Eagles will step down as hockey coach to focus solely on the job of athletic director. Apparently a hiring committee has been struck and employment notices for the now vacant head coaching position will go out this week.

Rumor mill, start your engines!

Update: Bill Hunt from the Daily Gleaner throws out there some coaching possibilities Tuesday:
Among the front runners is expected to be former Tommies' defenceman and current assistant coach Eric Bissonnette and former Tommies defenceman Pat Powers, currently an assistant to University of Western Ontario head coach Clarke Singer.
Update #2: Wednesday Daily Gleaner sports editor Dave Ritchie offers his take on the coaching opportunities for St. Thomas and Bill Hunt has a story that effectively gives the edge in the job search to Eric Bissonnette.

Eagles stepping down as hockey coach (The Aquinan)
STU Begins Search for Men’s Hockey Coach (St. Thomas University Media Release)
New hockey coach at STU (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)
New hockey coach needs to tap into the Tommies network (Dave Ritchie, Daily Gleaner)
Bissonnette: Coaching Tommies 'dream job' (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)
With the playoffs underway, the CIS top-10 picture has started to change a little bit. This week, we'll look at how each conference's playoffs or playoff chase went for the nation's best teams.

(Latest CIS top 10; RPI rankings)


NO. 1 CARLETON RAVENS (22-0 OUA, 1-0 playoffs, 2nd in RPI)
Their first game after an undefeated regular season could have easily turned into a trap game, especially against a Ryerson team that had won its first playoff contest in a very long time. But the Ravens have learned to change their expectations away from just the win-loss column, and you get the feeling this team is hungry for perfection, coming up with a 97-73 win. Says Cole Hobin, the team's defensive stopper, "We let a not-very talented team score 73 points." Disses to the Ryersons aside, that says a lot about a team that's used to winning.

Outlook: Will play Laurier in the first round of the OUA Final Four. What makes Laurier a dangerous team is their versatility of athletes and playmakers. Fortunately for Ravens fans, about the only team that does that better is Carleton.

NO. 6 LAKEHEAD THUNDERWOLVES (17-5 OUA, 1-0 playoffs, 7th in RPI)
Defeated the scrappy Western Mustangs, who had beaten Lakehead just a week prior. Looks like it was a pretty crappy shooting game, er, scrappy defensive battle. The Thunderwolves shot just 35 per cent, but held the 'Stangs to 28 per cent, and both squads combined to go 8-for-47 from beyond the arc.

Outlook: A battle with the resurgent Ottawa Gee-Gees awaits. Both squads are very athletic, and the question for Lakehead will be whether their athletes can make enough real basketball plays to out-execute Ottawa.

NO. 9 WINDSOR LANCERS (16-6 OUA, 0-1 playoffs, 11th in RPI)
I don't think this is how Isaac Kuon, Andre Smyth and Monty Hardware envisioned their CIS careers ending. And terrible puns aside (I know, from me of all people), this article does a good job showing the disbelief Kuon and co. will have at not continuing in the OUA playoffs - much less making it back to the Final 8.


NO. 2 UBC THUNDERBIRDS (22-2 CW, 2-0 playoffs, 3rd in RPI)
Advanced pretty easily, as expected, over the Manitoba Bisons and locked up home court advantage for the Canada West Final Four.

Outlook: The 'Birds will take on Alberta at home, where they went 12-1 at home over the regular season. The only loss? A one-point loss in October to Saskatchewan, who can meet with UBC in the final.

NO. 3 SASKATCHEWAN HUSKIES (20-4 CW, 2-0 playoffs, 4th in RPI)
Got away with a pretty standard sweep of Regina, including a 31-15 third quarter run to run away from what was a close game two. It doesn't look like, as per usual, the opposition had an answer for Jamelle Barrett and Rejean Chabot, who combined for 106 points in the two games.

Outlook: Is an epic duel, a la the one in January, in store for the Huskies-Spartans matchup that awaits? Any fan of CIS basketball hopes so.

NO. 4 TRINITY WESTERN SPARTANS (22-3 CW, 2-1 playoffs, 10th in RPI)
Did anyone give UFV a chance against the Spartans? Probably not, and rightfully so. But not so fast, the Cascades said, as they won game one of the best-of-three series thanks to an absurd 15-0 run to end the game. TWU responded strong in the next two games, taking down the energized UFV squad thanks to a classic/dominant Jacob Doerksen performance in game three.

Outlook: It's easy to find fault in the Spartans for putting up a weak performance in game on. But with the regular blowouts they (along with Saskatchewan and UBC) come up with, one gets the feeling a little fresh playoff experience under pressure might help them in the next round.

Note: The AUS playoffs begin this Friday.

Pulled away scrappy efforts by UPEI 79-70 and UNB 74-67 while sitting many of their starters, having already locked up the top seed in the AUS tournament.

Outlook: They won't know who they'll play until Friday's matchups hash themselves out, but a season of hard work has gone into making sure everyone knows the boys in orange are the team to beat out east.

NO. 6 ST. FX X-MEN (15-5 AUS, 5th in RPI)
Exploded for 114 points in a blowout of Memorial, then came up with a blowout again over UPEI.

Outlook: Does any team have more of a chip on their shoulder than X? A preseason favourite, they lost more games they weren't supposed to lose than any other contender. I know everyone's been saying this all year, but an angry, deep team with a ton of veterans is something nobody wants to play against. Saint Mary's may find that out the hard way this Friday.

Overcame a late comeback by SMU to close the regular season with a 78-72 win.

Outlook: Like CBU, they've got to wait to see who they play. And like CBU, they've gotten better as the season's gone on.

Note: The QUBL playoffs begin this Tuesday.

Struggled to pull away from the lowly Bishop's Gaiters, managing an 89-85 win.

Outlook: I'd like to make some insight about the Q playoffs. But the way the season's gone, I think it's going to be as volatile a playoffs as it has been a regular season. We'll see when the Stingers take on UQAM on Tuesday.
Not much to say this week ... the only real upset playoff wins were Ottawa over Toronto and Laurier over Windsor, but the Lancers and Blues only showed up on a few ballots anyway.

Join Kate Hole, Brian Decker, and others this afternoon for our live coverage of the OUA West women's final between the deliriously happy (judging by the picture) Laurier Golden Hawks and conference #1 Windsor! The winner of this game will play the Carleton/Toronto winner at home next weekend for an automatic berth into the Final 8.

The regular season didn't go into the books quietly this weekend with the playoff picture coming down to the last night of the 2010-11 regular season, and a scary incident in Vancouver where OHL outcast Mike Liambas attacked Golden Bears captain Eric Hunter.

After dropping their Friday night contest 6-3 to Saskatchewan - a result that clinched the Huskies a playoff berth - the Manitoba Bisons came out Saturday night in need of a win to guarantee themselves of a postseason spot. The Bisons did just that with a convincing 6-2 win over Saskatchewan, which would prove to be the difference in the playoff race as Lethbridge went on to win their Saturday night game in Calgary 2-1 in OT.

That win for the 'Horns came after a 5-2 loss to the Dinos a night earlier. The Pronghorns victory Saturday would prove inconsequential after the Herd's win earlier that evening, with the playoff picture settled providing these Canada West semi-final matchups:

#1 Alberta vs. #4 Manitoba - The Bears went 3-1-0 against Manitoba this season, but the teams' last two meetings earlier this month were both one goal contests in which Alberta triumphed 4-3 in a SO and then 4-3 in OT. The Golden Bears and Bisons meet in a rematch of last season's Canada West final. Alberta won that series in three games, but Steve Christie gave the Bears fits all weekend long and will be the key to this series again.

#2 Calgary vs. #3 Saskatchewan - Calgary hosts this series against a Saskatchewan team that has had success against the Dinos this season going 3-1-0 and outscoring head coach Mark Howell's team 11-4 in those three victories. The Huskies are 2-3-1 over the last three season though at Father David Bauer Arena in Calgary, and the Olympic-sized ice surface will be a factor in this series.

More on those matchups later this week, but the big news from this past weekend of Canada West action was in Vancouver where Mike Liambas wrote another chapter in his tumultuous hockey career. I wasn't in Vancouver to watch the games between Alberta and UBC - a series split that saw UBC win 3-2 Friday before the Bears bounced back with a 4-0 win Saturday night - so I will save final judgment on the play that injured Hunter Friday night until I see the video this week, but here's how Bears head coach Eric Thurston described the play in the Globe and Mail:

Liambis goes right after Hunter and drops his gloves and hits him from the side and behind then plants him into the ice...(Hunter) had cuts under his (right eye) and stitches and he’s had headaches and dizziness. Our trainers were with him all night and the doctor will be examining him today.

Liambas was assessed a minor penalty, a five-minute major, and a game misconduct on the play. He was suspended for Saturday night's game, and further punishment has yet to be handed down after receiving an automatic two-game ban. Canada West convenor Bill Seymour said Sunday there was no timeline for further discipline.

Just how long Hunter is out remains to be seen, but if he misses any time because of the incident the Bears national title hopes will take a serious hit. Hunter is the key to the Bears' top six forwards given the edge and offensive ability he provides.

As for commenting on Liambas, I won't jump to conclusions about how vicious his intent was until I see the video, but I will say this - he wasn't barred from the Ontario Hockey League for nothing. Sometimes history repeats itself, and unfortunately, it seems that's what's happened here, as a player with a past has brought his former problems to the present.

U of A hockey captain suffers concussion after on-ice attack - The Globe and Mail
Canada West looking at Liambas incident - Metro
One half of the OUA Eastern Conference final is set, after the McGill Redmen defeated the Nipissing Lakers 6-4 last night to sweep their semifinal series.

Tonight, we find out which team the Redmen will face.

Game three of the OUA Eastern Conference semifinal between the Carleton Ravens and the UQTR Patriotes is set for 7 p.m. this evening in Trois-Rivières. UQTR is ranked ninth in the nation, while Carleton is ranked tenth.

Either outcome from tonight’s game would create a compelling matchup with McGill. The Patriotes and the Redmen have met in the conference final in each of the last three seasons, and one of those two teams has represented the OUA East at Nationals in 12 out of the last 13 years.

The Carleton Ravens, on the other hand, have not made it to an OUA Eastern Conference Final since the program was reborn in 2007. They were the only team to defeat the Redmen in regulation this year, when they shutout McGill in back-to-back home games.

Below, I’ll preview tonight’s Game 3, make a bold (and probably foolish) prediction, and discuss a voting quirk in the OUA Eastern Conference All-Star team.

(As an aside, it should be a great night for hockey across the OUA, as game three of both the Western-Waterloo and Guelph-Laurier series will faceoff this evening. Get yourself to a rink if you live nearby.)

(#2) UQTR Patriotes vs. (#3) Carleton Ravens

How we got to Game 3:
Each team took advantage of home ice, splitting the first two games of the series with wins in front of a friendly crowd.

On Wednesday, UQTR got a goal from Pierre-Alexandre Joncas just 48 seconds into the first period to build a lead they would never relinquish, in a 4-2 game one victory.

Carleton answered back on Friday night, getting goals from two-thirds of their top six forwards en route to a 4-1 win.

(If home ice ends up being a factor in Game 3, the Ravens will be kicking themselves for a sloppy 4-1 loss to the Patriotes on the last weekend of the regular season that cost them the second seed.)

Why UQTR could win: They can score goals with ease.

UQTR’s top two lines have been red-hot thus far in the playoffs. Felix Petit, Olivier Donovan, and Jeff Desjardins have combined for 18 points in five games, while the Patriotes’ versatile second-line of Joncas, Etienne Bellavance-Martin, and Jean-Sebastien Breton have been even better, with 19 points.

When you add-in the offensive flair of defenceman Pierre-Luc Lessard (29 points during the regular season), and the slumping Francis Charland (118 points in 93 career games; only 1 assist thus far in the playoffs) you get a team that is as dangerous as any in the CIS.

Why Carleton could win: They’re the better team.

Carleton has outshot UQTR 62-39 in the series thus far, and their defense is as solid as any unit in the league, giving up an average of 2.32 goals against per game — the fourth best GAA in the CIS.

The Ravens can also match the Patriotes offensively, as Carleton’s top line of Brandon MacLean, Joey Manley, and Ryan Berard has combined for a playoff-high 23 points.

They’ll need First Team All-Star netminder Mathieu Dopud (more on him at the bottom of this post) to be better if they hope to win, however. A .872 save percentage in the series isn’t good enough, especially since Patriotes goaltender Jean-Christophe Blanchard seems to have finally found his game, after struggling during the regular season.

Bold Prediction: I’m sticking with my original prediction (Carleton in 3) and taking the Ravens to upset the Patriotes tonight. In a fairly close game, I’m inclined to favor the team with better special teams, and that’s definitely Carleton:

Carleton Power Play: 21.4% (regular season); 20.7% (playoffs)
UQTR Power Play: 17.6% (regular season); 14.3% (playoffs)

Carleton Penalty Kill: 86.7% (regular season); 90.5% (playoffs)
UQTR Penalty Kill: 77% (regular season); 82.6% (playoffs)

(The year-to-year drop-off for UQTR’s special teams is stunning. In 2009-10 they had the best power play, and the second-best penalty kill, in the OUA East.)

So I'll say Carleton wins it 5-2, including a late empty-net goal. While the game will not be webcast, Matt Di Nicolantonio will be live tweeting the game for the Charlatan, if you're interested in keeping tabs on the score.

Notebook: Two Top Goaltenders

Carleton rookie netminder Mathieu Dopud was the OUA East’s top goaltender this season. Except that he wasn’t the OUA East’s “Top Goaltender.”

Due to a quirk in voting, Dopud was named a First Team OUA East All-Star, yet McGill’s Hubert Morin took home the conference’s Top Goaltender award.

Understandably, both McGill and Carleton were displeased that Morin could win Top Goaltender, yet be named a Second Team All-Star, behind Dopud. It baffles all logic, as coaches from within the conference vote for both the All-Star team and the major awards (such as Top Goaltender).

A change in the voting procedure is likely. There seems to be some support for an idea I heard most recently from McGill Coach Kelly Nobes: the major award winners (MVP, top defenceman, and top goaltender) get an automatic berth on the First All-Star team, regardless of the All-Star vote totals.

(McGill hockey fans are particularly ornery about award voting this week, after Concordia goaltender Audrey Doyon-Lessard was named QUHL women’s hockey MVP, despite being named a Second Team All-Star. The first team All-Star netminder was McGill’s Charline Labonté.)

Yet I don’t blame the coaches for having trouble differentiating between Morin and Dopud, since their regular season stats were almost identical:

Dopud: 17 games, .914 save percentage, a 2.11 GAA, and 2 shutouts.
Morin: 18 games, .915 save percentage, a 2.18 GAA, and 1 shutout.

One can’t even separate the two by looking at team performance when each squad had to play its backup goalie, as McGill’s Antoine Tardif had a .908 SV%, while Carleton’s Ryan Dube had a .905 SV%. The drop-off in winning percentage and goals against average was also not significantly different, when adjusted for difficulty of opposition.

So perhaps it’s fitting that both Morin and Dopud were recognized for their play this season — consistency and logic be damned.
How odd is it when a team wins a playoff series but might not make it to the nationals, while their recently-defeated opponent will definitely be there?

That's what's happened in women's hockey at the moment, thanks to the unranked Queen's Golden Gaels knocking off the second-ranked Laurier Golden Hawks 2-1 in double overtime Friday. The victory not only gave Queen's a 2-0 series win (oddly enough, the first game also finished 2-1 for the Gaels in double overtime, and Brittany McHaffie scored the winner in both games), but it also dramatically reversed playoff history; Queen's had never won a women's hockey playoff series against Laurier, and the Gaels were 1-8 in playoff games against the Golden Hawks heading into Friday's game (0-8 before this year; I covered several of those losses during my time on campus at Queen's, including this one in 2008). Also, for the first time in eight years, Laurier will not claim the OUA title. Despite all that, Laurier still has a shot at claiming the national title, and a considerably better one than the Gaels do.

The Golden Hawks are hosting the championships, and as such, automatically receive one of the six berths. Two others go to Canada West teams, with one each for a QSSF team and an AUS team, leaving just one for an Ontario team. Queen's has a shot at that berth, as they'll now face the winner of the Brock-Guelph series (Guelph leads 1-0 after a 3-2 double-overtime win of their own in the first game Thursday; the second game is tonight at Guelph) in the OUA final . Either of those teams could pose a difficult hurdle for the Gaels; Guelph is ranked eighth nationally and has a strong lineup, and I've already written plenty about the fifth-ranked Badgers. Because of Laurier's host berth, only the OUA champion will advance to nationals, so it's quite possible that the Golden Hawks will be there and their Golden foes will not despite their triumph in the playoffs.

On the surface, that doesn't seem particularly fair. However, when you think about it in logistics terms, it's more reasonable than it sounds at first. The host berth may not be the ideal situation from a competitive standpoint, but it goes a long way towards making championships financially sustainable (especially in sports like women's hockey that aren't always the easiest spectator draw). Some people will come to watch the championship semi-finals and finals regardless of who's playing, but at the championships I've attended, the local team has always received the most interest regardless of how they do. Moreover, the championship sites have to be determined well in advance to give local organizing committees enough time to prepare. To the credit of CIS, it's generally strong teams that are given the chance to host championships, and teams that are perennially strong; that's why we don't see situations like this crop up very much. Frankly, it's quite surprising they don't happen more often given the year-to-year turnover in CIS sports and the general unpredictability of playoffs.

It's not like Laurier's a particularly undeserving team, either; they dominated OUA play during the regular season, finishing with a 24-2-1 record and a ludicrous 103 goals for against just 30 allowed. Two one-goal double overtime losses don't all of a sudden make them an awful team, even if those losses would normally end their season. I'm a big believer in the playoff system instead of just rewarding the regular-season champions, as it adds plenty of drama and a chance for underdogs to have their day, and normally, I'd agree that a OUA semifinal loss should be curtains for whatever team sustained it. However, the host berth has an important purpose, and Laurier was certainly a deserving choice to receive one based on their track record to date. The way the women's hockey playoffs have turned out this year isn't necessarily the fairest, but I don't think it will provide any impetus to change the system, and I don't think it should. From this standpoint, it looks like a bit of an unfortunate anomaly rather than a disturbing trend.

Correction: This post originally had Queen's at 1-8 against Laurier in the playoffs heading into this year. In fact, they were 1-8 heading into Friday's game, 0-8 heading into this year. Thanks to Queen's communications and sports information officer Mike Grobe for passing that on.
There are eight elimination games today ... let's go through them all, in order of how likely the underdog is to win the series.

Manitoba at UBC
Series: 1-0 UBC (106-75)
Odds of Manitoba coming back: 0.5%

This series really isn't close. UBC used ten players for ten minutes or more in Game 1, grabbing 28 defensive rebounds to Manitoba's 31 total rebounds. The Bisons turned the ball over 25 times. UBC also had a 24-4 run to end the first half. Nothing short of a miracle would give the Bisons a series win.

Regina at Saskatchewan
Series: Saskatchewan 1-0 (98-75)
Odds of Regina coming back: 3.8%

More of the same ... when you win by 23, and were up 19 at the half, is there any doubt you'll win again the next day? Though two players on both teams (Jamelle Barrett and Rejean Chabot; Jeff Lukomski and Paul Gareau) broke 20, so there's that. Nolan Brudehl had 22 rebounds.

Ryerson at Carleton
Odds of Ryerson winning: 8.4%

We had some fun when Rams coach Roy Rana called York the most talented team in the conference. I think he knows full well how talented the Carletons are, and is about to be reminded.

UFV at Trinity Western
Series: 1-1 (81-80 UFV, 86-69 TWU)
Odds of UFV winning: 20.9%

At least two of four Canada West quarterfinal series will go the distance, with this one being the most one-sided. The Spartans are pretty good, you might have heard, and the first-game comeback by the Cascades might seem a long time ago once today's fourth quarter rolls around. Still, UFV has about a 1 in 5 chance.

Western at Lakehead
Odds of Western winning: 25%

Here is the Lakehead-centric preview. (And here is the one-sentence post on the Mustangs' Backcourt Club blog that says nothing about the game other than the opponent and time.) This should be a good one; home games for the GGOD[T]s usually are. Were I not catching a 7:00 movie, I'd be watching this 7:00 tipoff.

Laurier at Windsor
Odds of Laurier winning: 39.4%

Chris Oliver says his team has to play defence in this one, and that "Laurier knows they'll need their best effort." The Hawks had a bit of a scare Wednesday night, when Guelph (who barely made the playoffs) led by four at the half. (I said it was only a "bit" of a scare.)

Victoria at Alberta
Series: 1-1 (76-59 Alberta, 85-79 Victoria)
Odds of Victoria winning: 39.5%

An early pick of mine for the Final 8, the Vikes tied the best-of-three yesterday. It may be cold in Edmonton (who am I kidding, it's always cold in Edmonton), but it's not on the UVic sideline, as they shot 60% in the second game. Granted, that was after a mere 40% in the first.

Ottawa at Toronto
Odds of Ottawa winning: 44.4%

Today's closest game: the Gee-Gees and the Blues. Here's Mark Wacyk's take on it (and the other OUA games). Of course, since this game is between schools from the two largest cities in Ontario, none of the daily newspapers in those cities appears to have previewed the game at all. (Then again maybe that's just as well.)
The first battle of the women's basketball playoffs is underway in just a few minutes time over at SSN Canada. This post will be updated throughout the game.


4:00 pm local time - SSN announcers say that Katie Arbuthnot is back in the lineup tonight, big boost for the Pandas. Alberta goes with Popovici, Haylett, Bakker, Rissling and Hillier. UBC with Lisson, Vieweg, Huntley, St.-Pierre and Young.

6:09 1st Q, 8-4 AB - Georgia Popovici has come out flying, she's 2-for-2 from beyond the arc for six so far, while playing some good inside defense. Not much penetration from either offense so far, the defenses are well-prepared.

2:36 1st Q, 13-12 UBC - Lia St.-Pierre found wide open for a three ball after a good transition. Alberta having some trouble getting set up on defense. Gives UBC their second lead of the game.

End of 1st Q, 16-13 AB - UBC getting into some early foul trouble and the Pandas have made them pay from the line, going 8-for-8, although the Thunderbirds have shot better from the field. Katie Arbuthnot is looking good early on for Alberta, with 4 points in 8 minutes.

6:17 2nd Q, 25-18 AB - The interesting matchup here has been Georgia Popovici and Alex Vieweg. Neither player getting much room inside but have each racked up 8 points. UBC takes a timeout, they've gone cold in the second quarter shooting and have turned the ball over nine times already this game. Gotta get that offense under control, since Alberta have come to play tonight.

4:11 2nd Q, 25-22 AB - Quick 4-0 run from the Thunderbirds have led to Alberta taking their timeout. UBC has the fast-break advantage so far, I think they've made four or five baskets off transition so far, including both in the mini-run they've been on.

End of 2nd Q, 35-30 AB - Marisa Haylett's shot at the buzzer doesn't fall, and, as Doug McLean notes on the SSN Broadcast, neither team is very organized on the half-court offense. The shot-clock is ticking a few seconds faster than normal it seems, as five shot-clock violations have occured already. Despite the struggles in ball movement, both teams are shooting well at 52%, hence the respectable scoreline.

UBC only sent Alberta to the line twice in that quarter, taking them out of foul trouble. Haylett leads the way for the Pandas, 8 points and 2 boards in 19 minutes of play, while Alex Vieweg has dominated Popovici in transition and under the offensive glass, she's scored 14 points in that half and has a pair of rebounds, but, two fouls incurred, which may come into play if the game stays close.

7:06 3rd Q, 39-37 AB - Sally Hillier responds to a Kris Young layup giving UBC the lead with a 3-ball to put the Pandas back up top.

4:20 3rd Q, 46-41 AB - And former Kitsilano Blue Demon Marisa Haylett breaks Kris Young's ankles and sticks away a long jumper for her 13th point and adds the Pandas lead.

0:41 3rd Q, 49-48 AB - Leigh Stansfield's two free throws were the first points made in over a minute of action. Two turnovers and two fouls in that span.

End of 3rd Q, 51-48 AB - Marisa Haylett with a couple of free throws of her own to stretch the gap back to three as we enter the all-important fourth quarter. Neither team is doing too well under opposing glass, just five offensive rebounds on both sides (3 for UBC and 2 for Alberta).

8:35 4th Q, 53-50 AB - Lia St.-Pierre back into the game for UBC, she has six points and three fouls, while Georgia Popovici is struggling for the Pandas, not making a basket since the first quarter and caused a turnover being unable to handle a Haylett pass.

7:28 4th Q, 53-53 - Devan Lisson with a clutch three ball ties us right back up. Alberta looking very disorganized right now.

4:47 4th Q, 58-57 AB - Pace is picking up as the urgency increases for both teams. In the 'unlikely heroes' file is Kris Young, who averaged 6.5 points per game during the season, with 18 so far for UBC who has gone 9-for-12. Despite the point disadvantage, UBC appears to be in control here.

2:59 4th Q, 59-58 UBC - Rissling missed a layup for Alberta, but got her own rebound and kicked it outside to a wide-open Sally Hillier, who has otherwise been automatic from deep tonight, missing a big one for the Pandas. T-Birds in clear control.

1:56 4th Q, 63-60 UBC - And Haylett's pass is wayward, giving Alex Vieweg an easy steal and bucket as her T-Birds take a 3-point lead. Alberta's shooting has gone cold in the fourth quarter. Timeout Alberta.

1:46 4th Q 63-63 - And a well-drawn up inbounds play gives Marisa Haylett a wide-open look for three and she ties this up. Timeout UBC as the intensity rattles up in this one.

0:26 4th Q, 66-63 UBC - With two seconds on the shotclock, Alex Vieweg drives the lane and collects a foul, hitting the first foul shot, with the Pandas missing the box-out on the second shot (missed!) and Lia St.-Pierre collects an easy basket as time winds down for the Pandas.

0:16 4th Q, 66-66 - And for the second time this quarter, Haylett ties the ball game with another huge three, this one from the left wing. Timeout UBC. Will they try to win the game at the buzzer?

End of 4th Q, 66-66 - Alysia Rissling goes straight up against Alex Vieweg and keeps her from any good looks, her desperation shot with time ticking off doesn't fall, and we go to an overtime period. In for a great finish, as Alberta has clearly wrestled momentum away from UBC, who have surprisingly, stopped pressing Sally Hillier as they were early on.

Rissling and Lia St.-Pierre both have four fouls. Popovici and Vieweg each have three. No other foul trouble to speak of.

3:21 OT, 72-66 AB - Annekka Bakker and Georgia Popovici each make circus shots, then Haylett grabs a steal and goes the other way to cap off this 6-point run at the start of overtime.

1:44 OT, 74-68 AB - And if things couldn't get worse for the Thunderbirds, Devan Lisson misses two free throw attempts, although this is right before Vieweg and Popovici trade baskets.

0:14 OT, 78-74 AB - Timeout UBC after a tough shot from Arianne Duschene of the Thunderbirds. Haylett made a pair of free throws to put points 77 and 78 on the board, which are the two important ones with such little time left.

0:14 OT, 80-74 AB The T-Birds manage to foul without taking any time off of the clock, but unfortunately, the double-whammy as it was Kris Young, UBC's second highest scorer of the night, on Marisa Haylett, who's automatic from the stripe, who knocks down both.

End OT, 80-74 AB FINAL Lisson's late shot doesn't fall and the Pandas control the rebound, giving the Pandas the first game of the series, in a game that easily could have gone the other way.

Marisa Haylett made the two clutch three balls in the fourth quarter and had a game-high 29 points in 37 minutes of play. Sally Hillier had 12 points and six rebounds, with all her points coming off of three-point shots. For UBC, it was Alex Vieweg with a 22 points, while Kris Young scored 18 points and also collected six boards.

Haylett tied it up late, a lead the Pandas never gave up, and they'll take Game 1. Game 2 goes tomorrow at 1:00 PM local time from Edmonton.
This time around, we'll look at who has risen (or fallen) the most since the last time we did this (Jan. 18). Teams must have started in the top half (if falling) or entered the top half (if rising). No men's volleyball or women's hockey teams made the cut.


Saskatchewan, men's basketball (+9)
Then: 13th
Now: 4th

Worrying about their weak schedule was needless, since they beastin' through everyone now, losing only once to TWU. They won all their other games--including against Regina, their first-round opponent, whom they will likely handle without much difficulty Friday and Saturday.

Western, men's basketball (+10)
Then: 29th
Now: 19th

They won a road playoff game last night, but that's not the only reason they're up 10 spots: they also beat Laurier and Lakehead in the last month or so. They'll get another chance to beat the Thunderwolves on Saturday, because they're going to Thunder Bay for an OUA quarterfinal.

Lethbridge, men's hockey (+14)
Then: 29th
Now: 15th

This has been quite the turnaround for the Pronghorns. Our Evan Daum described it as such: "For the second year in a row Greg Gatto has his team knocking on the playoff door and despite some rough spots along the way - including missing Scott Bowles for a long stretch at the start of the season - Lethbridge has proved they can play with anyone. If the Pronghorns can make it to the postseason they'll prove to give their opposition all they can handle, playing a wide open style that can make high scoring upsets possible."

They'll need a point or two against Calgary this weekend to make the playoffs. If they do, their ranking will increase even more.

St. F-X, women's basketball (+13)
Then: 25th
Now: 12th

Six wins, including two over UNB and one over Acadia that featured their "best half of the season", have put the X-Women in third place in the AUS and among the also-receiving-votes teams in the top 10.


McMaster, men's basketball (-10)
Then: 12th
Now: 22nd

Mac's problems have been well-documented by our Brian Decker over at the Sil. Their first game after we remarked that they were up near the top 10 was the one with Scott Brittain's season- (career-?)ending injury. And last night, their season ended at home with UWO dealing them a playoff loss.

Toronto, men's basketball (-9)
Then: 7th
Now: 16th

Losing three in a row to Carleton, Ottawa, and Ryerson won't help the ol' W-L record--and aside from Carleton, won't help the strength-of-schedule rating either. They also played the rest of the OUA East, further dragging down the SOS, and lost to Queen's at home. To Queen's. At home.

Lakehead, men's hockey (-9)
Then: 12th
Now: 21st

The Thunderwolves (not the GGOD[T]s, though I'm sure the hockey team is full of good people) fooled a few of us. Just check out their results, starting on Jan. 21:

W vs. Brock, L vs. Brock, L at Guelph, OTL at Guelph, L vs. York, OTW vs. York, OTL at Waterloo, W at Waterloo

And then we enter the playoffs:

L 5-0 at Waterloo
L 3-0 vs. Waterloo

That? Is not good. No wonder the "12" RPI ranking flipped to a "21."
Carrying on from yesterday, here’s the second post in our series on lower-ranked teams to watch for in the playoffs and the national championships (if they make it that far). The last post looked at potential dark-horse candidates in men’s and women’s volleyball. Remember, the only criterion is that teams have to be ranked below #4 in the most recent Top 10 poll. Today, we move on to men’s and women’s hockey.

Men’s hockey: St. Francis Xavier X-Men: The X-Men were ranked sixth in the last Top-10 poll, and they’re playing the #4 Saint Mary’s Huskies in the best-of-five AUS semifinals. Only the winner has a chance at making the nationals (UNB has a host berth and then there’s one other AUS berth, so if the Varsity Reds knock off Acadia, either X or SMU is in, but if the Axemen upset UNB, only the AUS champion and UNB would make it), so it’s quite possible that the X-Men won’t even make it that far. Don’t write off their chances of pulling an upset, though; our David Kilfoil wrote earlier that St. FX’s physical style matches up very well with Saint Mary’s. The X-Men won all four of their games against the Huskies this season, and they’ve also got revenge on their mind after losing to Saint Mary’s last year in the playoffs. It’s quite possible to envision them knocking off the Huskies and moving on to the nationals.

If the X-Men manage to make it to the big dance, I could see them making a little noise. Their 17-10-1 regular-season record wasn’t incredibly notable, but they’ve got some impressive players. Chief among them is Bryce Swan, who finished the year with 19 goals (fifth nationally) and 10 assists in 28 games. They also have one of the best goalies in the country, Joey Perricone, who put up a .925 save percentage (sixth nationally) and a 2.37 GAA (seventh) in the 19 games he played. If things work out for X and Perricone gets hot at the right time, the top-ranked Varsity Reds might not be the only AUS team to make a splash on the national stage.

Women’s hockey: Brock Badgers: The Badgers aren’t exactly off the national radar. They checked in at #5 in the most recent Top-10 poll, and thus would be expected to take the second OUA spot (after Laurier’s host berth) at the nationals. In reality, the path there isn’t quite that easy, as they still have to get past Guelph in the semifinals; the Gryphons were ranked eighth in the last poll and are a dangerous opponent.

However, you’d have to imagine that Brock should be able to make it to the OUA finals. The Badgers put up an impressive 22-5 mark this season (a .815 winning percentage). That tied them for the second-highest number of wins nationally with St. FX (although the X-Women went 22-0 and McGill went 20-0), behind only Laurier. Their 85 goals for and 52 against are nothing to sneeze at, either, and forward Kelly Walker finished second in the country with 41 points. It’s the goaltending that may prove their biggest advantage, though; Beth Clause started 23 of their games, putting up a .943 save percentage (third nationally) and a 1.64 goals-against-average (eighth nationally). Making the nationals isn’t a guarantee for Brock, but if they get there, they could surprise a few teams.

Tune in tomorrow for my picks on basketball teams that could surprise.
The AUS quarter-finals were both sweeps; I don't expect that in the semi-finals. Thanks to finishing first place in the regular season, UNB gets to play the lowest survivor - Acadia. For the fans, and probably the players, I don't think it really matters who the V-Reds play, as all of the remaining teams are rivals. UNB took their season series 3-1, but perhaps worrying for Acadia, the Axemen have not scored in the second half against UNB. And they're coming off two 1-0 wins over UPEI where Scott Tregunna was the only Axemen who could find the back of the net. So scoring could be an issue for the team in red and blue. As for UNB, well they're a little banged up (but who isn't this time of year) and the two week layoff may have dulled their edge a bit, but I think you have to favour them in this series. I can see this going like their season series, 3-1, with lots of bruises on both sides.

The Battle of the Saints should be anything but. Sure the Huskies finished in second place, but they've lost all four games against StFX this season, despite outshooting the X-Men in each game. StFX plays a strong defensive game, and Joey Perricone has been there most games to bail them out in nets. And, after upsetting UNB last season the X-Men got dumped by the Huskies, so lots of motivation here. SMUs matches up very well against UNB, especially at home, but I don't know how well they'll do in the trenches against StFX. I can see this series going five games, and maybe the X-Men even squeaking out the win.

#1 UNB (23-5-0) vs. #4 Acadia (14-11-3)

Game #1: After a bit of a feeling out in the first period Saturday night, this game came alive in the second period. UNB picked up the pace and pretty much controlled the territorial play, until they had to kill penalties. But the first goal of the game came shorthanded, by Chris Culligan from a perfect feed from Hunter Tremblay at 5:28. Christmas pickup d-man M.-A. Desnoyer pinched in and collected the garbage just over two minutes later to make it 2-0 for UNB. The V-Reds energy line made it 3-0 when Spencer Corcoran's shot found the far side of the net at 12:52. Three minutes later the UNB attack drew a penalty and captain Kyle Bailey batted the rebound past Kris Westblom. The offensively challenged Axeman (only two goals in last two games) didn't have an answer in the third period - while they did generate more shots, especially on the power play, Travis Fullerton made the save when it counted to preserve his shutout. Shots were 30-15 for UNB in the 4-0 win. Acadia was 0-for-6 on the power play in the game, including three two-man advantage situations. The night was the season debut for UNB defenceman Ben Shutron, who broke his femur back in September in an exhibition game against Calgary and has rehabbed way ahead of predictions.

Game #2: It was the longest game in the history of UNB hockey as V-Reds rookie Nick MacNeil scored his second goal of the game at 11:53 of the 4th OT period on a two-on-rush with Chris Culligan to give the home team the 3-2 win. Acadia goalie Kris Westblom made 77 saves in 121:53 minutes of play. UNB goalie Travis Fullerton wasn't near as busy in making 37 saves, but many of them were game savers.

Game #3: @Acadia, Thursday, March 3, 7:00 pm
Game #4: @Acadia, Friday, March 4, 7:00 pm (if necessary)
Game #5: @UNB, Tuesday, March 8, 7:00 pm (if necessary)

Discipline key for Acadia vs. UNB (Glenn MacDonald, Chronicle-Herald)
Rehab not a Brees, but Shutron is determined (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)
MacNeil scores in Nick of time (Bill Hunt, Daily Gleaner)

#2 SMU (18-9-1) vs. #3 StFX (17-10-1)

Game #1: Friday night in Antigonish the game saw a tentative start with only 10 shots cobined between StFX and SMU. X's Phil Mangan scored from close in on his team's first shot of the second period, followed by Bryce Swan less than four minutes later. Co-captain Chris Hulit scored on a hard point shot midway through the period to put the X-Men up 3-0. D-man David MacDonald got SMU on the scoreboard thanks to a power play goal at 13:28. Almost seven minutes into the third period Jason Bast restored StFX's three-goal margin, before the Huskies got going again - captain Justin Munden at 11:26 and then Mike Danton with a slapshot past Joey Perricone at 16:37 to bring SMU within a goal. But that was as close as they could come, as seconds after the Huskies pulled goalie Neil Conway, Bast scored his second goal of the game into the net to make it a 5-3 final. Shots favoured SMU 25-17, and 10-5 in the third period.

Game #2: Sunday night the X-Men were up 3-0 on the Huskies at 7:16 of the second period, the SMU responded with four unanswered goals, with two of them coming on the power play. Scott Brannon scored the first two goals to lead the StFX attack while Huskies defenceman David MacDonald got the game winner at 16:33 of the third period to even up the series 1-1.

Game #3: Tuesday night in Halifax the Huskies twice blew a lead as the X-Men won 3-2 to take a 2-1 lead in their series. SMU scored first on a set-piece play when Tyler Cuthbert deliberately fired a puck off the rear boards at the Halifax Forum and Ryan Rorabeck jumped on the rebound and fired it past Joey Perricone. StFX tied the game in the second period when d-man Spencer McAvoy pinched it and found the puck in the wild flailing scrum in front of Neil Conway and put it into the net. Seven and a half minutes later Andrew Hotham scored on a SMU power play to put them back in the lead. Just over five minutes into the third period Jason Bast scored on a one-timer to tie it up once again, and then a Huskies penalty midway through the period proved costly when StFX power forward Bryce Swan scored the go ahead goal on the power play. Perricone had another big night in the X-Men net, making 36 saves to preserve the win.

Game #4: @StFX, Sunday, March 6, 7:00 pm (if necessary)
Game #5: @SMU, Tuesday, March 8, 7:00 pm (if necessary)

SMU, St. F.X. to square off (Glenn MacDonald, Chronicle-Herald)
Huskies bite back (Glenn MacDonald, Chronicle-Herald)
X-Men on verge of series win (Glenn MacDonald, Chronicle-Herald)
Our basketball playoff liveblogging gets started tonight, with Western (11-11) at McMaster (11-11) in the first round of the OUA playoffs. The winner of this game travels to play the GGOD[T]s or Lancers Saturday in an OUA quarterfinal, which is followed by the OUA Final Four in Hamilton on March 4 and 5.

In other words, the winner of tonight's game is two wins (albeit against, say, Lakehead and Carleton) away from the Final 8.

Mac comes into this one 18th in RPI; Western, 21st. The Marauders won both matchups by 14 or 15 points, including a 69-55 win in February after losing Scott Brittain for the year. It was the only time all year UWO scored fewer than 60 points (they averaged 75).

Join us at 7pm ET for the liveblog!

I don't get the print edition of Sports Illustrated, but the online version has a feature story on Mike Danton, dated February 28, 2011 and entitled "I'm Glad I Went to Prison" and written by L. Jon Wertheim.

The lede alerted my nit-pick radar - the school is always written Saint Mary's or SMU, not "St." and it not a college but a university, but I understand Americans see those two words as synonymous. Once you get past that, it is a good read.

There's not a lot new here if you've followed the Danton story closely, but the piece does a pretty good job accurately covering everything that has gone on up to now. For example, I didn't know that Danton had once attempted suicide in prison, nor that he had been moved around between institutions so much.

We learn that the NHLPA provided Danton with counseling services throughout his incarceration and that it obviously helped turn his spiraling life around. He started reading in prison and embraced learning, including correspondence courses from Queen's (and they got that punctuation correct).

The rest of his journey to the Saint Mary's hockey team is covered well, and I don't think I need to rehash it here. SI mentions Danton's age, but doesn't get caught up with it like certain Canadian pundits.

My favourite paragraph in the piece is probably this:
Skepticism ceased last season when Danton scored a goal in his first game and then helped the Huskies win their first Canadian Interuniversity Sport title. Despite his NHL credentials Danton served only as a defensive stopper. Still, he brought savvy, industriousness and an infusion of energy. "O.K., maybe he's not a 25-goal scorer," says St. Mary's forward Cam Fergus. "Still, if the puck goes into the corner, chances are he's coming out with it." Teammates were surprised by his humility. They once asked Danton how, having flown charter and skated in the big arenas of the NHL, he could abide by the modest conditions of Canadian college hockey. "Trust me," he said, "this is a lot closer to the NHL than it is to jail."
I highly recommend this SI piece to anyone, especially if you want an all-in-one piece about the Mike Danton story, that to me, is one of the most balanced versions yet written. Danton reveals a bit more of himself than he did last year with the media, and certainly takes ownership for all that has befallen him. You are definitely left with the impression that if Danton continues his psychology studies onto graduate school he could bring a unique perspective to the field.

I'm Glad I Went to Prison (L. Jon Wertheim, Sports Illustrated)
Saskatchewan held their number one ranking this weekend after winning their 19th and 20th straight games against Calgary and are the apparent favourite going into the Canada West tournament, where one team will emerge with an automatic bid to the CIS tournament.

And, for the first time in three years, we can be assured that the champion won't be SFU (who are managing a 4-12 conference record in NAIA Division II), which makes the playoffs all that more fun, since it isn't just a slog until we crown the same champions in Windsor.

#1 Saskatchewan Huskies (CIS #1) vs. #8 Calgary Dinos

The Dinos snuck in to the postseason despite having lost their last four games, beating a playoff opponent just once (UFV) over the course of the year. Saskatchewan hold the league's best offense at 78 points a game and its third best defense at 59.5 per. The fifth year vet Kim Tulloch hit 50% of her shots this year, led the league in scoring at 17 points per game, and commands a balanced team with some impressive speed, particularly from SFU transfer Katie Miyazaki, who fit in very well in Lisa Thomaidis' offense this year.

However, if the Huskies do have a weakness, it comes in rebounding. The Huskies were fifth in rebounding margin this year, behind playoff teams exclusively, with Calgary coming in at third place. The Huskies tend to not grab a lot of offensive rebounds (it's hard when you hit most of your shots) so if those shots don't fall, Calgary has some size in the forward positions with six players over 6 feet who saw significant minutes this year. Offensively, Tamara Jarrett runs the floor very well but has limited weapons, notably top scorer Ashley Hill and post Alex Cole.

Likelihood of an upset? Slim. A lot has to go right for Calgary and then some, since Saskatchewan put up top numbers despite being able to use their bench in all the blowout games they were on. Saskatchewan takes this series in two and hosts the Canada West Final Four next weekend.

#2 Winnipeg Wesmen (9) vs. #7 UFV Cascades

The Cascades were in full rebuild mode last season, and it paid off this year with the school's first playoff appearance. Other than one notable win over Alberta, they were shutout against the big six Canada West teams, but registered close margins against Saskatchewan and Victoria in back-to-back weeks.

This could be a fun little series, since both teams love to shoot from three-point range, with varying degrees of success. Only Thompson Rivers shot more (511) from beyond the arc than UFV (489) and Winnipeg (485) did in conference play. Winnipeg's Caitlin Gooch thrives in this area, averaging just over three made per game. That may be UFV's only resort, since Winnipeg zones up well and forces bad shots. They were the top defense in the league (57.8 points) and were second in shooting defense.

Likelihood of an upset? Pretty slim here as well. UFV has been a pleasant surprise, but Winnipeg matches up very well against a shooting team like the Cascades, who don't have a lot of size under the rim. Should a game get close? Winnipeg are ice cold, and were second in the league in free throws at 72.5 per cent, and we know how big those are in tight games.

Regardless of what happens to UFV, head coach Al Tuchscherer has a lot to be proud of, turning a 2-16 campaign one-year ago to a 12-12 one.

#3 Regina Cougars (4) vs. #6 Victoria Vikes

The Vikes sort of limped in to the playoffs, losing four straight, without their star forward Kayla Dykstra and falling to the sixth seed, and drawing a tough matchup with Regina, who are probably the conference's second best team (but we'll let next week be the arbiter of that one). The Vikes had a marginally better defense than the Cougars this year (60.1 to 61.2 points) but the Cougars were second to Saskatchewan in scoring margin and led the league in shooting defense and rebounding. In Victoria's losses here in Kamloops this year, getting to loose balls was a problem, and whether they've worn tired legs at this point in the season, they're going to have to shoot a lot better than 28.4 per cent, which they managed the first time they played Regina and were subsequently clobbered.

Third-year guard Joanna Zalesiak's name popped into this column many times this season, not undeservedly so: She was second in the conference in points (16.3) and assists (4.6) although did turn over the ball a league-leading 113 times.

Likelihood of an upset? Even with Dykstra in the lineup, Regina is too good of a team to fall and would probably handle Victoria. Without? Well...

#4 Alberta Pandas (10) vs. #5 UBC Thunderbirds

The teams came in tied with record 17-7, but UBC's record against playoff teams under the full moon was slightly better, and thus, due to Canada West's overly complicated tie-breaking procedure, we have a repeat of last year's lone 3-game series at the same venue at the University of Alberta's Main Gym in Edmonton.

While official tournament rules state that teams may dress twelve players, Alberta have been down to eight for a good chunk of the second half--but that doesn't mean a lack of scoring depth. Alberta did manage the second best offense in the league and are still managing over 70 points since Santa has been to town. Georgia Popovici has been a good reason why, averaging 10.6 points a game and 6.2 boards, while Marisa Haylett and Nicole Clarke boast solid point and free throw totals, making them a threat in close games. Haylett (former Kitsilano Blue Demon, swapping the gold and blue for green and gold) is also a three-point and assist threat, which should make her tough to defend.

However, UBC boasts one of the premier point guards in the league in Devan Lisson, with a 1.6 assist to turnover ratio, fourth in assists and also manages 9.4 points a game. She has threats on either side in Lia St. Pierre and Alex Vieweg, while Zara Huntley should match up well against Popovici who gives away an inch to the UBC duel threat, a top shot blocker and tap-in specialist.

Likelihood of an upset? Severe, depending on who you think the favourite is. UBC certainly looked on form against Victoria this weekend and have a well-groomed offense working against a middle-of-the-pack defense. That said, while I hate to use the term "heart", Alberta has certainly shown a lot of that recently. No surprise that this is a series that SSN Canada picked up, and the action gets underway tomorrow at 5:00 pm local time.
With the AUS and OUA playoffs in full swing there was no movement inside the top four in the 15th top 10 poll of the season, with the biggest change in the poll coming in the form of a three spot drop by the Saskatchewan Huskies. This won't be the final poll of the season, with at least one more coming next week at the conclusion of the Canada West regular season. There is even talk that we will have a top 10 poll until the end of the postseason. However many more polls we have, we'll continue to have a weekly post. Without further ado here it is:

1. UNB (23-5-0) / 179 pts (17) / (1)
2. McGill (24-2-2 / 2-0 playoffs) / 152 (1) / (2)
3. Alberta (18-5-3) / 141 / (3)
4. Saint Mary’s (18-9-1) / 127 / (4)
5. Western Ontario (20-3-5 / 2-0 playoffs) / 96 / (6)
6. St. Francis Xavier (17-10-1 / 2-0 playoffs) / 87 / (7)
7. Calgary (16-8-2) / 78 / (8)
8. Saskatchewan (16-10-0) / 56 / (5)
9. UQTR (19-8-1 / 2-1 playoffs) / 31/ (9)
10. Carleton (18-8-2 / 2-1 playoffs) / 17 / (10)

Other teams receiving votes: Acadia (14), Manitoba (4), UPEI (2), Waterloo (2), Wilfrid Laurier (2), Guelph (1), Nipissing (1)
Dropped from the top 10: None.

Top three tales: Top ranked UNB was idle this past week as they waited to see who they would face in the AUS semis. The Varsity Reds will take on unranked Acadia in Fredericton on Friday to kick off that best-of-five AUS semifinal. UNB took the season series with a 3-1-0 record against the Axemen, with the AUS regular season champions only loss coming back on November 26.

As for the Redmen, they swept their opening round playoff series against Ottawa with a narrow 2-1 win in Game 1 before a 10-5 win to round out the series. They will take on Nipissing tonight in the opening game of their OUA East semi-final series in North Bay. McGill went 2-0-0 against Nipissing this season, and is 6-0-0 against the Lakers in OUA regular season and playoff play since Nipissing joined the OUA in 09/10.

Out west Alberta managed two narrow wins at home this past weekend against Manitoba - 4-3 in a SO Friday and 4-3 in OT on Saturday. The Bears have clinched first place in the conference with one weekend to go in the regular season. They travel to Vancouver this weekend to take on UBC.

Best of the rest: The defending national champion and number-four ranked SMU Huskies had a first round playoff bye, and will take on number-six St. FX Friday night in Antigonish when their best-of-five AUS semi-final series opens up. The X-Men won four of the six meetings between the two teams during the regular season including the final two meetings of the year January 26 and 28.

Western Ontario - the fifth ranked team in the nation - is coming off a sweep of Windsor in the opening round of the OUA playoffs and will take on Waterloo starting tomorrow in OUA West semi-final action. The Mustangs went 3-0-0 against the Warriors in the regular season.

The number-seven spot in the poll is held by Calgary - the only other team in Canada West assured of a playoff spot along with Alberta. The Dinos swept Regina this past weekend, and will host Lethbridge this weekend to wrap up the regular season. Calgary will be playing to lock up second place and home ice in the first round of the playoffs while Lethbridge is desperate for wins sitting only one point back of Manitoba for the fourth and final playoff spot in the conference.

After a surprising sweep at the hands of the Pronghorns in Lethbridge this past weekend, the Saskatchewan Huskies fall this week to number-eight in the poll. The U of S squad has yet to guarantee themselves a playoff spot, and will head to Winnipeg this weekend to try and do that.

Rounding out the poll is a pair of OUA teams - UQTR and Carleton. Those two teams will meet one another in OUA East semi-final action beginning tonight after winning their opening round series in three games. The two teams split the regular season series with two wins a piece.

Top 10 games this week: #4 SMU vs. #6 St. FX ( Fri., Feb. 25; Sun., Feb. 27), #9 UQTR vs. #10 Carleton (OUA East semis - Wed., Feb. 23; Fri., Feb. 25; Sun., Feb. 27 (if necessary))
A little bit of drama took place in Quebec university football recently.

Laval coach Glen Constantin didn't say the Carabins were breaking any rules; in fact, he said the opposite, but it reads like he's not happy with what Montréal allegedly did.

What they did depends on who you listen to.

Byron Perez-Archambault, a linebacker out of Vanier College, is the centre of attention here. He signed a letter of intent with Laval. But apparently he was very close to signing with Montréal before that, and in fact the blue team might have tried to steal him from the red and gold team--again, depending on who you ask.

Perez-Archambault "confirms getting a call from Darren Gill", an agent who was apparently working on behalf of Danny Maciocia in this case (he has Rouge et Or clients too), if he indeed told the linebacker that playing for Maciocia instead of Constantin could be advantageous to his professional career.

(According to Deux Fans, this sort of thing probably happens every year, but garners greater attention this time around because Perez-Archambault is the best defensive player coming out of college.)

Maciocia, for his part, later told the Journal de Québec that everything was above-board: Perez-Archambault had not signed a letter of intent at the time (mid-January), and in fact he contacted the Carabins' defensive line coach Martin Lapostolle. A few weeks later, Maciocia had the player in his office with a letter of intent to play for Montréal. Which wasn't signed, and became irrelevant when Perez-Archambault signed with Laval this past weekend.

The end of this article says that most Rouge et Or players now sign LOIs. After this episode, I bet they do...

(I'll admit to not having followed this very closely, and of course now I'm working through the language barrier so I expect to have missed some things. Any and all corrections are welcomed, as always.)
With playoffs beginning for most teams, we take a look this week at who's heading into the postseason prepared and who has work to do if they want to get to Halifax for the Final 8.

(Official CIS rankings; RPI standings)


No. 6 St. FX X-Men: One thing that's kept X inside the top-7 all year despite intermittent struggles? Other than their tough strength of schedule and RPI rank, it's X's deep lineup of scorers available at Steve Konchalski's disposal. That depth was apparent on Saturday when Terry Thomas went for 26 points on 12-for-15 shooting in a 105-87 win over Memorial, and again on Sunday as six players scored in double figures, led by Charlie Spurr's 27. I keep hearing about coaches respecting X's 'dangerous lineup.' This is what they're talking about.

No. 8 Windsor Lancers: Something that will help the Lancers as they move towards the postseason will be the confidence they got from executing in tight games this week. They overcame a double-digit deficit and pulled away from a tie game in a win over McMaster, then shut down a hungry Guelph team looking to secure a playoff spot. After their early February woes, this is what the doctor ordered for Chris Oliver's Lancers.

No. 10 Concordia Stingers: The Stingers find themselves back amongst the nation's best after Laval gave away their spot with a brutal loss to Bishop's. They've now won five games in a row and can lock up home court advantage in the QUBL playoffs this weekend with a win over the Gaiters.


No. 7 Lakehead Thunderwolves: It seems a little silly to me to drop a team for losing to a playoff team when they had already locked up the OUA West's top seed and sat their starters for much of the game. Nonetheless, I don't think Scott Morrison and the GGOD[T]s are too concerned as they prepare for a home playoff date at the Thunderdome. They'll have a tough divisional opponent to face and can't afford to take any of their OUA West competition for granted.

No. 9 Dalhousie Tigers: The Tigers do the ol' switcheroo with Windsor after losing to Acadia on Sunday. That puts a dent in their hopes of catching Cape Breton, but I'm not sure a late-season loss in which they outshot and outrebounded their opponent (as well as got beat by a last-second tip-in) will make too many Tigers shake their heads. They still have the first-round bye in the AUS Final 6.

NR Laval Rouge-et-Or: You can't lose to a 2-13 team in a 5-team league and stay in the top-10, especially when that ranking was already tenuous. 'Nuff said.


Mark Wacyk has a must-read piece putting Carleton's perfect season into context, as well as some cool Canada West stats stuff for number junkies.

UBC's Brent Malish has missed out on a seriously good Old Dutch sponsorship deal. (Vancouver Sun)

The Regina Cougars are in tough against the Saskatchewan Huskies this week. (Regina Leader-Post)

I'm pretty sure he just averages this, but Jamelle Barrett's 27 points, 14 assist and eight rebounds is a pretty good line.

Brandon's Donovan Gayle went 1-for-11 in a 75-68 loss to UFV. Ouch.

  1. Carleton - Undefeated, again.
  2. UBC - The Championship drive begins now.
  3. Saskatchewan - Can this vastly different team defend its title?
  4. Cape Breton - The dark horse.
  5. Trinity Western - The other dark horse.
  6. Lakehead - No one wants to play in the Thunderdome in the playoffs.
  7. Windsor - Will the Lancers ride their seniors through the playoffs?
  8. St. FX - I think this team may play with a chip on its shoulder now.
  9. Dalhousie - Is the loss to Acadia just a blip on the radar?
  10. Concordia - Obligatory QUBL squad.
This week, we’re going to be running a series of posts borrowing from John Hughes and featuring some possibly-overlooked teams that might make a little noise at the CIS championships if things go right, or might not even make it there if things go wrong. To qualify for this series, teams must be ranked lower than #4 in the latest CIS top ten. We’ll start with volleyball, and then move on to hockey and basketball.

Men’s volleyball: Brandon Bobcats

The Bobcats haven’t received a lot of national attention this year, and part of that’s thanks to competing in the stacked Canada West conference. Another part of that’s thanks to their historical record; they’ve generally delivered strong regular seasons, but haven’t dominated and have frequently come up short in the playoffs. They went 10-8 in 2007-08, but failed to win a set in two home playoff games against Thompson Rivers. They repeated the 10-8 mark in 2008-09 and went all the way to nationals, finishing third, but took a substantial step backwards last season despite a 12-8 regular-season mark, again losing two straight home games to Thompson Rivers (they won two total sets this time, though). That doesn’t exactly scream playoff threat, particularly in a conference that features perennial powerhouses like Alberta, Calgary and Trinity Western.

There’s a good chance this year could be different for the Bobcats, though. They finished seventh in the last CIS Top 10 (on Feb. 15), but they’ve already knocked off one higher-ranked team, fifth-ranked provincial rivals Manitoba, in a tight best-of-three series. That win was particularly impressive to me; the Bobcats lost the first match three sets to two on the road, but rebounded to win the second 3-2 (also at Manitoba) and then closed out the series with a 3-1 victory at home. That’s put them through to the Canada West semifinals, where they’ll take on Alberta Friday. Win or lose, though, they’ve already locked up a spot in the nationals in Langley; Trinity Western’s hosting, leaving three berths for the other Canada West semifinalists. They also have an impressive squad, led by Paul Sanderson (last year’s national player of the year, and the top player of 2010-11 in our rankings) and buttressed by Jonathan Sloane and Joseph Brooks. The Bobcats seem to be finding a good vein of form, and that could make them a tough team to ouster at this year’s championships.

Women’s volleyball: Alberta Pandas

The Pandas started the season ranked third overall, but fell all the way to seventh in Week Four after a tough loss. They then hung around seventh for most of the rest of the season, also finishing sixth and eighth at times before eventually moving up to fifth in the final week of polling (Feb. 15). Their 11-7 regular-season record certainly wasn’t too bad and gave them the third spot in the Canada West playoffs, but it wasn’t spectacular, and it was quite a ways back of dominant squads UBC and Trinity Western (both 15-3).

Still, don’t write off Alberta yet. They’ve been a pretty impressive team for years, going 14-6, 16-4 and 12-8 in the three seasons prior to this, winning the 2007 national championship and finishing fourth in both 2008 and 2010. This particular team has a good amount of big-game experience, and they’ve already demonstrated that in this season’s playoffs, knocking off dangerous Calgary 3-1, 3-1. They face a tough task against Trinity Western in the Canada West semifinals, but could still make it to nationals with a semifinal loss and a third-place victory over the loser of the UBC-Manitoba semifinal. They also led the conference with 2.33 service aces per set this season, and feature the conference’s two top servers (by average aces per set) in Krista Zubick and Jaki Ellis as well as the ninth-best server in Canada West (Tiffany Proudfoot). If they manage to get to the big dance at Laval next week, the Pandas might just be able to make it a memorable appearance.
Now, "finalized" is usually an ill-advised term to use -- especially when the season hasn't truly reached completion yet -- but in this case, I think I'm more than justified in doing so. Not only has the cluster of 5 top teams not changed for a fourth consecutive week (albeit there were a few shifts amongst the five, but since no one actually moved to 6th or below, it doesn't count in my books), but there aren't even any league games left in the Canada West, OUA East, or OUA West Divisions.

In fact, of the last 11 games left in the season, 3 are RSEQ games (Laval, UQAM, McGill, Bishop's and Concordia) while the other 8 are AUS (UNB, StFX, Cape Breton, Memorial, Dalhousie, UPEI , Saint Mary's, and Acadia -- CIS league schedule and scores available here). And, since only two non-OUA-or-CanWest teams are in the top 10 coaches poll (UNB and Cape Breton at 8th and 7th place, respectively), it can only be assumed that these spots won't change much. That is, at least Cape Breton's won't: they play last place (0 and 14) UPEI, then match up against their top ten spot mate UNB for one last go. As for the Varsity Reds? Although a loss to Cape Breton won't change anything, a loss to StFX might (and history shows that these two teams have not had easy games against each other in the past).

Ultimately, though, very little looks likely to shift -- and so, twisted fates be damned, I'm putting my foot down and saying: guess what, folks? Things are pretty close to being set in stone.

Granted, we're only talking rankings here, and the playoffs are a whole different kettle of fish. And by whole different, I mean everything is shaken up: the whole structure has been flipped around, and now everything is shaken up. Who's going where? Who knows! The whole world seems changed from back when I played, in that ancient and prehistoric time known merely as "the year they called twenty-ten".

Okay, so I'm exaggerating. It just seems like every time I happen to glance in the direction of a CIS court, there are familiar faces (mixed in with a whole lot of people I don't know anymore) and I feel more distanced from the process than ever. If I were still putting on a jersey today, would my reaction to the top 10 be any different? I don't know. I don't think so -- but I don't know. Everything is just that little bit different when you're looking through the glass of the fishbowl instead of swimming around inside it with everybody else.

And that's why, with a rapidly solidifying mass of playoff competitors, I'm most interested to see how the oldest battle of all holds true: the Herculean clash of East versus West. It was something we always looked forward to (or perhaps dreaded -- I'm old now, it's hard to remember these things) when we played: matching up against a whole bunch of ridiculously strong and talented girls that we had either never played before, or played once in a random tournament at a strange and off-kilter time of the year.

Now, while I have never been one to espouse stereotyping, there are a few things to be aware of when determining el este from el oeste -- it comes down to, in the most basic sense, a difference in playing styles. Granted, I am an old fogey -- I've been retired, what, 11 months now? -- but I'm going to just go on my instincts and say that, for the most part, these differences still exist.

  • Physicality. Western teams tend to be a lot more push-and-shove, knock you around in the paint, cross-arm you through the key on a cut kind of people. Western teams, for some reason (I always said it was a farm thing, since it's especially true in the prairies) are almost always bigger teams, both height and size-wise, and they use this to their advantage. This is a tactic that can work to a team's benefit or detriment, depending on a number of factors that include the refs, the location, and how well they hide their hits and/or manage to keep them within the rules of legal contact.

  • Pressing. Eastern teams, as a general rule, are good at large, spaced-out man or fluid zone presses that get them tons of stolen passes and generally slow things down. You need to get an eight second call? Leave it to an Eastern team. You want the offense to chuck up a rushed shot at the last minute? Ask Windsor how to do it. And you want to see a really scary zone press? Try playing Laval, or Cape Breton -- for some reason, these girls have been trained in this skill from childhood and have honed it to a fine science.

    Western teams, on the other hand, are more inclined to run and jump, run and gun kinds of man presses. That's not to say Western players won't drop into a locked-down zone, but it usually tends to happen post-press: they push you into a corner, switch checks on you, and try to steal off of the dribble; if that doesn't work, they'll sink into a 3-2 zone and keep up the pressure all the way around the three point line.

  • Which brings me to my final point: half court defense. Honestly, it's hard to call on this one because across the board, teams have versatility: zone, man, trick D, you name it -- there's a reason these girls play varsity ball, and there's a reason they're good at it. If I had to really, blatantly stereotype? While most teams seem to prefer man, there is a microscopically higher chance that you will keep seeing man out West than you will out East. And as for style, well, like I said: Western teams will bump you -- hard -- from sideline to sideline, while a team coming out of Ontario is probably more often than not going to jump high on your off-ball screen and block the cut, and make your life hell without even having to touch you.

You want a peroration to this blog, you say? A conclusion of some sort? Well, tonight, I'm not too sure that I can give it to you. Honestly, looking back at what I've wrote, all this does for me is reaffirm that -- despite my continued faith that the top 10 rankings will likely NOT change going into playoffs -- that they will have little bearing, other than placement, on the results in the upcoming playoffs. Keep tuned to your local teams, people, because it's about to hit the fan here. (And hopefully, by the time it does, I'll have figured out something to say that actually has a point.)
Next PostNewer Posts Previous PostOlder Posts Home