We've had a few posts teasing the University Cup here and here, but not an actual preview from our stable of hockey writers. Let's correct that now, with a group look at the upcoming championship tournament, featuring each of our correspondents: David Kilfoil, Daniel Da Silva, Matt Chesser, and Evan Daum.
Our odds, based on our team rankings (RPI and SRS) are a little more one-sided than those of UNBHockeyFans.com, so if you want you can take the average. Also note that Evan's commentary originally appeared over at South Campus Sports.
1. UNB Varsity Reds (44.6% chance of winning the tournament)
4. Western Mustangs (4.8%)
6. Calgary Dinos (9.2%)
ED: The Dinos could get a rude awakening in the program's return to the national tournament after an 11 year hiatus. The Varsity Reds will meet Calgary for the third time this season after dismantling the Dinos 10-2 and 6-1 during a Western Canadian tour back in mid-September. The Aitken Centre will be jam-packed, and in order to have any hope of winning this game the Dinos will need goaltender Dustin Butler to make every save you'd expect from the Canada West's top goaltender and a few more. A tough test out of the gate to say the least for Calgary.
DK: UNB is favoured, and their #1 ranking gives them easier opponents in their pool. They did hammer the Dinos in those two games, but UNB had a conditioning edge and Calgary has nine players in their lineup now who didn't play then. The Dinos were underwhelming against Alberta in the Canada West finals but their coaches tell me the team was coming off a tough three-game series against Saskatchewan and weren't prepared, especially emotionally, to deal with the Bears. UNB has to deal with tremendous pressure to win (think Team Canada and gold medals), and if that pressure gets the best of them they might be vulnerable. UNB goalie Travis Fullerton will be carrying the weight.
DDS: The Mustangs need to put their Queen’s Cup loss behind them. They didn’t show up for that game and that can’t happen again. All-stars Keaton Turkiewicz and Kevin Baker need to lead the team offensively. But their offensive depth with rookie star Steve Reese, Yashar Farmanara and Jason Furlong should help quite a bit. For the entire season though, their strength has been their defence and goaltending. If they play like they did for the entire playoffs (except the Queen’s Cup), they have a chance.
DK: The Dinos should be loose, and if Dustin Butler can stand on his head maybe they can steal the opener. Maybe. Friday's game sees the loser play Western. If the Dinos get run over by the V-Reds, they might be easy pickings for the Mustangs. If UNB is upset Thursday, I see them taking their frustration out on the Mustangs and skating them off the ice.
DDS: True, Western should be able to handle Calgary. And it’s hard to see them upsetting the Varsity Reds (presumably in the Saturday game) unless they play the game of their lives.
ED: I don't think Calgary will find a way against Western, but it should be an extremely tight matchup.
DK: If as predicted UNB advances to Saturday's pseudo-semi-final, I do see them beating Western. The Mustangs have not been spectacular this year, have had a bit of a long layoff, and the V-Reds have really been pushed in the playoffs. Again I think it will depend on how UNB deals with the pressure on them (I keep repeating that, don't I?) to win in front of the home crowd. Unless they melt down in one of their games, I expect UNB to be in the final Sunday.
ED: Expect the V-Reds to come out and down the 'Stangs to punch their ticket to the national final.
2. McGill Redmen (10.9%)
3. Alberta Golden Bears (16.4%)
5. StFX X-Men (14.0%)
DK: Ah, the Pool of DeathTM. McGill gets the bad luck of playing StFX in the opening game. The X-Men have just proven that they can play with the top skill-based teams in the AUS, taking out Saint Mary's in overtime in Game 5 in the semis, and falling to UNB in Game 5, in overtime, in the finals. They play tight defensive systems, and are incredibly patient; rope-a-dope and opportunistic. In other words they drive skilled teams nuts. Neither the Redmen or the Bears will be having much fun in their pool games. The X-Men are very efficient - they tend to bury their chances, especially late in games. They have no fear about coming back, and they love tight games. As long as goalie Joey Perricone plays as well as he has been, and snipers Chris Hulit and Jason Bast keep lighting it up, I can see the X-Men "upsetting" McGill and Alberta.
MC: While Pool A offers little in the way of uncertainty (as I can’t see Western or Calgary knocking off UNB), picking a winner in Pool B is a crapshoot for me. Three of the best four teams in the tournament are crammed in here, which should make for some great hockey (and a worthy opponent for the hometown Varsity Reds in the likely title game matchup). Alberta-McGill should be the most exciting round robin game of the tournament. The Redmen have the most talented (and in my opinion, the deepest) group of forwards in the CIS, averaging over 5 goals per game in the regular season and playoffs. Alberta can run-and-gun with the best of them, as they finished fifth in the CIS in goals per game, so I expect a thriller.
ED: StFX/McGill is a tough one for me to call having not seen much of McGill this season, but something tells me a stingy St. FX team can't quite shut down the high-flyng Redmen. St. FX is a very good team, and I really don't think a win by X would be much of a surprise, but I'm going against my better judgment and taking the OUA side in this battle.
MC: No one in the OUA plays a disciplined defensive system the likes of which the X-Men will employ on Thursday afternoon, and I’m intrigued to see how the Redmen respond to a frustrating, opportunistic opponent. St. FX is more physical than McGill, and has a distinct edge defensively and in net. But McGill is fantastic in transition and boasts five players who notched double-digit goal totals in the regular season.
DK: The Alberta-McGill game will be interesting, as I expect this one to be wide open, end-to-end. This is a great opportunity for McGill to prove their ranking, but I still see the more battle hardened Bears winning the match, and then pulling out their hair when they have to play StFX.
ED: If Alberta is going to lose one of their two round-robin games I think it will be on the Friday night when the nerves are at their peak, but if they survive against St. FX - which I think they will - they win their game against McGill barring a powerplay onslaught from the Redmen. This should be a dandy between two teams that have more than their fair share of gifted playmakers.
MC: Ultimately, I think special teams will give McGill the edge in this pool. They have a number of great defensive forwards (Evan Vossen, Maxime Langelier-Parent, and Marc-Andre Daneau in particular) who give the Redmen a reliable penalty kill, and McGill has a dazzling array of options on a powerplay that scored on 36.4% of its chances in the playoffs.
DDS: The Varsity Reds should have no trouble with Western and Calgary. The other group could really go in any direction. I think it will come down to McGill and Alberta, and my gut tells me Alberta's experience at this tournament (namely, winning games at this tournament) helps them overcome the Redmen. But the Varsity Reds are playing to make up for last year's disappointment and they are doing it at home. I don't see any way UNB doesn't take their 4th University Cup.
DK: I can see a UNB-StFX final, and the V-Reds have the easier path to Sunday. I do believe goaltending will be the key, as it usually is, and if Fullerton or Perricone have a bad game, or the V-Reds wilt under the pressure, then perhaps Alberta wins it.