The University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team will host the Mount Royal University Cougars to start the 2017-18 Canada West season in the first half of a home-and-home series this weekend. The Bears will host the Cougars at 7:00 p.m. on Friday night, at Clare Drake Arena, before the series shifts to Calgary on Saturday.
Both contests will be available on the revamped Canada West TV,
with Friday night’s game in Edmonton scheduled as the Canada West TV Game of the Week.
Fans in attendance at this weekend’s games can also get all their team news, including stats, rosters, game lineups, and standings at uab.ca/gameday.
The conference season-opening matchup pits two teams that appear to be headed in opposite directions. While the Cougars return 2016-17 Canada West scoring leader Connor Rankin (17G, 35PTS), they are without three of their remaining four top scorers from last season.
The Golden Bears, meanwhile, are coming off their 53rd conference championship last spring, while adding even more depth and talent in the off-season. The differences in the respective teams off-seasons might be best highlighted in the Canada West pre-season coaches poll, as the Bears tied with Saskatchewan for No. 1, while the Cougars ranked sixth, despite a semifinal appearance last season.
When looking at the 2017-18 Golden Bears roster, it’s hard to find a glaring weakness. Alberta will be set with the youthful duo of Brendan Burke and recruit Zach Sawchenko in net, while icing one of the best top-sixes in the conference, with eight legitimate options for their six defensive spots.
In his first season of Canada West hockey, Burke showed his potential as a true No. 1 starter, leading Alberta to the conference title. The former London Knight led Canada West with a 1.70 goals against average in 14 games, before posting a .914 save percentage in five post-season games. Sawchenko, a two-time WHL all-star, should also receive his fair share of work in the Bears net as a rookie.
Despite being in just his second year with the Bears, Jason Fram looks every bit the part of the No. 1 defenceman Stan Marple and Serge Lajoie envisioned he would be when he was recruited. The Delta, BC product recorded eight points in just 12 games as a rookie, while leading the team with nine points in six pre-season games.
Fourth-year Dylan Bredo, third-year Graeme Craig, and second-year Ryan Rehill are also back and expected to have significant roles this season.
Up front, the Bears can match up with anyone in the conference. Leading scorer Jamie Crooks (15G, 26PTS), Canada West Rookie of the Year Tyson Baillie (13G, 26PTS), and fellow sophomore Luke Philp (10G, 18PTS) all return to a loaded Golden Bears forward group. In fact, each of the Bears top nine scorers are back in Evergreen in Gold silks this season.
The Golden Bears and Cougars met four times last season, with the Bears winning all four contests. Alberta has now won nine straight conference and post-season games against MRU, including five straight to end 2015-16.