Raise a banner and defend a title
The Golden Bears will raise their 14th CIS championship banner to the rafters.
By PAUL CARTLEDGE
After raising the banner to commemorate a successful 2013–14 season that ended with their record 14th CIS championship, the No. 1 University of Alberta Golden Bears will get back to work in defending their title in their home-opening weekend series against the University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
The Bears will also be defending their Canada West title, which is the team’s 51st in 101 seasons of play.
Alberta followed a stellar regular season record of 25-2-1 with a two-game sweep of the UBC Thunderbirds in the conference semifinals, outscoring the T-birds 11–3, and a dominating 8–1 win in game one of the Canada West finals against the second best team in the country, the Calgary Dinos, before gutting out a 2–1 result to claim their second straight crown and 12th in the last 14 years.
The Bears took that momentum into the CIS championship by striking quickly in a 3–2 victory over the Carleton Ravens, following it up with a double-overtime thriller, capped off by former Tri-City American Johnny Lazo, propelling Alberta to the gold medal game against the University Cup hosts, the Saskatchewan Huskies.
A two-goal performance by Edmonton native Levko Koper, including one short-handed tally, led to a 3–1 decision in favour of the Bears, the Evergreen and Gold earning their first championship title since 2008.
In the off-season, the Bears graduated five players from their championship roster, including their team captain and leading scorer, as well as three of their top six defencemen. Gone from the squad are Sean Ringrose and Torrie Dyck, who made up two-thirds of Alberta's explosive top line, as well as defencemen Colin Joe, Ian Barteaux and Ben Lindemulder.
Head coach Ian Herbers still boasts a formidable lineup, however, top to bottom. At his disposal are three CIS Championship All-Stars, as well as three Canada West All-Stars and three members of the Canada West All-Rookie team. Up front, Johnny Lazo, Levko Koper, Brett Ferguson, Jordan Hickmott, T.J. Foster, Jamie Crooks, Kruise Reddick, James Dobrowolski, Travis Toomey and Drew Nichol all return, as do Zach Dailey and Rhett Rachinski.
Reddick, who was named to the CIS University Cup Tournament All-Star team last season, will serve as the team captain, while Lazo, Jesse Craige, and Thomas Carr will serve as assistant captains.
Along the blue line, the Bears can count on 2013–14 Canada West Defenceman of the Year, Jordan Rowley, who attended the Edmonton Oilers main training camp this year, as well as 2012–13 Canada West Defenceman of the Year Jesse Craige and Thomas Carr, all of whom were top six last season.
The Bears are also set between the pipes with Kurtis Mucha, the 2012–13 CIS Goalie of the Year, and 2013–14 Canada West All-Rookie team goaltender Luke Siemens.
Starting off the 2014–15 season, Alberta got their seventh straight season-opening win in a 3–2 comeback decision against the UBC Thunderbirds in Vancouver last Friday, but split the series with a 5–2 loss on the Saturday.
Returning home this weekend, the Bears will look to get back over .500 against a team they’ve had plenty of success against in the past two seasons. In eight games, Alberta has outscored Lethbridge 68–11, and 38–5 in the 2013–14 season alone. In those four games, Hickmott and Ferguson led the scoring with 11 (five goals, six assists) and nine points (three goals, six assists), respectively.
The Pronghorns come into town still looking for a win in the young season, getting shut out at home in a 2–0 loss to the Mount Royal Cougars before dropping a 7–2 decision on the road in Calgary.