With U Sports championships on the horizon, 2022 will hopefully see the Golden Path Trophy awarded for the first time since Guelph won it in 2019. The Canada West Division returned to play after their winter break in mid-January. Ontario will return on February 9, and the Atlantic conference expects to return in February. RSEQ’s return in Quebec remains uncertain.
The eight-team national tournament is scheduled to take place in Charlottetown, PEI, in late March. Each conference will send two representatives to the contest, with one AUS representative already being determined in the host, UPEI. Traditionally, the two teams from each are those who reach the conference’s playoff finals; however, with significant postponements made because of COVID-19, creative solutions may be needed.
The U Sports rankings heading into the back half of the season give us insight into who the teams at the national tournament may be.
1| Toronto (OUA)
Even with only eight games played, the Varsity Blues look like one of Canada’s strongest teams. Toronto’s defensive power is unrivalled, averaging just one goal against per game. Their goaltending duo has posted a combined .947 save percentage, but the true strength comes from a team who has allowed just 18 shots against per night. Toronto’s offensive stats are not league topping, but good enough to win games given their defence. Toronto missed five straight national tournaments between 2014-2018 but qualified in 2019. They won the OUA championship in 2020 but were upset in the first round of the eventually cancelled national tournament. The team will be looking for some U Sports hardware to enshrine their successes of the last few years.
2| Saint Mary’s (AUS)
Like all U Sports conferences this year, the AUS is tight at the top, with just five points separating the top four teams. Through 16 games, Saint Mary’s is on top with a 13-2-1 record. The Huskies are a great team with no one strong suit. Their offensive and defensive stats are both above average. SMU’s leading scorer Shae Demale leads U Sports in goals with 13 throughout the campaign. Their place in the national tournament is far from solidified as UNB and STFX follow closely in the standings. Only one AUS team can qualify themselves for the national championships.
3| Concordia (RSEQ)
The high-flying Concordia Stingers started their season slow but have recently jumped from seventh in the nation to third. Leading up to the winter break, the team was nearly unstoppable, winning eight of their last ten games. Their strong November and December play was good enough for Concordia to sit second in the RSEQ standings, just one point behind McGill. The Stingers lead RSEQ in both goals for and fewest goals against, outscoring opponents on average 4-2. Concordia is almost certain to qualify for the RSEQ playoffs. Still, with only four playoff teams in RSEQ, teams only need to win one best-of-five series to book their ticket to the national tournament - anything can happen. Concordia will be heavily favoured, but their advancement is far from certain.
4| Mount Royal (CANWEST)
The Mount Royal Cougars have been on the up over the last decade. After joining CANWEST in 2013, Mount Royal held steady at the bottom of the standings before starting a climb and winning a first-ever conference playoff spot in 2017. They’ve made the CANWEST playoffs every year since, and in 2020, the Cougars made it to the U Sports championships. Currently, Mount Royal is the top team in the West with a 9-1-2 record. CANWEST standings are tight, but the Cougars should be favoured to appear at this year’s national tournament. Though they don’t pose the same offensive threat as some of their U Sports colleagues, their special teams and defence will be strong enough to push them to conference success.
5| McGill (RSEQ)
Perennial powerhouses of U SPORTS women’s hockey, the McGill Martlets currently sit atop the RSEQ standings. The team started the season with six straight wins leading some (myself) to think they could go undefeated. Ultimately, I was wrong, and McGill has dropped three games so far this season, twice to Concordia. Captain Jade Downie-Landry leads the Martlets with 22 points in 12 games to top U Sports. The 25-year-old is a dominant power forward, strong on the puck and scary on the forecheck. McGill is an experienced team with multiple league-leading players in their last years of eligibility. Anything less than a top-three finish at the U Sports championships will be a disappointment.
6| STFX (AUS)
The X-Women lead all of U Sports in shots with 600 so far, an average of 37.5 a game! More importantly, they lead the country in goals and goals per game: 67 and 4.19. Maggy Burbidge, a transfer from the NCAA, leads the team with ten goals which, quite honestly, isn’t all that many for a team with 67. STFX has been blessed with scoring by committee; seven different players have scored at least five goals. The X-Women are a team who can contend for a spot in the national tournament, but with only one AUS spot available, they will face a lot of tough competition to get there.
#7 UBC (CANWEST)
The Thunderbirds are also a team who can score, leading CanWest with an impressive 49 goals and averaging four a game. Forward Chanreet Bassi and rookie defender Rylind MacKinnon are tied for CANWEST scoring, with 15 points. Young players lead UBC as Rookie goaltender Elise Hugens has a .939 save percentage and four shutouts through eight games. UBC will be looking to make their return to the U Sports championships after a last appearance in 2017. Things are tight in CanWest, with only four points separating fourth through first place. UBC is far from the finish line, but they are absolutely contenders for a spot in the national tournament.
8| Nipissing (OUA)
Nipissing has only played six games so far, but they’ve already scored 20 goals and only allowed 7. Their two goaltenders, Chloe Marshall and Chantelle Sandquist, have each played three games with .976 and .944 save percentages respectively. The Lakers have come close but never qualified for a national tournament. Their best shot came in 2017 when they finished second in the OUA, but only the conference champions qualified that year because an OUA team was hosting the national tournament. Nipissing will be looking to make a deep conference playoff run, but they will face tough competition from schools like Toronto, Waterloo, and the reigning U Sports champions, Guelph.
9| UNB (AUS)
New Brunswick boasts the best defensive numbers in the Atlantic conference allowing just 1.48 goals a game. So far this year, their three goals a game has been good enough for second place in the conference, but the real question is, will it be good enough to best the other strong teams vying for a spot. Shutting down offence will be critical in big upcoming games against STFX and Saint Mary’s. If they can best the competition in the AUS, they’ll prove they can play with the big teams at the U Sports championships.
10| Alberta (CANWEST)
Alberta, the winningest school in Canadian university hockey, brings up the rear. The Pandas started the season with four straight games that went to or past double-overtime. They followed this with a five-game stretch in which they only won one game. Since then, the season has gotten slightly better, but the Pandas have struggled to find any consistency. To their credit, they have had a demanding schedule with games against the most formidable opponents to start the season. They’ll end the year with games against weaker teams, hopefully boosting their spot in the standings. If they want any chance at a return to the championships, they’ll need to find a way to beat CanWest’s best teams.