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U Sports conference playoffs underway

Teams across the four conferences compete for spots in the national championship.

McGill’s Jade Downie-Landry and Concordia’s Alexandra D’Onofrio battle for the puck in a 2016-17 regular-season game.
Brianna Thicke / Concordia Stingers

The U Sports women’s hockey championships are less than a month away which means all four conferences are in the throes of playoffs. The top two teams from each conference will advance to the national championships. U PEI has automatically qualified as the host, so only one additional team will compete from the AUS.

Every conference has had to modify its playoffs in some way this year, and each conference is different! Here is a complete guide to the U Sports playoffs, including how many teams qualify, how the bracket works, and where you can watch.

Canada West

Dates: Feb 25 - Mar 20
Number of Teams: 6/9
How to watch: All games are available on Canada West TV for $9 per playoff game.

Format: The top two teams in Canada West are given byes to the semi-finals. Teams 3-6 form two quarterfinal best-of-three series. The two quarterfinals were played and won by Alberta (3) and Saskatchewan (5). The teams re-seed into two semi-finals which will determine the finals.

Finals Prediction: Mount Royal (1) vs Alberta (3)
Mount Royal has been nearly unstoppable this year with an all-around strong team. I almost guarantee they make the finals and expect them to win the conference title. In the other semi-final, UBC (2) and Alberta (3) meet in what I think will be a close showdown. UBC has had a fantastic year led by their conference topping offence with 72 goals in 20 games. Alberta didn’t have the same season start but ended on a high note with six straight wins down the stretch. They’re perennial winners of this conference and are currently playing their best hockey of the year. I’m going to pick them to upset UBC.

Ontario University Athletics

Dates: Mar 9 – Mar 19
Number of teams: 10/12
How to watch: All OUA games are streamed for free on OUA TV

Format: The OUA playoffs will include ten teams. The four and five seeds in each of the two divisions will play a series to advance to the quarterfinals. From there, the quarterfinal and semi-final rounds will progress as normal within each division. Finally, the victors from each division will meet in the McCaw Cup final. All four rounds will be single elimination.

Final Prediction: Toronto (1) vs Waterloo (2)
These two teams are clearly the best in their divisions, but they won’t advance to the McCaw cup without adversity. Toronto will have to get past the nationally ranked Nipissing lakers and Waterloo through reigning U Sports champions Guelph. The fact that the series are single elimination makes any prediction less certain. A couple of bounces or a powerplay advantage could turn any game on its head and lead to an upset. My pick for a dark horse who could find themselves in the finals are the Brock Badgers.

Atlantic University Sport

Dates: Mar 7- Mar 20
Number of teams: 8/8
How to Watch: All AUS games are available to stream online for free at AUS TV

Format: The AUS has the most straightforward playoff format. All eight teams will participate in the single-game elimination quarterfinal round. Seeding will be 8 vs 1, 7 vs 2, etc. They will re-seed for the ensuing semi-finals, followed by the finals. Both will be best-of-three series.

Predictions: Saint Mary’s (1) vs StFX (3)
The certainty that the higher seed will win always declines with single-elimination games. But the dominance of the top AUS teams is such that I don’t see any way they can lose in the opening round. The 16-3-1 Saint Mary’s Huskies are an untouchable force with dynamic players who lead U Sports in scoring. StFX hasn’t had the strongest defence in the AUS, but their offensive production has been off the charts scoring 4.2 goals per game. There are a lot of good teams who will form tight matchups in these playoffs, but to me, these two stick out above the rest.

Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec

Dates: Mar 3 – Mar 20
Number of teams: 6/6
How to watch: Each school streams their home games independently. Montreal, Carleton, and Ottawa stream to YouTube; Bishop’s streams natively on their website; and McGill and Concordia use the YareTV platform. Note that McGill alone charges $8 per playoff game, despite their streams being poorly produced.

Format: Typically, the top four teams in RSEQ qualify for the conference playoffs. They play two best-of-three rounds to determine the winner. At the last minute, the RSEQ conference unveiled an expanded model that allows all six teams to participate. The model allows for a bronze medal game to determine a replacement for one of the RSEQ teams travelling to the national championships should something happen to the victorious team. Additionally, it allows Carleton and Bishop’s the opportunity to play playoff hockey. The shortening of the season as a result of public health restrictions in January eliminated both of them from constatation – an unfair ending.

The easiest way to understand the new playoff model is to think of it as two separate brackets: one for the gold/silver and one for the bronze.

Teams ranked one through four will play the semi-finals as usual. The fifth and sixth teams will play a preliminary series of their own. Then, the winners will play the final series to determine gold and silver.

Then a new playoff starts for the bronze—two bronze-semi-finals formed with the higher-ranked semi-final loser playing the loser of the preliminary series. The lower-ranked semi-final loser will play the winner of the preliminary series.

Final Prediction: McGill (1) vs Concordia (2)
Concordia made quick work of Montreal in their semi-final. Concordia, I think, is the strongest team in the country right now. They are fast, deadly in the offensive zone, and very good at limiting shots on goal against. The number one seed, McGill, faces more adversity in the semi-finals, but I think they will inevitably break. In their first game, they were down 1-0 at the start of the third period but still won 5-1. The final game of their series with Ottawa is Sunday, March 6. Though McGill was more consistent this year, I think Concordia has found their stride at the right time and is the superior team.

After the seeding for the bronze medal playoffs and first-round are complete, I think we will see a bronze medal series between Montreal and Ottawa.