U Cup Preview: Axemen seeded 7th open against No. 2 Alberta

U Cup Preview: Axemen seeded 7th open against No. 2 Alberta

The UNB Varsity Reds have been named University Cup favourites in the lead-up to an action-packed weekend of #CHAMPSZN.

On the ice, the 2018 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup will be hosted by the UNB Varsity Reds while the Western Mustangs welcome the 2018 U SPORTS Women's Hockey Championship. On the court, the TELUS 2018 SPORTS Men's Volleyball Championship will be hosted by the McMaster Marauders, while the Laval Rouge et Or will organize the 2018 U SPORTS Women's Volleyball Championship presented by Hôtel Universel Québec.

The 2018 U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University kicks off on Thursday at the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton and concludes next Sunday with the gold-medal final at 1 p.m. ET / 10 a.m. PT. The semifinals and final will be broadcast live on Sportsnet 360 and SN Now. All remaining games will be livestreamed at USPORTS.LIVE.

A championship schedule and team-by-team previews are available below.


No. 1 UNB Varsity Reds

Playoff finish: AUS champions

Regular season / playoff records: 24-2-4 / 5-0

Last U SPORTS championship: 2017

Total U SPORTS Championships: 7

Team Offence: 4.27 goals per game (3rd)

Team defence: 2.22 goals against per game (2nd)

Team leaders 

Points: Kris Bennett (38)

Goals: Kris Bennett (18)

Assists: Kris Bennett and Tyler Boland (20)

Probable starting goaltender: Alex Dubeau (15-2-4)

It was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the UNB Varsity Reds.

Following back-to-back University Cup victories, and the graduation of nine key players following the 2016-17 season, no one knew what to expect.

Despite the turnover, the Varsity Reds collected points in each of their first 18 games, and didn't suffer a loss in regulation until Jan. 6. UNB finished the regular season atop the Atlantic University Sport standings with a record of 24-2-4 for their 11th consecutive AUS pennant and 12th straight first round playoff bye.

Three Varsity Reds finished in the top ten in AUS scoring, including freshman forward Kris Bennett, who led the team with 18 goals and 20 assists, earning AUS Rookie of the Year honours.

In the best of five AUS semi-finals, UNB swept the Saint Mary's Huskies 3-0, before winning back-to-back games over the StFX X-Men in the best-of-three AUS championship to capture the conference banner.


No. 2 Alberta Golden Bears

Playoff finish: Canada West champions

Regular season / playoff records: 23-4-1 / 4-0

Last U SPORTS championship: 2015

Total U SPORTS championships: 15

Team offence: 4.71 goals per game (1st)

Team defence: 2.15 goals against per game (1st)

Team leaders

Points: Luke Philp (40)

Goals: Steven Owre (17)

Assists: Luke Philp (29)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Brendan Burke (11-2-1)

Despite having one of their youngest teams in program history, the Alberta Golden Bears continued their tremendous success at the Canada West level. With a roster featuring four rookies, 12 sophomores, and just one fifth-year, the Bears finished the 2017-18 season with a conference-best 23-4-1 record. They went on to sweep the Saskatchewan Huskies to win the CW championship.

Not only were the Bears the class of Canada West, they were also one of the most dominant in all of U SPORTS. Alberta was consistently ranked inside the top three in the national rankings and finished the season with the No. 1 offence (132 goals), and No. 1 defence (60 goals against) in Canada.


No. 3 McGill Redmen

Playoff finish: OUA champions

Regular season / playoff records: 22-4-2 / 7-2

Last U SPORTS championship: 2012

Total U SPORTS championships: 1

Team offence: 4.00 goals per game (4th)

Team defence: 2.31 goals against per game (3rd)

Team leaders

Points: Jerome Verrier (41)

Goals: Christophe Lalonde (13)

Assists: Jerome Verrier (29)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Louis-Philip Guindon (18-4-2

The McGill Redmen are heading back to the University Cup for a second straight year, hoping to improve after losing their quarter-final match to StFX last year. The Redmen finished the regular season in first place in the OUA East division with 22-4-2 record, and continued that success in the playoffs, defeating the Brock Badgers in the Queen's Cup Final.  

McGill opened the playoffs with a series sweep against the Laurentian Voyageurs, outscoring them 14-3. They met the Ottawa Gee-Gees in the next round, losing game one but winning the next two for the series win. They defeated Concordia in another winner-takes-all game three before defeating Brock 5-1 in the final to become OUA Champions.

Top scorer Jerome Verrier led the team in points and assists, and second in goals. His 41 regular season points were tied for fourth most in the country. Goaltender Louis-Philip Guindon finished with an OUA-best 2.22 goals against average. McGill has been a mainstay in the weekly U SPORTS Top 10 rankings, hovering around fifth all season.


No. 4 Brock Badgers

Playoff finish: OUA finalists

Regular season / playoff records: 14-9-5 / 6-2

Last U SPORTS championship: Never

Team offence: 2.75 goals per game (26th)

Team defence: 2.48 goals against per game (7th)

Team leaders

Points: Ayden MacDonald, Brandon O'Quinn, Dexter Weber, Josh Timpano (17)

Goals: Ayden MacDonald (9)

Assists: Josh Timpano, Dexter Weber (13)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Clint Windsor (12-8-4)

The Badgers are led by fourth-year goaltender Clint Windsor, who led the OUA in five statistical categories: games played (26), starts (26), minutes (1,530:49), saves (852); and save percentage (.930). In their OUA semifinal playoff series win over top-seeded Guelph, Windsor also became the first goaltender in school history to record 1,000 saves in a single season.

Offensively, the Badgers are well-balanced with four players tied for the team lead in points (17) including rookies Ayden MacDonald (9G, 8A) and Brandon O'Quinn (8G, 9A) along with second-year Dexter Weber (4G, 13A) and senior Josh Timpano (4G, 13A). Newcomer Cosimo Fontana joined the team in January and had an immediate impact adding eight goals and one assist in just 12 games. Seniors Matt MacLeod (5G, 11A), Sammy Banga (7G, 7A) and Chris Maniccia (3G, 11) rounded out the Brock scoring leaders.


No. 5 StFX X-Men

Playoff finish: AUS finalists

Regular season / playoff records:  22-4-4 / 3-4

Last U SPORTS championship: 2004

Total U SPORTS championships: 1

Team offence: 3.67 goals per game (9th)

Team defence:  2.40 goals against per game (5th)

Team leaders

Points:  Holden Cook (37)

Goals:  Michael Clarke (17)

Assists:  Holden Cook (27)

Probable starting goaltender (record):  Chase Marchand (16-2-3)

The StFX X-Men were ranked in the top five in every week of the U SPORTS Top 10 rankings this season, finishing with a 22-4-4 record in second place in the AUS standings. Coached by AUS coach of the year Brad Peddle – who also served as bench boss of the U SPORTS All-Stars against Canada's World Junior prospects in December – his X-Men led the country in both power play percentage (25.7) and penalty kill (91.0) and were fifth in goals against per game (2.40).

AUS most valuable player and first team all-star goaltender Chase Marchand led the conference in save percentage (.924), while AUS all-star defencemen Jagger Dirk (28) and Cole MacDonald (26) were top three in the conference amongst defencemen scoring. Up front the X-Men were led by AUS first team all-star Michael Clarke (34), team-leading scorer Holden Cook (37) and Matt Needham (29). Captain Craig Duininck along with assistant captains Mark Tremaine and Brent Turnbull, all fourth-year veterans, provide a leadership presence to the squad, which had won the last two AUS championships before falling to UNB this season.


No. 6 Saskatchewan Huskies

Playoff finish: Canada West finalists

Regular season / playoff records: 20-7-1 / 2-3

Last U SPORTS championship: 1983

Total U SPORTS championships: 1

Team offence: 3.61 goals per game (10th)

Team defence: 2.34 goals against average (4th)

Team leaders

Points: Josh Roach (37)

Goals: Josh Roach (13)

Assists: Josh Roach (24)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Taran Kozun (4-0-1)

For the seventh time in eight seasons, the Saskatchewan Huskies will appear in the University Cup.

Saskatchewan enters as Canada West finalists after losing to the Alberta Golden Bears in the conference final. The Huskies have appeared in the conference final for the third straight season, last winning in 2015-16.

The Huskies were 18-4, before a 2-6 run closed the 2017-18 season.  Saskatchewan finished with a 20-7-1 record and were second in the standings. The Huskies defeated the Calgary Dinos in a best-of-three semifinal in Rutherford Rink. Carson Stadnyk scored the game-winning goal with 24 seconds left in the third period of Game 3. 

It is the Huskies' third straight appearance at the University Cup. In 2015-16, the team lost in the semifinal in triple overtime and fell in the University Cup final last season.


No. 7 Acadia Axemen

Playoff finish: AUS bronze medalists

Regular season / playoff records: 18-10-2 / 6-4

Last U SPORTS championship: 1996

Total U SPORTS championships: 2

Team offence: 3.90 goals per game (7th)

Team defence: 3.07 goals against per game (17th)

Team leaders

Points: Stephen Harper (46)

Goals: Kyle Farrell (17)

Assists: Stephen Harper (32)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Robert Steeves (13-9-1)

The Acadia Axemen enter the U SPORTS Championship as the AUS bronze medalists after defeating the Saint Mary's Huskies in their consolation final series, two games to one. The Axemen defeated StFX to win the bronze at last year's national championship after losing to eventual champion UNB in the semifinal.

This year's edition of the Axemen finished the regular season 18-10-2 in the AUS conference, tied for third in the standings. After sweeping Dalhousie in the quarter-finals, Acadia lost to StFX in the semifinal series in Game 5. After going down 5-0 after the first period, the Axemen fell just short of the comeback as StFX won 6-5 to move on to the finals.

Sophomore forward Stephen Harper was an AUS First Team All-Star after finishing with a AUS-best 46 points in the regular season. Teammates Boston Leier (39) and Kyle Farrell (31) also finished within the top 10 for regular season points. Goaltender Robert Steeves will be back between the pipes for the Axemen a year after backstopping their bronze medal finish.


No. 8 Concordia Stingers

Playoff finish: OUA bronze medalists

Regular season / playoff records: 18-7-3 / 6-3

Last U SPORTS championship: Never

Team offence: 3.96 goals per game (6th)

Team defence: 2.90 goals against per game (15th)

Team leaders (regular season)

Points: Anthony Beauregard (60)

Goals: Anthony Beauregard (19)

Assists: Anthony Beauregard (41)

Probable starting goaltender (record): Marc-Antoine Turcotte (15-6-3)

The Concordia Stingers men's hockey team defeated the York Lions 3-2 to claim the OUA bronze and the final berth at the U SPORTS Championship. Under the direction of head coach Marc-André Element, the Stingers return to the national tournament for the first time since 1984. Despite playing in the extremely tough OUA East division, the high-scoring Stingers posted an 18-7-3 record and finished in third place among the 10 teams.

In the playoffs, Concordia downed the UOIT Ridgebacks in two games straight and then won a series with the Queen's Gaels, going to overtime in Game 3 to seal the deal. The Stingers were upended by their crosstown rivals, the McGill Redmen, who needed three games to take the OUA East final.

The Stingers spent six weeks in the U SPORTS Top 10 ranking, peaking at the No. 8 spot on Jan. 9 and again on Feb. 27. Much of the Stingers' success coincides with the arrival of Marc-André Élement as interim head coach in 2015-16. He was given the position the following season and the team has made major advances each year, earning many individual honours and enjoying improved results as a team.




Wednesday, Mar. 14

Meet the Teams media conference, 11:15 a.m. ET / 8:15 a.m. PT

All-Canadian Awards Gala, 6:30 p.m. ET / 3:30 p.m. PT

Thursday, Mar. 15 (Quarter-finals)

Brock vs. StFX, 12 p.m. ET / 9 a.m. PT

UNB vs. Concordia, 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT


Friday, Mar. 16 (Quarter-finals)

Alberta vs. Acadia, 12 p.m. ET / 9 a.m. PT

McGill vs. Saskatchewan, 6 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. PT

Full championship schedule at USPORTS.ca

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