Welcome to Monday Morning Quarterback, a weekly look at all the best U SPORTS stories from the weekend.
Varsity Reds beat Poland, Golden Bears down Ooks, U SPORTS all-star team announced to face national junior team
While the U SPORTS regular season wrapped up last week, this week still saw some intriguing stories, and two of the best came from the men’s hockey world. First, the No. 2 University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds hosted Poland’s national men’s team Sunday, and came away with a 4-1 win in front of over 1,900 fans. Chris Clapperton and Kris Bennett each notched a goal and an assist for the Varsity Reds. Alex Dubeau and Rylan Parenteau split time in the UNB net, with Dubeau stopping all 11 shots he faced in the first period and Parenteau making 16 saves on 17 shots over the final two frames.
Clapperton started things off for the Varsity Reds Sunday, recording a power-play goal at 9:53 of the first period. Tyler Boland then gave UNB a 2-0 lead a few minutes later, and Oliver Cooper made it 3-0 with a power-play goal at 4:56 of the second period. However, Poland struck back at the 7:05 mark of that frame with a power-play goal from Krystian Dziubinski that made it 3-1, and they kept some pressure on until Bennett notched an empty-net goal in the final minutes of the third.
Poland head coach Ted Nolan (who took that job last summer, and will be familiar to many from his time as a NHL head coach with the Buffalo Sabres and the New York Islanders, plus his time coaching Sault Ste Marie and Moncton in junior and Latvia internationally) said after the game that the clash with UNB was just what his team needed for their continued development.
"I thought it was exactly what we were looking for," Nolan said. "In order to get better, get to the next level, you have to play better teams and different styles."
Nolan feels Sunday's game, against Canada's two-time defending university hockey champs, was a learning experience for the Poles.
"How to separate the man from the puck, how to create two on ones, how to jump up on the play, how to get back hard… today was a perfect example," he said. "We have defence now that are starting to read the play a bit better and that was probably our best game, in terms of reading and reacting to plays, since I've been here."
From the UNB side, Clapperton said the Polish players’ size and strength made them formidable opponents, as did their desire to lock up long-term places on the national team.
"They were stronger in the second, but we had a good first period," said Clapperton, named the game's first star. "They were bigger than teams in our league, might've had a bit more experience. They want to make their team, so that was a good test for us."
Another big men’s hockey exhibition game this week saw the No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears take on the crosstown Northern Alberta Institute of Technology Ooks, who normally compete in the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference. The Face-Off 2017 Charity Classic between the teams Saturday marked the revival of an old series; the Golden Bears and Ooks played annual charity matches against each other from 1984 through 1991 in support of Ronald McDonald House. This time around, 20 per cent of all net ticket revenue was donated to the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. Oh, and this was the final game at Northlands Coliseum, the site of the previous Golden Bears-Ooks clashes and the former home of the Edmonton Oilers, most recently under the name of Rexall Place.
The game set up as a hotly-anticipated contest, with the Golden Bears entering with a 15-1-0 record (best in U SPORTS) and the Ooks coming in at 11-1-1-1 (best in the ACAA). And the history between the sides helped, too. Famed former Ooks coach Perry Pearn (who also won gold as the head coach of Canada’s world junior team in 1993, twice won gold as an assistant at that level, spent 22 years as a NHL assistant coach, and now works as an adviser to Canada’s women’s hockey program) said before Saturday’s game that one past win over the Golden Bears was one of his most memorable experiences:
Legendary Ooks coach Perry Pearn still speaks fondly of that 7-5 victory, which occurred with Hall-of-Famer Clare Drake in charge of the opposition bench: "I remember thinking as it was going on that the pure emotion in that game, fans and players alike, was as intense as any game I've ever been involved in."
For Pearn to recall the evening so clearly after his own remarkable career – 22 seasons as an assistant in the National Hockey League – tells a story in itself.
"It's always an honor to beat a team like that," he said in a lengthy conversation. "They beat us one year earlier, and I thought then that our team was as good as the Bears. After we beat them, I honestly thought we were the better team on the night."
The Golden Bears have plenty of connections to this game and these opponents, too. University of Alberta head coach Serge Lajoie spent five years as the head coach at NAIT from 2010-11 through 2014-15 before leaving to take over the Golden Bears, and he won ACAC titles with the Ooks in 2013 and 2015. Before that, he served as an assistant coach with the Golden Bears from 2005-06 through 2009-10. And he played for them from 1988-89 through 1992-93, and took part in several of those games against the Ooks. Lajoie said before the game he didn’t expect this to be easy, given the recent history of tight battles with NAIT.
Historically, NAIT has also played the Golden Bears incredibly tough, including back-to-back wins over Alberta in 2015 (4-2 - Feb. 21; 4-3 2OT - Sept. 25). However, the Golden Bears are currently riding a three-game win streak over their cross-town rivals, including a 4-3 OT win over NAIT in September.
“We always look forward to playing NAIT whenever the opportunity arises. Both programs have such a rich hockey history, and every game offers such high entertainment value.” says Golden Bears head coach Serge Lajoie, who played in three Face-Off games himself as a Bear (89, 90, and 91). “The opportunity to support the Stollery Children's Hospital Foundation is extra special for us. We always encourage our players to be strong role models in the Edmonton community, around campus, and provide guidance or support to less fortunate children. This game provides us with an opportunity to hopefully make a difference in a child's life.”
On the ice Saturday, the Golden Bears picked up a 4-0 win. Luke Philp opened the scoring at 5:00 of the second period, assisted by Cole Sanford and Clayton Kirichenko, and Steven Owre made it 2-0 less than a minute later with assists from Lucas Nickles and Tyson Baillie. Nickles then made it 3-0 at 6:32 of the third period, assisted by Baillie and Taylor Cooper, and Stephane Legault capped it off at 14:56 of the third with assists from Kirichenko and Brandon Magee. Zach Sawchenko and Brendan Burke split time in the nets for Alberta and made 13 and 14 saves respectively.
Also in men’s hockey, the roster was announced for the U SPORTS all-star team that will face Canada’s national junior team Wednesday and Thursday in St. Catharines. St. Francis Xavier X-Men head coach Brad Peddle will lead that team, assisted by Mark Howell of the Calgary Dinos, Trevor Stienburg from the Saint Mary’s Huskies and Patrick Grandmaître of the Ottawa Gee-Gees. Six players are returning from last year’s squad, and two (Queen’s Gaels’ defenceman Spencer Abraham and Saskatchewan Huskies goalie Jordon Cooke) were on the past two teams.
Top 8 Academic All-Canadians honoured
One male and one female athlete from each U SPORTS conference were announced as the top Academic All-Canadians for 2016-17 last month, and those athletes received the fifth annual Governor General’s Academic All-Canadian Commendation from Governor General of Canada Julie Payette in Quebec City Friday. The ceremony was held at the Citadelle of Québec, Payette’s official residence.
The athletes honoured were Alberta Pandas volleyball player Meg Cassault and Manitoba Bisons football player Geoff Gray (from Canada West), Ottawa Gee-Gees soccer player Katherine Bearne and University of Toronto Varsity Blues swimmer Osvald Nitski (from Ontario University Athletics), Laval Rouge et Or rugby player Fabiola Forteza and Montreal Carabins football player Louis-Mathieu Normandin (from RSEQ), and Dalhousie Tigers volleyball player Anna Dunn-Suen and St. Francis Xavier X-Men hockey player Eric Locke. Videos on each of the recipients can be found here.
Social media post of the week
The OHL’s London Knights honoured the Vanier Cup champion Western Mustangs football team ahead of the Knights’ game against Peterborough Friday:
Andrew has been covering university sports in Canada since 2005 at outlets such as The Queen's Journal, The CIS Blog, and Yahoo Canada, where he also served as the editor of the Canadian football blog 55-Yard Line. He has a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree from Queen's University with a major in history, and currently works as a staff writer and editor for Awful Announcing and The Comeback.