Sunday, 10 March 2019

The Rundown - Eight Remain

The championships in all four conferences have been played. The champions and three of the four finalists will converge on Charlottetown with the hosts from PEI taking the final spot at the U SPORTS National Championship this week in a tournament where winning is everything and losses end dreams. Of the eight teams heading to Charlottetown, five of those teams have won the National Championship banner in the last six years, and three of the teams have stood atop the mountain in the last three years. In short, the field is stacked for this year's tournament, so let's take a look at who's headed to Prince Edward Island in this week's edition of The Rundown!

National Ranking: 1
Team Offence: 2.57 gpg (10th)
Team Defence: 0.84 gapg (1st)

If defence wins championships, the top-ranked team in U SPORTS may have already written themselves into the record books. The Alberta Pandas pitched 13 shutouts in the regular season over 28 games while adding another another two shutouts in the Canada West playoffs. They enter the U SPORTS National Championship with Kirsten Chamberlin holding a perfect 11-0-0 record through the regular season and 4-0-0 in the playoffs. In short, this team is nearly impervious when playing in their own zone.

Couple that amazing defence with the fact that they also have the Canada West Player of the Year in leading goal-scorer and leading scorer Alex Poznikoff, second-leading goal-scorer and scorer Autumn MacDougall, and the Canada West Coach of the Year in Howie Draper leading the program to a 23-win season, and the Pandas seemed poised to capture their ninth U SPORTS National Championship.

GAMETIME: Friday, March 15 versus Toronto at 3pm AT/11am PT.

National Ranking: 2
Team Offence: 3.00 gpg (3rd)
Team Defence: 1.66 gapg (12th)

The Montreal Carabins come into the 2019 U SPORTS National Championship looking to replicate their success from the 2017 U SPORTS National Championship where they won and improve upon their fifth-place finish from last year's championship. Their defence may seem suspect at 12th-best in U SPORTS, but they can score in bunches to help their rookie netminder when needed.

Jessica Cormier led the team in goals (11) and tied for the lead in points with Anne Germain (23) in being named RSEQ MVP. Germain led the team in assists, so the majority of the offence runs through those two players as they accounted for one-third of Montreal's goals. In saying that, the Carabins saw six players score six goals or more in their 20 games played this season, so this team has goal-scoring talent up and down the lineup. Teams found out that this Carabins team has scoring as they posted a 15-4-1-0 record and a 4-0-0 record in the playoffs.

GAMETIME: Thursday, March 14 versus UPEI at 7pm AT/3pm PT.

National Ranking: 3
Team Offence: 3.29 gpg (1st)
Team Defence: 1.37 gapg (3rd)

The Guelph Gryphons vaulted up the rankings with an impressive showing in the OUA this season, going 16-4-2-2 and 5-0-0 in the playoffs. They were the highest scoring team in the OUA and in U SPORTS this season as they lit the lamp 79 times in just 24 games while allowing just 34 goals. This team has all the makings of a championship-caliber team if they can keep their impressive record on the road (11-0-1) intact.

This team's backbone is goaltender Valerie Lamenta once again as she led the OUA with a 1.24 GAA and a .952 save percentage in the 16 games she played. What may be deceiving about those stats is that Lamenta was 10-5-0 in those games, so there are times when scoring seemed to dry up for the Gryphons. Kaitlin Lowy led the team in goals (13) and points (25) while Miranda Lantz was the Cy Young winner for the team in scoring 11 goals and adding just four helpers. Only two other players scored eight goals apiece, so those four players account for over half the teams' goals this season. If their opponents can limit chances, the Gryphons will need Lamenta to be at her best.

GAMETIME: Thursday, March 14 versus Manitoba at 3pm AT/11am PT.

National Ranking: 4
Team Offence: 2.96 gpg (4th)
Team Defence: 1.58 gapg (9th)

The St. Thomas Tommies were the AUS champions and the only team from the AUS to earn its spot at the National Championship, so there will be some considerable pressure on the Tommies to try and become the first AUS team to win the National Championship banner. They have a solid offensive game led by their top line, and the defence and goaltending will certainly be good enough for them to win games. Will being at the National Championship for the first time in school history overwhelm the ladies?

St. Thomas' first line is rather deadly as Lauren Henman, Emily Oleksuk, and Olivia Reid combined for 39 goals and 88 points in 28 games this season. Oleksuk led the team with 34 points while Henman lit the lamp 18 times to lead the Tommies. Needless to say, a large chunk of their offence is contained within that line. Goaltending was a strength this season when the scoring was held at bay as Abby Clarke was top-two in the AUS for wins, GAA, and save percentage. They'll need all cylinders firing to become the first AUS team to capture the banner.

GAMETIME: Friday, March 15 versus McGill at 7pm AT/3pm PT.

National Ranking: 5
Team Offence: 2.50 gpg (11th)
Team Defence: 1.44 gapg (6th)

The McGill Martlets fell to the Carabins in the RSEQ Final after finishing in third-place in the regular season before dispatching the Concordia Stingers in two-straight games by a combined 11-5 score. Against Montreal, they lost both games by 3-2 scores, so it seems the Martlets are peaking at the right time when it comes to scoring goals and, to a degree, preventing goals. Can they find enough scoring against the rest of the country's best?

The Martlets will rely upon goaltender Tricia Deguire who has suited up for Team Canada on occasion. Her 1.46 GAA and .949 save percentage belie her 13-6-0 record, so McGill needs to find scoring. They'll look to leading scorer Jade Downie-Landry with 23 points and leading goal-scorer Kellyane Lecours who notched 10 goals in just 15 games, but they had just three other players who scored six-or-more goals this season. McGill will need to use solid defence and timely scoring to try and win their fifth National Championship.

GAMETIME: Friday, March 15 versus St. Thomas at 7pm AT/3pm PT.

National Ranking: 6
Team Offence: 2.79 gpg (7th)
Team Defence: 1.49 gapg (7th)

The Manitoba Bisons come into the National Championship as the defending champions, but having lost the Canada West Final to the Alberta Pandas. With those two losses, Manitoba is 10-6-0 on the road this season, so there's hope they can find the same magic they produced in London, Ontario last year. There are eight graduating players on this squad, so the chance for them to go out on top is literally staring them in the faces.

The "Special K" line of Lauryn Keen, Karissa Kirkup, and Natasha Kostenko has been doing the heavy lifting for this team since mid-January as Keen leads the team in goals (13), assists (13), and points (26). The second line of Alanna Sharman, Jordy Zacharias, and Sheridan Oswald seems a little snake-bitten as they're generating chances, but can't find the back of the net. Manitoba's strength was their depth scoring last year, and they need more from their bottom two lines. Defence has been a strength for the team as they've generated a lot of offence from the blue line, but they need to help Lauren Taraschuk in the net as often as they jump into the rush. If they can get their defensive mojo going after dropping two rather ugly games to Alberta, the Bisons might be the darkhorse selection in this tournament after winning it all one year ago.

GAMETIME: Thursday, March 14 versus Guelph at 3pm AT/11am PT.

National Ranking: 7
Team Offence: 1.96 gpg (22nd)
Team Defence: 1.84 gapg (14th)

The UPEI Panthers somehow were ranked as the seventh seed in the tournament despite being the worst team statistically and the only team of the remaining eight eliminated in quarterfinal round of their conference's playoffs. Where they lack in experience and veteran talent, they make up for it with youthful exuberance as they skated 14 first- and second-year players this season. After being ousted by the UNB Reds in the first-round of the playoffs, the UPEI Panthers have had a lot of time to work on systems and get themselves ready for the biggest tournament of this season.

The hosts were led by Rachel Colle in goals (10), assists (10), and points (20) while Jolena Gillard was the only other player to manage at least eight goals this season. You wonder if Camille Scherger may have been tired in the AUS playoffs after playing all 28 games for the Panthers this season, posting a 1.84 GAA and a .932 save percentage while going 14-14-0 for the Panthers. I don't believe anyone expects the Panthers to compete with the other seven teams, and that lack of pressure on the hosts may allow them to throw caution to the wind and play like they have nothing to lose. Can they harness the belief in themselves and push them past a few teams?

GAMETIME: Thursday, March 14 versus Montreal at 7pm AT/3pm PT.

National Ranking: 8
Team Offence: 2.71 gpg (8th)
Team Defence: 1.90 gapg (16th)

The Toronto Varsity Blues upset the Western Mustangs to advance to the McCaw Cup Final only to lose to Guelph in the single-game final which still makes no sense to me after they played best-of-three series all the way through the playoffs. Regardless, the Blues come in as the worst defensive team in the tournament, so they'll need to find some improvement there or they'll have to up that goal-per-game total if they want to play for the National Championship banner.

The Varsity Blues haven't been to a U SPORTS National Championship since 2001, so liek UPEI they can play without pressure as many wouldn't have thought they'd be in PEI at the end of the season. That being said, Lauren Straatman led the team in assists (15) and points (23) while Kassie Roache lit the lamp 14 times. Christine Chao provides a ton of offence from the back end with her 17 points, but those three also accounted for 45% of the 65 goals Toronto scored this season. They may have a secret weapon in head coach Vicky Sunohara as the long-time Canadian Olympian likely has a few tricks up her sleeves we haven't seen yet, but she's going to have to push her squad to its limits if they hope to compete for a national title on Sunday.

GAMETIME: Friday, March 15 versus Alberta at 3pm AT/11am PT.

The brackets have been set for the tournament, and the eight teams begin play on Thursday at Bell Aliant Arena in Charlottetown. Game times are listed above, so please make note of your time zone with respect to the posted times.

The Last Word

If you want to catch the action from Charlottetown, you're going to have to subscribe through the U SPORTS webcast. From the reviews the U SPORTS broadcasts had last year, I'm not certain I'd recommend doing that since they were pretty terrible. That being said, it may be the only way to see your favorite team play, so spend the money if you want to see the games. You may just want to mute the sound if the broadcast team is as bad as it was last year in London.

What should make you a little happier is that UMFM has agreed to let Jason Pchajek and myself go out to Charlottetown for the live broadcasts of all the games involving the Manitoba Bisons, so you'll get to hear how the Bisons are doing every time they take to the ice. If you want to listen in for free, you're welcome to do so on the UMFM website or via the UMFM Second Stream. Feedback and comments can be sent to me at any time during, before, or after broadcasts via Twitter at TeebzHBIC. I'll keep an eye on the ol' social media platform while the Bisons play, and we'll do some updates via Twitter as the games are played!

Everything starts Wednesday night with the U SPORTS Awards Gala, and I'm sure Jason and I will discuss that on both the hockey broadcast the next day and on The Hockey Show which will be live during the Montreal-UPEI game! It should be a big week of hockey for the Bisons and UMFM, so please join us all week long as we dive deep into the U SPORTS National Women's Hockey Championship!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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