Sunday, 11 March 2018

The Rundown - Week 19

Oh, you thought The Rundown was over for another season with Manitoba being crowned as the Canada West Champions last week? Well, they're headed to London, Ontario along with seven other teams as the U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship gets underway on Thursday! There were rankings to determine, schedules to amend, and certainly some news to publish about the tournament, so that's what we're taking care of today here on The Rundown!

The Rankings

A conference call was scheduled for today, and the rankings for the remaining eight teams were determined. The eight teams that remained include Manitoba and Saskatchewan from Canada West, Saint Mary's and St. Francis Xavier from the AUS, Concordia and Montreal from the RSEQ, and Queen's from the OUA along with host Western from the OUA.

The champions of each conference would be ranked in the top-four spots while the remaining four teams would occupy the bottom-four spots. In this case, Manitoba, Saint Mary's, Concordia, and Western won their respective conferences, so they would get one of the top four spots.

After the conference call, this is how the rankings played out today:
  1. University of Manitoba Bisons (CW)
  2. Saint Mary's University Huskies (AUS)
  3. Western University Mustangs (OUA)
  4. Concordia University Stingers (RSEQ)
  5. St. Francis Xavier X-Women (AUS)
  6. University of Montreal Carabins (RSEQ)
  7. University of Saskatchewan Huskies (CW)
  8. University of Queen's Gaels (OUA)
There was no surprise as the top-ranked team in the nation held their spot, the second-best team in the nation held their spot, but Western got a huge boost after winning the McCaw Cup over Queen's yesterday. Concordia remains as the fourth-seeded team, St. Francis Xavier gets the next highest spot after being ranked fourth most of the year, Montreal finds their way back into the sixth seed, Saskatchewan gets the seventh seed after their impressive Canada West run, and Queen's falls back to a familiar eighth seed where they spent most of the season.

You could make cases for a little bit of shuffling in the standings, but U SPORTS has an unofficial policy of not pitting two conference foes against one another in the first two games of the tournament. They can meet for the U SPORTS gold medal, but they try to keep the inter-conference games at the National Championship to a minimum.

The Schedule

In stating that last paragraph, the top of the bracket and the bottom of the bracket will play on separate days for the quarterfinal games to ensure common rest times among the bracketed teams remains constant and fair. The host Western Mustangs were slated to play on the Thursday night game long before the tournament's teams had been settled, and they will indeed meet Montreal in that game at 7pm on Thursday. Based on that knowledge, here is how the rest of the brackets play out for the quarterfinal.

Thursday 4pm ET: Saskatchewan at St. Mary's.
Thursday 7pm ET: Montreal at Western.

Friday 4pm ET: Queen's at Manitoba.
Friday 7pm ET: St. Francis Xavier at Concordia.

If you're interested in the full schedule, it can be found here. Most of the teams at the National Championship have played both afternoon and night games, so I don't think you're going to find any advantage for any team based on game times, but that 10am consolation semi-final on Saturday morning might be a jolt for a few players. The best way to avoid that? Win your first game.

The Rules

The standard ice hockey rules apply as per usual, but there are a couple of twists that one should be aware of before the puck is dropped.

First, the top-four teams in the tournament will be considered the home team in their games and will wear white jerseys accordingly. They will maintain their home squad standing unless meeting a team of a higher ranking, meaning that Manitoba will wear white for the whole tournament regardless of who they play. The home team for each game will also get the choice of bench. I guess superstition is respected at the tournament?

Second, all overtime periods will be played four-on-four including medal games. In the quarterfinal, semifinal, fifth-place, and bronze medal games, teams will play a ten-minute overtime period before proceeding to a shootout to determine a winner.

In the gold medal game, the teams will play a ten-minute overtime period directly after the third period ends. If no winner is found, the teams will move to twenty-minute overtime periods with full intermissions until a winner is found.

If shootouts are needed to determine games, the home team shall decide whether to shoot first or defend first. Three players will be chosen for the initial shootout competition from each side. Once those three have shot, if the game is still tied, any player on the bench may be used to shoot in the sudden-death shootout portion including those that have already shot. Any player who is serving a penalty at the time of the shootout coming into effect will be determined ineligible to participate in the shootout.

Third, teams must exchange video recordings of their final two games before advancing to the National Championship. As an aside on this rule, this seems a little dumb since Manitoba and Saskatchewan will essentially submit the same videos, but I don't make these rules. C'est la vie.

Fourth, Canada West fans may cringe at this, but as per the rules, "When any player or goalkeeper, while in her defending zone, shoots, throws, or bats the puck with her hand or stick directly (non-deflected) out of the playing area, except where there is no glass, a minor penalty shall be assessed for delaying the game." In other words, the puck-over-glass rule is in effect at the National Championships. Canada West doesn't have this rule, so it may prompt Saskatchewan head coach Steve Kook and Manitoba head coach Jon Rempel to have a discussion with their troops.

Got all that? If not, just refer to this page. It's easier.

The Broadcast

From what we've been told, Rogers Sportsnet holds the broadcasting rights for all games, but it seems they haven't made a commitment to broadcasting any of the games yet. That seems a little tragic considering the efforts made by a few schools to get on Rogers Hometown Hockey this season, but I don't make these decisions. In any case, Rogers holds the broadcasting rights, so make sure you check your local listings to see if the games will be on Sportsnet360 or SportsnetNow, the online streaming service.

You can also spend a little cash on the U SPORTS streaming service if you like. The cost for a week's worth of games is $19.99 CDN which seems a little steep if you're only tuning in for one team's three games at the tournament, but I'm also no economics major. If you'd like to do that, feel free. I do know a couple of schools are doing viewing parties at a local eatery near said schools that might be more attractive and less wallet-crushing, so explore your options before committing. I also don't know what the broadcast quality is like, so caveat emptor, folks.

Here's what I do know and can confirm: UMFM is sending TJ and myself to London to continue to cover the Bisons via the radio broadcast, and all games will be broadcast on 101.5 FM, on, and on UMFM's Second Stream live as they happen!

Along with TJ and myself, we're happy to have Jason Pchajek from The Manitoban in the pressbox in London, and we'll see if we can get him on during intermissions for Pchajek's Playbook as he'll be filing stories from London all week long!

And in case you were wondering, there will be an episode of The Hockey Show broadcast live from London as well as the show goes on the road to the National Championship! Guests have yet to be confirmed for that show, but we're hoping to possibly speak with some of the amazing athletes, coaches, and staff from the teams participating! Not only will we have our normal one-hour show, but we may use the Second Stream to continue broadcasting an extended version of the show as we see fit!

As a note, UMFM did offer to the other schools to broadcast their games back to their schools and communities, but those offers were declined. If you're a fan in, say, Saskatoon and appreciated our broadcast of the Manitoba-Saskatchewan series, we felt it would be in Saskatchewan's best interest to have a free broadcast of its team's games, but that offer was turned down. As much as we wanted to do this for the Huskies, they wanted to do something else. Sorry, Huskies fans.

The Last Word

I can't express how excited I am for this road trip and possibly seeing the Bisons rise higher than ever before. They have never won a U SPORTS National Women's Ice Hockey Championship, so this could cap off what has been a rather remarkable year.

As a fan of the Bisons, I do know the team can't get ahead of itself. It's one game at a time for Mission: Three Wins, and the Queen's Gaels are the first team to stand in the way of the ultimate goal for the Bisons. Each shift, each period, each game has to be won by the Bisons as they will play the best of the best from the rest of the country now, and Queen's gets the first opportunity to try and knock off the top seed in the tournament.

Everything starts Thursday afternoon for the tournament, and TJ and I will bring you all the action starting on Friday via UMFM. A three-game winning streak to finish the season would be amazing, but these may be the hardest three games to win for any of these eight teams. Don't miss any of the action from London, Ontario as the best women's university hockey programs go head-to-head to determine which program is the best in the nation!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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