UQTR, Concordia begin men’s, women’s title defences as U Sports hockey playoffs heat up

The road to the U Sports championship season is officially underway for men’s and women’s hockey, as quarterfinal and semifinal matchups across the country will help decide which teams will be playing in the U Sports Championships in mid-March.

In men’s hockey, all eyes remain on the University of Calgary Dinos, who finished their regular season on a Canada West (CW) record 23-game winning streak.

The top seed will begin their playoffs on Thursday in a best-of-three semifinals against the Saskatchewan Huskies, who are fresh off of a dramatic 3-2 overtime victory in Game 3 of the quarterfinals over the Mount Royal Cougars.

In the other semifinal, the No. 2 Alberta Golden Bears will have their hands full with the next hottest team in U Sports, the No. 3 seed University of British Columbia Thunderbirds.

The Thunderbirds rattled off 12 straight wins to close out their season, then added two more with victories over the outmatched Regina Cougars in the quarters.

The Golden Bears are the defending CW champions, falling to the Université du Québec à Trois-Rivières (UQTR) Patriotes in the final of the 2022 U Sports Championship.

The Patriotes will begin their title defence in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) Queen’s Cup men’s quarterfinals against the Carleton Ravens, who have the hottest goalie in the country.

Mark Grametbauer carries a three-game shutout streak into the Ravens’ matchup with the No. 1 team in the OUA East, making 87 saves across two shutout victories over the Ontario Tech Ridgebacks in the first round of the playoffs.

The OUA East’s other matchup features the No. 2 Concordia Stingers taking on the No. 3 McGill Redbirds, who dispatched the Ottawa GeeGees in two games in the first round.

In the OUA West, the No. 1 Lakehead Thunderwolves draw the No. 5 Toronto Varsity Blues , who won the battle of Toronto over TMU with a 5-3 result in the series-deciding Game 3 on Sunday, with Ben Woodhouse scoring two goals and an assist.

The No. 3 Brock Badgers took down the Laurier Golden Hawks in Game 3 on Sunday as well, and will now take on the No. 2 Windsor Lancers.

In the Atlantic University Sport (AUS), the 2023 national championship host UPEI Panthers — who are already guaranteed a spot in the March 16-19 tournament — were upset by the Moncton Aigles Bleus in Game 3 on Monday with a double-OT goal from forward Olivier-Luc Hache.

The Aigles Bleus will now take on the four-time defending AUS champion UNB Reds in the semifinals.

In other AUS playoff action the No. 5 Acadia Axemen had no trouble upsetting the No. 4 StFX X-Men in two games by 5-3 and 4-1 scores in their quarterfinal, and will take on the SMU Huskies in the semis.

The Axemen (11-16-3) and Aigles Bleus (11-17-2) are the only remaining teams in the U Sports men’s hockey playoffs with losing records.

Women’s hockey features contenders in every conference

In the women’s AUS playoffs, the UPEI Panthers will be in tough in their best-of-five semifinals starting Wednesday against the defending AUS champion Reds.

The Panthers earned their spot in the semis against the No. 1 seed by taking down the No. 5 Dalhousie Tigers in three games, with freshman goaltender Sarah Forsythe earning shutout victories in Games 1 and 3.

In the other AUS quarterfinal, star forward Shae Demale powered the No. 3 SMU Huskies to victory over No. 6 Moncton with an OT winner in the series-clinching Game 3.

The fourth-year led the Huskies in scoring this season and will now play against StFX, the top offence in the country that features the leading scorer in all of U Sports in the form of Maggy Burbidge.

The defending champion Concordia Stingers begin their national title defence in the Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ) semifinals against the Bishop’s Gaiters in a best-of-three series beginning Thursday.

The Stingers boast an RSEQ-best 20-4-1 record, and took the head-to-head battle against the Gaiters 4-1 during the regular season.

In the other semifinal, the No. 2 Montreal Carabins — who are already guaranteed a spot in the U Sports Championship as hosts of the March 16-19 event — will take on the No. 3 Ottawa GeeGees.

Second-year Carabins forward Audrey-Anne Veillette led the nation in scoring, and scored the golden goal for Canada at the recent World University Games in Lake Placid.

While the Stingers are among the favourites heading into championship season, their stiffest competition may come from the UBC Thunderbirds, who lead the country with a 24-2-2 record, and sit atop the top 10 rankings.

UBC will put their undefeated 14-0 home record on the line when they host a best-of-three semifinal series against the No. 5 Saskatchewan Huskies this weekend – who took out rival Calgary with a pair of victories in the quarterfinals, led by freshman goaltender Elise Hugens.

The Mount Royal Cougars also outlasted Trinity Western in their quarterfinal matchup 2-1, outscoring the Spartans 5-3 across their three games, and will now travel to play the University of Alberta, who just had a 12-game winning streak snapped on the last game of the season.

A tight-checking series may be expected, as the Pandas surrendered just 10 goals over the course of their winning streak, and let up just 38 in 28 games this season.

In the OUA playoffs, the University of Toronto enters Wednesday’s quarterfinal against TMU as the clear favourites to come out of Ontario with a 23-2-2 record.

The defending U Sports finalist Nipissing Lakers will host Queen’s University in the other OUA East matchup, while defending OUA champion Brock will be underdogs against the No. 1 Waterloo Warriors in the West.

The Badgers would be no stranger to pulling an upset, winning the OUA playoffs last year despite entering with a .438 win percentage.

The other OUA West matchup will feature the Guelph Gryphons hosting the Windsor Lancers.

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