Michel Belanger

OTTAWA (CIS) – For the first time in a decade, the Western University Mustangs are the team to beat in Canadian Interuniversity Sport men’s hockey.

The Mustangs (21-2-3), who were ranked third in the country a week ago, received six first-place votes and 152 points from the 17-member media panel in the 13th national poll of the season to move up to No. 1 for the first time since the 2001-02 campaign.

Ten years ago, Western topped 11 of 16 media polls, including the last eight, and went on to capture the lone University Cup title in school history.

The Mustangs are the third team in four weeks to lead the CIS men’s hockey rankings. The reigning national champion UNB Varsity Reds dominated the first 10 polls of the campaign, while the McGill Redmen were No. 1 each of the past two weeks.

UNB (17-5-3) remains at No. 2 in the new Top 10 thanks to a 143-point tally. McGill (20-4-2) drops two spots to No. 3 after earning 142 points. The Manitoba Bisons (17-5-2) are the big winners this week, moving up three positions to No. 4 after racking up 108 points.

All three teams received first-place consideration from the panel, including four nods for UNB, six for McGill and one for Manitoba.

Rounding out the new Top 10 are the Alberta Golden Bears (16-6-2), who stay put in fifth place; the No. 6 Saint Mary’s Huskies (17-7-2), up two positions; the No. 7 Moncton Aigles Bleus (16-8-1), down three; the No. 8 UPEI Panthers (17-8-0), unranked a week ago; the No. 9 Saskatchewan Huskies (15-6-3), down three spots; as well as the UQTR Patriotes (18-6-2), who remain at No. 10.

Heading into the final week of the regular season in the OUA and AUS conferences, and with two weeks to go in Canada West league play, Western, UNB, McGill and Manitoba all lead their respective divisions.

In the OUA West, the top-ranked Mustangs have long secured first place and currently hold an 11-point lead over Lakehead in the standings. Western, which defeated Waterloo 5-1 and Lakekead 7-4 last weekend, closes out conference play with home tilts against UOIT (5-20-1) on Thursday and York (12-10-4) on Saturday.

In the AUS, the V-Reds hold a slim one-point advantage over Saint Mary’s but have three games remaining, compared to two for the Huskies. UNB, which edged Acadia 3-2 and dropped a 3-2 shootout decision to Dalhousie this past weekend, wraps up conference play with three games in four nights, including against St. Thomas (5-16-4) on Wednesday, No. 8 UPEI on Friday and No. 7 Moncton on Saturday.

In the OUA East, the Redmen enjoy a four-point lead over UQTR and need to tally a single point in their final two outings to clinch first place. McGill beat UQTR 7-3 last Tuesday before losing 4-2 to Concordia and beating Carleton 4-3 over the weekend. The 2011 University Cup finalists close out the regular schedule with visits to Concordia (13-11-2) on Wednesday and Ottawa (14-11-1) on Friday.

In Canada West, the Bisons are currently in first place with 36 points, two more than Alberta and three more than Saskatchewan, with all three teams having four games left in league play. Manitoba, which swept a two-game series versus UBC last weekend, 3-2 in a shootout and 5-3, visits Calgary (14-11-1) on Friday and Saturday. The Bisons will then wrap up the regular season at home against UBC on Feb. 17-18.