October 30, 2012, OTTAWA (CIS) – Four usual suspects and a new kid on the block will battle for the McCrae Cup later this week when the top university teams in the country gather in Toronto for the Field Hockey Canada – CIS championship.

The five-team tournament gets under way on Thursday at the University of Toronto’s Varsity Centre with the first of three days of round-robin competition. The top two squads at the end of the preliminary round advance to Sunday’s gold-medal final at 1 p.m. All 12 matches from the tourney will be webcast live on

The reigning champion UBC Thunderbirds have been seeded No. 1 for the event, followed by the No. 2 Toronto Varsity Blues, No. 3 Guelph Gryphons, No. 4 Victoria Vikes and No. 5 Western Mustangs.

UBC (13), Toronto (11) and Victoria (11) have combined to win 35 of 37 national banners since the inaugural CIS championship back in 1975. Dalhousie (1976) and Alberta (2005) are the only other schools whose name appears on the championship trophy.

Guelph’s history of success on the national stage is both more modest and recent but the Gryphons, although they are still looking for that elusive first McCrae Cup title, have now been a CIS powerhouse for almost a decade. Guelph will compete at the CIS tournament for the seventh time in the last eight years and in its last five appearances has claimed a silver medal and a pair of bronze.

And then there’s Western. Thanks to a 2-0 win over Waterloo in Sunday’s OUA bronze-medal game, the Mustangs qualified for the nationals for only the second time in program history. The ‘Stangs went 0-3 in their first appearance in 2003 en route to a sixth-place finish.

The 2012 championship kicks off with a bang Thursday at 9:30 a.m. when top-ranked UBC opens its title defence against No. 2 Toronto. Opening day will also see Guelph battle Victoria at 11:50 a.m., Toronto take on Western at 3:30 p.m., and UBC face Victoria at 5:50 p.m.

The Thunderbirds beat Calgary 3-1 in last year’s title match to claim their record 13th McCrae Cup. They resumed their domination this season in the three-team Canada West conference, winning their four contests against Victoria by a combined score of 15-3 and their four games versus Calgary by a 19-2 margin.

While they lost CIS player of the year and national team member Robyn Pendleton following their 2011 triumph, the T-Birds found a new leader this fall in Kate Gillis, a Boston College transfer who was named Canada West MVP after scoring a league-leading seven goals in eight outings.

“The thing that she does for us is lead on and off the field,” said UBC head coach Hash Kanjee of the daughter of Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis. “She’s always ready to play and I think the younger players see that. And of course she has a great skill set and can really put the ball in the back of the net.”

In his 20th season at the helm, Kanjee has guided his troops to a remarkable 14 straight CIS tournament appearances since 1998. Over that period, UBC has reached the podium 12 times, including eight gold medals.

Championship host Toronto is also undefeated going into the CIS tourney. The Varsity Blues kept a 12-0 mark in league play before adding two wins in the playoffs, including a 5-2 domination of Guelph in the OUA final.

Playing in front their fans, the OUA champs hope to fare better than a year ago when they entered the national competition as the No. 1 seed but finished a disappointing fourth. The last time the Blues competed for CIS supremacy on home turf, in 2007, they thrilled their supporters with an exciting 1-0 overtime victory against Guelph in the championship final.

Guelph is led by forward Brittany Seidler, who was voted OUA MVP this season after scoring a league-high 19 goals.

“We have a very strong team,” said Gryphon head coach Michelle Turley. “The enthusiasm amongst the group is high. I’m very optimistic about our chances.”

Victoria returns to the CIS championship this year after missing the event for only the second time in 29 years in 2011. The Vikes field a very young team, with 12 players in either their first or second university season.

Western went 1-4 combined against Toronto and Guelph this fall. The Mustangs defeated the Gryphons 4-2 in their regular season finale on Oct. 21 but Guelph quickly avenged that loss six days later with a 4-1 head-to-head win of its own in the OUA semifinals.

Official championship website: