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Sept 25.2014(ISN) – NEW WESTMINSTER, BC – The 2014-15 season looks to be another highly-competitive year in Canada West men’s ice hockey after fans were treated to an all-Canada West national championship final in the University Cup last March.

The defending CIS and Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears are taking on all comers as the Calgary Dinos and Saskatchewan Huskies have reinforced with new additions. It’s a new era in Vancouver for the UBC Thunderbirds, while the Manitoba Bisons are out to turn heads. The Mount Royal Cougars, Regina Cougars and Lethbridge Pronghorns are all on the verge of a breakout year.

Here’s what to look out for this season, which opens on the weekend of September 25-27.

University of Alberta Golden Bears

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 1st

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: 1st

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: 1st

2013-14 CW Record: 25-2-1

Last CIS Title: 2014

Last CW Title: 2014

Key returnees: Kurtis Mucha, Levko Koper, Jordan Hickmott, Kruise Reddick, Brett Ferguson, Jesse Craige, Johnny Lazo, T.J. Foster, Jamie Crooks, Jordan Rowley, Thomas Carr, Luke Siemens, James Dobrowolski

Key additions: Stephane Legault, Dylan Bredo, Josh Derko, Mitch Topping

Key departures: Colin Joe, Ian Barteaux, Sean Ringrose, Ben Lindemulder, Torrie Dyck

EDMONTON – For the first time since 2008, the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey team enters a season as the defending CIS champions. The Bears are also defending Canada West champions as well.

But, the Bears graduated five players from their championship roster, including their team captain and leading scorer, as well as three of their top six defenceman. Gone from the squad are Sean Ringrose and Torrie Dyck, who made up two-thirds of Alberta’s explosive top line, as well as top six defencemen Colin Joe, Ian Barteaux, and Ben Lindemulder.

Head coach Ian Herbers, however, still boasts a formidable line-up, top to bottom. At his disposal are three CIS championship all-stars, as well as three Canada West all-stars and three members of the Canada West all-rookie team. Up front, Johnny Lazo, Levko Koper, Brett Ferguson, Jordan Hickmott, T.J. Foster, Jamie Crooks, Kruise Reddick, James Dobrowolski, Travis Toomey, and Drew Nichol all return, as do Zach Dailey and Rhett Rachinski.

Reddick, who was named the CIS University Cup tournament all-star team last season, will serve as the team captain, while Lazo, Jesse Craige and Thomas Carr will serve as assistant captains.

Along the blueline, the Bears can count on 2013-14 Canada West Defenceman of the Year, Jordan Rowley, who attended the Edmonton Oilers main training camp this year, as well as 2012-13 Canada West Defenceman of the Year Jesse Craige and Thomas Carr, all of whom were top six last season.

The Bears are also set between the pipes with Kurtis Mucha, the 2012-13 CIS Goalie of the Year, and 2013-14 Canada West all-rookie team goaltender Luke Siemens.

The regular season begins September 26-27, when Alberta will travel to Vancouver to play the UBC Thunderbirds, and the Bears will host their home opener, and raise their CIS championship banner to the hallowed rafters of Clare Drake Arena on the October 3-4 weekend against Lethbridge.

UBC Thunderbirds

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 4th

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: Lost in semifinals

2013-14 CW Record: 11-15-2

Last CIS Title: N/A

Last CW Title: 1971

Key returnees: Cole Wilson, Brad Hoban, Nate Fleming, Anthony Bardaro, Neil Manning, Ben Schmidt, Matt Hewitt

Key additions: Eric Williams, Manraj Hayer, David Robinson, Adam Rossignol, Robert Lindores, Justin Georgeson, Khaleed Devji

Key departures: Steven Stanford, Geordie Wudrick

VANCOUVER – The Tyler Kuntz era has officially begun for the UBC Thunderbirds. The 35-year old takes over as head coach of the program, after spending the past four seasons as the team’s full-time assistant coach.

“This is a tough league, it’s not going to be easy,” said Kuntz. “Our goal is to play extremely fast, practice fast, and teach our guys good habits. This is the new T-Birds style.”

The majority of the roster returns from last season. Goaltender Matt Hewitt returns for his second season with the Thunderbirds and will get his chance to be the number one guy between the pipes. Newcomers Eric Williams and Khaleed Devji will challenge him.

On defence, Second Team Canada West All-Star Neil Manning and fifth-year captain Ben Schmidt will lead the Thunderbirds. The group will be see the addition of Scott MacDonald, making the switch from forward to defence. Wes Vannieuwenhuizen is eager to get back at it after his rookie season was cut short due to a broken leg. Other returners include Jason Yee, Linden Saip, Brendon Wall, and Brandon Underwood.

Up front the Thunderbirds will look to fourth-year forward Cole Wilson for offence. Fresh off an invite to the Washington Capitals rookie camp, Wilson scored 34 goals and added 25 assists in 51 regular season games over the last two seasons.

Brad Hoban, Nate Fleming and Anthony Bardaro are all slotted in the top six, while the battle for the two left wing positions will be up for grabs. A number of players could fill the role, including third-year player Joe Antilla or second-year returner Greg Fraser. Also in the mix are newcomers David Robinson, Manraj Hayer and Adam Rossignol.

Luke Lockhart, Nick Buonassisi, and Dillon Wagner will make up UBC’s shutdown line. The trio will be relied on every night to go up against the opposing team’s top offensive players. All three play a very fast, physical game, but also have the ability to put the puck in the back of the net.

Lockhart proved that by setting a Canada West record for shorthanded goals in a game with three versus Lethbridge last year.

Depth up front is the biggest key for the Thunderbirds, this also includes rookies Robert Lindores, who transferred from Northern Michigan University (NCAA Division I) and Justin Georgeson, who led the BCHL’s Alberni Valley Bulldogs in scoring last season.

UBC opens up the season on home ice when they play host to the defending CIS and Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears September 26-27.

University of Calgary Dinos

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 2nd

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: Lost in the finals (2nd)

2013-14 CW Record: 21-4-3

Last CIS Title: N/A

Last CW Title: 1996

Key returnees: Jacob DeSerres, Chris Collins, Kevin King

Key additions: Cain Franson, Dylan Busenius, Corey Chorneyko

Key departures: Taylor Stefishen, Bret Bartman, Cory Pritz

CALGARY – Following a renaissance season a year ago that saw the team win 21 games during the regular season, the University of Calgary Dinos are hoping to take another step forward as they get set for the start of the 2014-15 campaign.

Head Coach Mark Howell enters his sixth season at the helm of the Dinos with a strong returning core. Eleven players from last year’s squad are now second-years at Calgary and are more acclimatized and ready for the challenges offered at the Canada West level. The team also has five new faces on the roster who will hope to fill the void left by three key departed defenceman as well as top line forward Taylor Stefishen.

“We put together a really strong year last season – slipped a little at the end – and people are starting to realize we have a very good program here,” said Howell. “Our goal is to be the best team every weekend and to be a more consistent. Our expectation is to win.”

While wins won’t be any easier to come by this season, the Dinos path to the University Cup became clearer with the announcement that two teams from the Canada West will represent the conference at this year’s tournament in Halifax. Calgary has made it to the Canada West Final in three of the past four seasons, but has yet to take home the Dr. W.G. Hardy Trophy. The Dinos’ last appearance in the University Cup came in 2011 when the team joined the Alberta Golden Bears in Fredericton.

“I think expectations are a good thing, it is a pressure guys want to have and will embrace,” explained third-year forward Spencer Edwards. “Although two teams will get to go this season, no one wants to be the one that sneaks in the backdoor. We want to be the team that wins the league and earns their spot. That’s our goal.”

Averaging 4.5 goals-per-game in 2013-14, the Dinos return an offence core that should be able to produce even more this year. Canada West Rookie of the Year Chris Collins will try for an encore performance after scoring a conference-high 19 goals last season, while fellow second-years Adam Kambeitz, Elgin Pearce, Ryan Harrison, Jordan Messier and Dylan Walchuk are all capable of putting up big numbers and will be counted on.

First-year scorers Cain Franson, Philip Tot and Aspen Sterzer will also have opportunities, similar to last year’s large rookie class, to make an impact right from Day 1.

“We have a good core of veteran players that are used to the style of play here and are ready to take the next step,” said Edwards. “Our forward group has a lot of speed and skill. We are fortunate to have enough quality guys on this team and a lot of guys who can step in and play different roles and do well.”

Calgary will rely heavily on the veteran forwards Kevin King, Walker Wintoneak and Edwards. Now in their fourth and five seasons respectively, King and Wintoneak are one of the top scoring duos in the conference and will have their other linemate, Walchuk, for a full season after he played just three games in his rookie season.

Where the Dinos may look most different is on the backend. A defence usually known for its puck carrying and ability to score, Calgary’s blue line will be much younger with a balance of size and skill. Drydn Dow, Dan Gibb and Davis Vandane will all take on larger roles as second-years. Max Ross joins the defensive core after playing his first three seasons with the Dinos as a forward, while Alex Dzielski stands as the most experienced defenceman of the group.

Recruits Dylan Busenius and Corey Chorneyko will be thrown into action right away on a team that has just seven defenceman to open the season. Kodie Curran is still eligible to return for a fifth year at the University of Calgary, having just finished attending main camp for the Tampa Bay Lightning.

“We are going to be a little different, we are a little younger, but we have a good unit,” noted Gibb when asked about the defence. “We’ll make sure the forwards get the puck so they can do their thing and we’ll just play defence.”

“The backend is going to be a work in progress. We lost three really important guys and it might take some time to come together,” explained Howell.

While the defence will have a new-look, the Calgary crease has no changes as Jacob DeSerres and Kris Lazaruk return for their fourth years with the Dinos. Both netminders were atop the conference for most of last season in all goaltending categories. When both were healthy, DeSerres and Lazaruk split weekend duties, keeping both rested in time for the playoffs.

DeSerres finished the year with 13 wins, a 2.15 goals-against average and a 0.914 save percentage, which won him the CIS Goaltender of the Year Award. The Calgary native recently returned from the Florida Panthers Rookie Camp.

Calgary opens the 2014-15 regular season this weekend, Sept. 26-27 against the Manitoba Bisons. A hard-working squad with good size, the Bisons are the only team the Dinos didn’t see during September’s pre-season games and will be coming in with a chip on their shoulder. Last season, Calgary ended Manitoba’s season with an overtime tally by Dzielski in Game 3 of the conference semifinals.

University of Lethbridge Pronghorns

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 8th

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Record: 4-21-3

Last CIS Title: 1994

Last CW Title: 1994

Key returnees: Tim Campbell, Ryon Moser, David McMullin, Mitch Maxwell, Brock Hirsche

Key additions: Brandon Clowes, Sam Wilbur, Artsiom Kalashnikov

Key departures: None

LETHBRIDGE – Coming off a second consecutive season where the Lethbridge Pronghorn men’s hockey team missed the postseason, the page has been turned and a new era of Pronghorn hockey is set to begin under new head coach Spiros Anastas.

Anastas was hired this past April and joins the ‘Horns after spending the past two seasons as a member of the Detroit Red Wings organization, being an assistant coach with the Red Wings AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins.

The ‘Horns return 19 players from last season’s team and Anastas has added a good mix of youth and experience with eight new recruits.

Among Anastas’s first recruiting class are two NCAA transfers, two CIS transfers and four true freshmen. Forwards Brandon Clowes and Manny Gialedakis took advantage of the CIS eligibility repatriation rule and set right into the ‘Horns line-up.

Goaltender Warren Shymko transfers from the University of Ottawa and will push returning goaltenders Damien Ketlo and Dylan Tait for time in the crease. Shymko had a solid freshman season with the Gee Gees, putting up a 2.76 goals-against-average and a 0.900 save percentage.

An area of strength for the Pronghorns this season should be their blue line, as the ‘Horns return their entire top 6 defensemen from last season. Tim Campbell, David McMullen, Corbin Karl, Cason Machacek, Hayden Rintoul and Brent Henke will be the keys to ‘Horns success this season.

“Our success relies on our six returning defensemen being able to play a solid all-around game, while making defence a priority,” said first-year head coach Spiros Anastas.

After scoring a league-low 52 goals last season, the ‘Horns forwards will need to up their production if the team is to have a resurgence this year. Following solid freshmen seasons, there are big expectations for Ryon Moser, Mitch Maxwell and Brock Hirsche.

Hirsche finished tied with Cass Mappin for the team lead in goals with seven, while Moser recorded six goals and 10 assists in 26 games last season.

Newcomers Clowes, Sam Wilbur and Artsiom Kalashnikov have shown some offensive flair during the ‘Horns non-conference schedule and will be counted on to produce during their first season with the program.

Wilbur finished second in the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League (NOJHL) scoring last season with 36 goals and 50 assists, while Kalashnikov picked up 52 points in 55 games last season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL).

University of Manitoba Bisons

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 5th

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: Lost in semifinals

2013-14 CW Record: 12-12-4

Last CIS Title: 1965

Last CW Title: 1965

Key returnees: Jesse Paradis, Brock Sutherland, Jordan DePape, Aaron Lewadniuk, Taylor Dickin, Luke Paulsen, Brendan Rowinski

Key additions: Reid Gow, Shaquille Merasty, Chad Robinson, Rene Hunter, Channing Bresciani

Key departures: Dane Crowley, Ian Duval, Jeremy Schappert, Joe Caligiuri, Travis Bobbee

WINNIPEG – It is a changing of the guard for the Manitoba Bisons men’s hockey program. This season, over half the lineup is new as the program starts a new period with departures of conference all-stars Dane Crowley, Ian Duval, Jeremy Schappert plus starting goalie Joe Caligiuri and defernceman Travis Bobbee.

Last season, the team battled to a fourth-place conference regular season finish and then pushed Calgary to three games in the Canada West semifinals series before agonizingly losing in overtime to end the season. This season, the team identified some key areas in recruiting by adding speed, hockey intelligence, grit and depth to the roster.

The goal remains for the Bison men’s hockey team to be one of the elite teams in the conference and CIS and head coach Mike Sirant, in his 19th season at the helm, is very impressed on how quickly the new team has come together and adopted a ‘team first’ attitude during preseason. Sirant feels the identity of this edition of the Bisons will be of a team that is hard to compete against and will play an up-tempo, fast paced game with good puck management.

Returning players to the Herd include Top 20 Canada West scorers in forwards Aaron Lewadniuk (2013-14: 14g, 15a, 29 points) and Jesse Paradis (2013-14: 10g, 17a, 27 points). In addition, forwards Jordan DePape (2013-14: 10g, 14a), Brendan Rowinski (2013-14: 5g, 18a), Taylor Dickin (2013-14: 8g, 10a) plus defenceman Luke Paulsen (2013-14: 3g, 9a) and Brock Sutherland (2013-14: 1g, 6a) will all continue to lead on the offensive and defensive end.

Complementing the veterans will be a vast array of newcomers at Manitoba. The team is looking for a balanced attack with the defence expected to contribute more from the blueline. Defenceman Reid Gow played with WHL’s Spokane Chiefs in 2013-14 and was the fifth-highest defenceman scorer in the league with five goals and 56 assists in 65 games. D-man Channing Bresciani was with the MJHL champs Winnipeg Blues last season and contributed ten goals and 26 assists in 58 games.

On offence, forward Shaquille Merasty adds firepower as he played three seasons with Portage Terriers in MJHL and almost averaged a point a game while he last played a Division 3 school Adrian College where he earned All-American honours. In addition, forwards Chad Robinson and Rene Hunter both finished four years in the WHL and add skill, grit and speed to the lineup.

In the nets, there are three goalies with limited conference experience yet all have performed well in preseason. Returning Deven Dubyk along with rookies Byron Spriggs and Brendan Jensen will push each other all season.

Mount Royal University Cougars

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 6th

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: Lost in quarterfinals

2013-14 CW Record: 11-14-3

Last CIS Title: N/A

Last CW Title: N/A

Key returnees: Tyler Fiddler, Matt Brown, Cody Cartier, Scott McKay

Key additions: Mackenzie Johnston, Grant Baker, David Stephens, Rob Trzonkowski

Key departures: Devin Gannon, Eric Galbraith, Kevin Knopp, Curtis Beech

CALGARY – The Cougars program took a huge leap forward last season making the playoffs for the first time in school history. They pushed the Manitoba Bisons to the edge last season losing a heartbreaking series 2-1 on the road in Winnipeg. This season, the goal is the same – get into the playoffs and make some noise.

The Cougars had flashes of brilliance last season knocking off both Alberta and Calgary, who were ranked one and two in the nation, respectively. However, issues with consistency plagued the Cougars who had trouble stringing wins together, especially at home.

Enter new head coach Bert Gilling. The long-time NCAA assistant coach from Bemidji State is set to take the Cougars program to the next level. The energy and enthusiasm Coach Gilling has brought to the program seems infectious with players and supporters alike. Crowds for preseason games already reflect a culture shift.

The players are whole-heartedly embracing the new regime and have the confidence, pride and confidence of an elite-level program. The Cougars will welcome back forwards Tyler Fiddler, Cody Cartier and Matt Brown, who were instrumental in last year’s playoff run. Puck-moving defenceman Scott McKay will shoulder some of the offensive from the blue line.

The team will be without top scorer Devin Gannon who decided to go pro at the end of last season. The Cougars graduated the core of their leadership as Captain Kevin Knopp and 2012-13 leading scorer Eric Galbraith said goodbye after five seasons. Also departing were long-time staples on defence Curtis Beech and Jesse Tresierra.

The Cougars recruiting class saw them strengthen the back end with additions of Mackenzie Johnston and Grant Baker. Johnston played five years in the WHL and will likely log serious minutes on the back end this season. Up front, the Cougars landed a pair of players from the Maritime Hockey League in David Stephens and Zach Henry. They also picked up some size and experience in Vancouver Giants grad Rob Trzonkowski.

Mount Royal will hit the road for their first game on September 25th against the Lethbridge Pronghorns before playing on the second half of their home-and-home on Saturday September 27th at Flames Community Arenas.

University of Regina Cougars

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 7th

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: N/A

2013-14 CW Record: 11-15-2

Last CIS Title: N/A

Last CW Title: N/A

Key returnees: Liam Brennan, Cody Fowlie, Lucas Gore, Andrew Hayes, Brody Luhning

Key additions: Dylen McKinlay, Tyler Giebel, Devon McMullen

Key departures: Craig Cuthbert

REGINA – The University of Regina men’s hockey team is set to open their 2014 conference play this weekend with a home-and-home against the Saskatchewan Huskies. The Cougars will travel to Saskatoon for a game on Friday, then host the Huskies on Saturday night at the Co-operators Centre. Both games are scheduled for 7 p.m. starts.

The Cougars enter the weekend sporting a 2-6 non-conference record, with their most recent contest being a 3-1 win over NAIT last weekend.

Regina is led by head coach Todd Johnson, who enters his third season with the team. Joining Johnson on the coaching staff are Russ Nielsen, Jeff Lawson and Rod McLeod.

The Cougars, who finished the 2013-14 season with an 11-15-2 conference record, will lose fifth-year forwards Dillon Johnstone, Craig Cuthbert, Tyler Murray and Ryan Sawka.

Leading the group of returning players for the Cougars is fifth-year forward and team captain Liam Brennan. Assistant captains for Regina will be Jordan Reeve, Troy Hunter, Tyler Henry and Brock Appleyard.

Also entering their fifth year of eligibility are forwards Tyler Penny and Carter Selinger.

Cody Fowlie, the Cougars leading scorer from a year ago, will highlight the team’s scoring attack along with Selinger, Henry and Penny.

Rookies Dylen McKinlay and Tyler Giebel will look to make an immediate impact for the Cougars on the offensive end after strong preseason performances.

Other forwards who will be looking to play large roles for the Cougars are Ian McNulty and Sanfred King.

Anchoring the blue line for the Cougars along with Reeve will be Mark Schneider, John Sonntag and Brody Luhning. Johnson also expects rookie Devon McMullen to see a lot of action on defence.

Nothing changes between the pipes for the Cougars, as Andrew Hayes and Lucas Gore are expected to split time in net.

“The preseason has shown us that the rookies we’ve brought in will play an important role in our success this year,” head coach Todd Johnson said. “We have a lot more depth than we’ve had in previous years which will make competition for playing time more intense, and that’s going to help make our team better.”

Following this weekend, the Cougars are to travel to Winnipeg for a pair of Canada West games against the Manitoba Bisons.

University of Saskatchewan Huskies

CW Preseason Coaches’ Poll Ranking: 3rd

2013-14 CIS Tournament Placing: Lost in University Cup (2nd)

2013-14 CW Tournament Placing: Lost in quarterfinals

2013-14 CW Record: 17-10-1

Last CIS Title: 1983

Last CW Title: 2012

Key returnees: Matthew Delahey, Craig McCallum, Ryan Holfeld, Kendall McFaull

Key additions: Jordon Cooke, Taylor Thompson, Brett Plouffe, Jordan Fransoo, Parker Thomas

Key departures: Brennan Bosch, Derek Hulak, Andrew Bailey, Kenton Dulle

SASKATOON – After the departure of 11 players from last season’s roster, the University of Saskatchewan Huskie men’s hockey team will have a different look when it hits the ice in 2014-15.

Saskatchewan finished third in the conference standings with a 17-10-1 record in 2013-14 and was upset in a quarterfinal series at home to the UBC Thunderbirds. As hosts of the University Cup, the Huskies finished second losing 3-1 to the Alberta Golden Bears in the championship final.

Despite the graduation of the top four scorers from the 2013-14 squad including Canada West MVP Derek Hulak and captain Brennan Bosch, the Huskies will look for offence and experience from forwards Craig McCallum (fifth-year), Matthew Spafford (fourth-year) and Jesse Ross (third-year). McCallum returned to the Huskies in January and tallied three goals and 13 assists in 12 games. Ross recorded 11 goals and 13 assists, while Spafford scored six goals and seven assists in 2013-14.

Saskatchewan’s strength comes from defence and goaltending. Included in the group is 2011-12 conference all-star Matthew Delahey, 2013-14 Canada West All-Rookie Kendall McFaull, fourth year defencemen Chad Suer and Zak Stebner and fifth-year goaltender Ryan Holfeld. Holfeld started 26 of the Huskies’ 28 regular season games in 2013-14 compiling a .918 save percentage and 2.42 goals against average.

Hoping to bolster the roster is 2013-14 CHL Goalie of the Year Jordan Cooke, 2013-14 RBC champion and captain of the Yorkton Terriers Taylor Thompson, 2013-14 MJHL leading scorer Parker Thompson, 2013-14 Victoria Royals captain Jordan Fransoo and CIS-transfer defenceman Brett Plouffe.

Other new additions include Rhyse Dieno (Red Deer Rebels), Jesse Forsberg (Moose Jaw Warriors), Michael Sofillas (Winkler Flyers), Cameron Blair (Battlefords North Stars), Jeremy Margeson (Canmore Eagles), David Stumborg (Humboldt Broncos) and Tyler Borstmayer (Weyburn Red Wings)

The Huskies open their season with a home-and-home against provincial rivals the Regina Cougars. The squads battle in Saskatoon on September 26, before meeting in Regina on September 27.