The four-team tournament, hosted by the University of Toronto for the third time in five years and for the 10th time overall, kicks off on Thursday and concludes Sunday with the gold-medal final at 3 p.m.
Competing for this season’s McCrae Cup will be the same four teams from a year ago: the top-seeded Thunderbirds (Canada West champions), No. 2 Toronto Varsity Blues (OUA champions/host), No. 3 Victoria Vikes (Canada West runners-up) and No. 4 Guelph Gryphons (OUA silver medallists).
Last year, Victoria captured silver, while Guelph earned bronze, with Toronto finishing in fourth place.
All contenders will play each other once in the preliminary round this week, with the top two finishers advancing to the final and the bottom two teams battling for bronze. Thursday’s opening day will see Victoria take on Guelph at 4 p.m. and UBC face Toronto at 6:30 p.m.
“We are very excited for the tournament, said Thunderbirds head coach Robin D’Abreo. “We know we will be facing the four best teams in the nation and the majority of the best players in the country. We go in feeling very competitive but are very aware in tournament hockey that anything can happen.”
Victoria, which last won the title in 2008, counters with Canada West rookie of the year Emily Wong (midfielder), and conference all-stars Rosie Beale (defence), Kristina Walters-Shumka (defence), Lizzie Yates (defence), Kathleen Leahy (defence/midfielder), and Amanda Kurianowicz (forward).
“The athletes have worked hard over the past two months to earn their right to compete at nationals,” said Vikes head coach Lynne Beecroft, who enters the championship as Canada West coach of the year. “Over the next week, we will continue to train with the same intensity and focus as we have had during the Canada West season. We will be heading to Toronto with a nice mix of veterans and rookies who are excited to continue on their U Sports journey.”
In Ontario, Toronto defeated Guelph 3-2 in the OUA championship on a goal in the 67th minute, after splitting a pair contests this season. The Gryphons took the first match 4-3 on Sept. 24, with the Varsity Blues replying with 3-2 win on Oct. 20.
Guelph boasts the OUA player of the year in Olivia Lane (forward), and fellow all-star Ciara Condon while Toronto’s lineup features conference rookie of the year Rachel Spouge (midfielder) along with Alison Lee (defence), and Emma Wingrave (midfielder), who both were named OUA all-stars this season.
“It’s always exciting to measure yourself against the very best, and we’ll certainly have that opportunity this weekend going against three terrific programs,” said Gryphons head coach Michelle Turley. “Our roster is relatively young, but our six rookies have adjusted nicely and our return veterans have been rock solid. Our goal is to adjust to the water based surface as quickly as possible in order to put ourselves in a position to reach the podium.”
“I expect our team to compete at a high level,” said Varsity Blues head coach John DeSouza. “The objective is to play every minute and see what our hard work will get us. I hope to have a chance in the final for a championship come Sunday.”
9:30 All-Canadian Awards Brunch (Toronto Marriott Bloor Yorkville Hotel)
16:00 Game 1: Victoria vs. Guelph
18:30 Game 2: UBC vs. Toronto
16:00 Game 3: UBC vs. Victoria
18:30 Game 4: Toronto vs. Guelph
12:30 Game 5: UBC vs. Guelph
15:00 Game 6: Toronto vs. Victoria
Sunday, Nov. 6
12:30 Bronze medal
15:00 Championship final