VANCOUVER,BC:MARCH 5, 2023 -- UBC Thunderbirds v Mount Royal University Cougard during U Sports Canada West Championship final action at UBC in Vancouver, BC, March, 5, 2023. (Rich Lam/UBC Athletics Photo)

By Casey Dulson(ISN)

We are down to the final four teams: Mount Royal (MRU) Cougars, Universite de Montreal Carabins,University of British Columbia (UBC) Thunderbirds and Concordia Stingers now have their eyes set on playing for the national championship tomorrow-but first, they will go through the national semifinal stage.

The first semifinal features the eight-seeded MRU Cougars- who pulled an upset on Thursday in the quarterfinals by defeating the top-seed University of Toronto Varsity Blues. The other team is the fifth seed- host Montreal Carabins, who beat the four-seed University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds on Thursday. The second semifinal will see the second-seed Thunderbirds- who beat StFX X-Women in overtime, and third seed, defending U Sports champion Stingers- who beat Nipissing Lakers in a rematch of last year’s finals.

Semifinal #1- MRU Cougars vs. Montreal Carabins- Path to semifinals:
The Cougars finished third in Canada-West (CW) standings during the regular season posting a record of 22-9-4-4 while the Carabins posted 17-4-4, which was good enough second in Réseau du sport étudiant du Québec (RSEQ). The Cougars beat Trinity Western Spartans in three games in the CW quarterfinals and moved on to defeat Alberta Pandas in Canada- West semifinals which also went the distance. The Cougars lost to UBC Thunderbirds in three games in the finals; the Cougars- throughout the CW playoffs,
played in five games in which the score margin was one goal, winning three of those games. Mount Royal advanced to semis after a 3-2 win over Varsity Blues. It marked the second – straight time that the Cougars beat Varsity Blues in the quarterfinals at nationals as the lower seed. Mount Royal defeated Varsity Blues 2-1 as the seventh seed in the 2020 U Sports WHKY championship.

The Carabins defeated Ottawa Gee-Gees in three games in the RSEQ semis. Universite de Montreal lost Concordia Stingers in three games at the RSEQ finals. The Carabins, during their RSEQ postseason run, played in four games where the team won by one goal- including an overtime win in game three of the RSEQ semis. The Carabins advance to the semis after a 4-1 win over Varsity Reds.

Key players to watch:
Carabins forward Audrey-Anne Veillette

The dynamic attacker put on the U Sports on notice leading the nation in goals with 26 marking the first time that a player from Universite de Montreal had the most goals in the country. Her 26 goals also set a new Carabins record for most goals in a season. The Kinesiology student was third in the U Sports, scoring 35 points. For her incredible season, she was named a first-team All-Canadian after winning RSEQ player of the year. Lastly, Veillette led U Sports in hat-tricks and was at her best during January against Bishop’s Gaiters with a four-goal performance followed by a five-point showing. The CEGEP Limoilou product was fantastic in the RSEQ postseason tallying four goals in five games. She recorded a hat-trick against the Stingers in game two of the RSEQ finals. So far at nationals, she has one assist- but expecting her to be a different maker against the Cougars in the semis.

Cougars forward Amy Tatum
The Mount Royal captain was named CW MVP after leading the conference in assists (24) and points (31) in 27 contests. The 31 points and 24 assists were career highs, breaking her previous mark of 17 points set during the 2017 season and 12 assists set last year. Tatum was named a second-team All-Canadian because of her outstanding season. The fifth-year player recorded a goal and an assist in nine postseason games, and at nationals, she’s yet to see her name in the box score.

Carabins defender Jade Picard
The playmaking rearguard was named RSEQ Rookie of the Year after recording six goals and 11 assists through 25 appearances. The rookie recorded her first two-goal night against the Bishop’s Gaiters in November and a three-point performance against Carleton in February. Picard had a goal and an assist in five playoff games this past year. She already has one assist for the Carabins at nationals so far.

Cougars goalie Kaitlyn Ross
The 21-year-old netminder had an impressive season between the pipes where through 22 contests, she came away with a 15-7 record; a .391 saves percentage, and a 1.42 goals-against average. Her 15 wins were second among all U Sports goalies. The Redcliff, AB., product has had some impressive performance throughout Canada- West regular season and playoffs, highlighted by a 30-save shutout against UBC in November and a 38-save shutout against the same UBC team in game two of the CW finals. She stopped 20 of 22 shots in game one of nationals.

Semifinal #2- UBC Thunderbirds vs. Concordia Stingers- Path to semifinals:
The Thunderbirds finished atop the CW standings posting a 25-4-3-2 record- while the Stingers also finished first in RSEQ with a 24-4-1 record. The Thunderbirds defeated Saskatchewan Huskies in three games in the semis, and Mount Royal in the finals also went to three games. The Thunderbirds advanced to the semifinals after a 3-2 overtime win over StFX X-Women.
The Stingers swept Bishop’s Gaiters in the semifinals and defeated Montreal Carabins in three games at RSEQ Finals. Stingers advance to the semifinals following a 5-1 victory over the Nipissing Lakers.

Key players to watch:
Thunderbirds forward Cassidy Rhodes
The rookie was sensational this past season- tallying 14 goals and six assists in 28 appearances. The upcoming superstar got named to the CW all-rookie team and U Sports All-Rookie team for her outstanding season. The Ardrossan, Alta., native had two goals and one assist during UBC’s run to the Canada West championship. She has one assist at nationals so far, which came on the game-winning goal in overtime.

Stingers forward Emmy Fecteau:
Fecteau had an incredible third year, as she led the Stingers in all three offensive categories with 13 goals, 19 assists, and 32 points in 23 contests. She finished second in RSEQ scoring and sixth in U Sports. Her strong season saw her named to the 2023 FISU Winter Games, where she captained Team Canada to a gold medal. The St. Odilion, Que., native was named a second-team All-Canadian for her outstanding season. Fecteau continued her dominant season in playoffs recording five helpers in five games as the Stingers captured their second straight RSEQ championship. She had a goal in the Stingers’ quarterfinal win over the Lakers at nationals.

Thunderbirds goalie Elise Hugens

In just her second year, Hugens had made a name for herself as one of the top goalies in U Sports,making 17 starts with a record of 14-3 and a .949 saves percentage and 1.05 goals-against average; both numbers are among the best in U Sports. The Sherwood Park, AB., native had six shutouts, including three straights to end the regular season. Hugens was a big part of the UBC Thunderbirds winning the CW championship as she recorded three shutouts in the postseason, including a 19-save shutout in game three of the CW championship finals. She made 27 saves on 29 shots in UBC’s overtime win over
the X- Women.

Stingers forward Rosalie Bégin-Cyr
The veteran forward had another solid season in RSEQ with nine goals and adding 20 assists in 23 appearances- good for third in conference scoring. The fourth-year playmaker received her fourth league award as she was named a second-team all-star for the second straight season previously- she was a first-team all-star in 2020 and a member of the all-rookie team in 2019. Rosalie also won a gold medal with Canada at the 2023 FISU Winter Games. The Accounting/Supply Chain Management student had an incredible playoff recording six goals and three assists in five games during the Stingers’ RSEQ title run. She was held pointless in the Stingers’ quarterfinal win at nationals.