5 Dinos from Manitoba aim to bring 1st university men's hockey championship back to Calgary
Five Manitobans will try to lead the Calgary Dinos to their first U Sports title in men's hockey this weekend in Charlottetown.
The Dinos enter the University Cup, which starts Thursday, as the top seed in the eight-team national championship tournament.
It's Calgary's first trip to the nationals since the 2014-15 season and it follows their first Canada West conference banner in 27 years.
Calgary, captained by Winnipegger Noah King, scored twice in the final 10 minutes against the visiting Alberta Golden Bears to take Game 3 of the best-of-three Canada West final on March 5.
Defencemen Zach Wytinck of Glenboro, Man., said the Dinos' goal all season was to put themselves in a position to win the conference title.
"That was something we were really focused on all year, and that's something we were really committed to doing," the 23-year-old said Tuesday.
The Dinos opened the season with just two wins in their first five games before rattling off a Canada West-record 23 straight conference victories to close out the regular season. The previous record of 18 straight wins was set by Alberta in 1978-79.
"It was pretty crazy. We kind of just took it one week at a time. We were getting sweep after sweep," Bradley Schoonbaert said of the streak.
Schoonbaert, a 25-year-old forward from Brandon, Man., finished fifth in team scoring this season with 25 points (10 goals and 15 assists) — one point behind fellow Brandonite Connor Gutenberg (nine goals, 17 assists and 26 points) — and 12 back of Winnipeg's Riley Stotts, who led the Dinos with 37 points (10 goals and 27 assists), which was tied for fourth in Canada West scoring.
Calgary has become a popular destination for Manitobans ending their junior hockey careers and wanting to play at the university level, especially players from the Wheat City. Last season, the Dinos had two other Brandonites on the roster: goalie Tyler Gutenberg and blue-liner James Shearer.
"It's kind of cool how how you go to Calgary and play and you got all these guys that you already know, so it makes the transition a lot easier for you," Schoonbaert said.
There's also a Manitoba connection for Dinos head coach Mark Howell, who was an assistant coach with the Brandon Wheat Kings during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 Western Hockey League campaigns.
On Wednesday night, Howell was named national coach of the year — the second time he's earned that honour.
Calgary plays No. 8 Prince Edward Island in quarter-final action Friday. The host Panthers are expected to have their top defenceman, Matt Brassard, back for the first time since he broke his thumb in late January.
"They're healthy now and they're going to be hungry, they're going to have the home crowd behind them, so it'll be a tough test, but yeah, we're ready for it," Schoonbaert said.
Half of the eight teams in the championship, including Calgary and the Windsor Lancers, with first-year defenceman Jordan Chudley of Souris, have never won the Canadian university men's hockey championship. Alberta, the New Brunswick Reds and the defending champion Québec à Trois-Rivières Patriotes have combined to win about half of the all-time titles.
But that doesn't mean the Dinos feel like underdogs.
"Once you get to the national tournament, I think you're dealing with really good teams who have a chance at winning it, so I think maybe those teams have more guys who have experienced this tournament and winning a little bit more than us," Wytinck said, "but ultimately … it's one weekend here and you just got to bring your best."
Schoonbaert hopes to end his university hockey career with a gold medal around his neck.
"It would be pretty special. It'd be something you look back on in 40, 50, 60 years, honestly, and just reminisce about," he said.
"To win to win this tournament would mean so much, and it would be pretty cool to do it with with my buddies from back home."
Montreal hosts women's nationals
Women's hockey nationals, which runs from Thursday to Sunday in Montreal, also features several Manitobans.
The No. 8 Mount Royal Cougars, including Manitobans captain Tatum Amy of Birtle, Tori Williams of Souris, Morgan Ramsay of Rivers and Jori Hansen-Young of Brandon, battle the top-ranked Toronto Varsity Blues in a national quarter-final on Thursday.
The No. 2 British Columbia Thunderbirds, which include Manitobans forward Karine Sandilands of Winnipeg and Cross Lake's Kennesha Miswaggon on defence, play the No. 7 St. Francis Xavier X-Women in another national quarter-final Friday.
Forward Ashlyn Zaharia of Winnipeg and the No. 6 Nipissing Lakers take on the third-seeded Concordia Stingers, also on Friday.