CIS hockey rankings: Road to U-Cup begins

Daniel Elrich, the CIS’s leading scorer during the regular season, and the Western Mustangs have a tough first-round matchup. (Grace Chung/Western Mustangs)

With only three losses on the year, the Alberta Golden Bears posted the best record in CIS Men’s Hockey since 2009-10. They lead almost every statistical category in the country including goals, goals-per-game, power play goals, power play percentage, goals against and goals-against-average. I expect much of the same in the playoffs from the Golden Bears.

UNB faced some major challenges this season, including a new league rule to cap the size of team rosters, essentially targeting the Varsity Reds and their strong recruiting. It wouldn’t matter though; UNB captured their seventh consecutive AUS regular-season title.

Western already secured top spot in their division last week and Carleton handled Laurentian Saturday to earn their first ever OUA East division title. There are no first-round byes in the OUA, which sets up a long and difficult road to the University Cup.

There are some quality teams in the CIS this season and it shows in their records. There are eight teams that held a 20-plus win season this year — double the amount from last season. It should make for an exciting playoff run leading up to the University Cup March 20-23 in Saskatoon.

Here’s how the final power rankings look heading into the playoffs:

1. Alberta (25-2-1) | Last week: 1

The Golden Bears wrapped up an impressive season Sunday with a come-from-behind victory against Calgary. Alberta tallied three goals in the final seven minutes to secure sole position atop the national standings. However, they will proceed into the playoffs without point-per-game forward Kruise Reddick. He hasn’t played since Jan. 31 due to a foot injury, but Alberta officially shut him down last week for the remainder of the season.

2. UNB (24-3-1) | Last week: 2

The Varsity Reds come scorching into the playoffs on a 13-game winning streak and have posted three consecutive shutouts, two of which were against Moncton and Acadia. Still battling some injury problems, UNB will enjoy a first-round bye as they wait to meet their opponent in the AUS semifinals.

3. Carleton (22-5-1) | Last week: 3

The OUA has a number of offensively potent freshmen this season, including Carleton’s Michael McNamee. McNamee registered 14 goals and 22 assists to lead all Ravens in scoring. The first-place Ravens will open their playoff run Wednesday on the road when they face the eighth-place Nipissing Lakers.

4. Acadia (21-4-3) | Last week: 4

Acadia will take a much-needed first-round bye in the playoffs. The Axemen played both games this weekend without CIS goal scoring champion Liam Heelis, who is out with an upper-body injury. It is an injury that has been bothering him for quite some time and it is unknown at this point when he will return to the line-up.

5. UQTR (22-6-0) | Last week: 6

The Patriotes righted the ship last weekend, pulling out two one-goal wins. In the last four games, there has been a noticeable change in their penalty kill percentage. UQTR’s PK percentage has dropped 10 points during that stretch, compared to their season tally. This is bad news for one of the most penalized teams in the country.

6. Calgary (21-4-3) | Last week: 5

Clearly it was not the outcome Calgary was looking for heading into last weekend. Another pair of defeats makes it six losses in their last eight games. In that span, their goaltending and penalty kill has struggled. The goaltending tandem’s save percentage was under .840 and the Dinos have allowed more goals on the penalty kill in the last eight games than the previous 20.

7. McGill (21-5-2) | Last week: 7

McGill — like Alberta, UNB, Carleton and Western — are rolling into the playoffs. The Redmen have points in 10 consecutive games and last Friday’s win was an impressive one. McGill erased a 6-2 deficit and pulled out the victory, a testament to their high-powered offence.

8. Western (21-6-1) | Last week: 8

The Mustangs put together an impressive second half of the season, earning them top spot in the OUA West heading into the playoffs. They’ll open Round One against Guelph, the only team to defeat them in the past 11 games.

9. Saskatchewan (17-10-1) | Last week: 9

The Huskies will look to avoid an extended layoff leading up to the University Cup when they face UBC in the opening round of the playoffs. Although the first-round bye can be beneficial for some teams, for Saskatchewan, I like the fact they continue with their routine of having games on their schedule.

10. Moncton (17-11-0) | Last week: 10

Moncton will host St. FX Wednesday in Game One of the AUS quarterfinals. Special teams often have huge implications in the playoffs and lately this has been a sore spot for U de M. They are 0-for-18 on the power play in the past four games, and have a penalty kill under 80 percent in the same span.

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