Saturday, March 14, 2015

UNB vs. Alberta - Preview, Prediction, Poll

UPDATE: If anybody wants to send the team a message that will be posted in the locker room, please e-mail

It will be a fitting end to the CIS men's hockey season as the #1 seeded Alberta Golden Bears - ranked #1 in all 20 polls this year - will face the #2 seeded University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds, who were ranked 2nd in all but 6 polls, for the National Championship tomorrow at 6:30PM.

This will be the 10th meeting all-time between the two hockey powers, with 7 of the previous 9 coming on the national stage.

1995/1996: Lost 5-0 in exhibition at AUC
1996/1997: Won 4-3 in OT in national semi-final.
1997/1998: Won 5-2 in national semi-final.
1999/2000: Lost 5-4 in OT in national final.
2002/2003: Lost 8-2 in national bronze medal game.
2003/2004: Won 6-5 in OT in national semi-final.
2007/2008: Lost 3-2 in national final.
2008/2009: Won 6-3 at nationals.
2010/2011: Won 6-2 in exhibition at Clare Drake Arena in Alberta.

Overall: 5-4
University Cup: 4-3
Gold Medal Game: 0-2

Some interesting tidbits heading into tomorrows game:

- UNB has never beaten Alberta in a medal game.
- UNB has won National Championships in every odd-numbered year since 2007 (2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013).
- UNB has never won a National Championship while wearing their dark uniforms. They wore their home white jerseys in all 5 of their National Championship wins. As the lower seed tomorrow they will be wearing their red away jersey or black 3rd jersey.
- There have been four previous AUS/Canada West finals. Alberta defeated Moncton in 1999 and UNB in both 2000 and 2008. Saint Mary's beat the Golden Bears in 2010.
- The Varsity Reds and Golden Bears have accounted for 8 out of the last 10 National Championships. UNB won in 2007, 2009, 2011, and 2013 while Alberta won in 2005, 2006, 2008, and 2014.

At this point everyone knows about Alberta and what they bring to the table. They are the dominant CIS program and considering not only the year they have had thus far, but the fact that they are defending University Cup Champions, they will easily be the toughest team UNB has faced all year. Perhaps the only time this season the V-Reds will be be underdogs.

Some key stats for Alberta this season include:

- CIS-best 24-3-1 record in the regular season and 4-0 playoff record.
- They led the country with 124 goals scored (UNB was 2nd with 118).
- They were 2nd with 56 goals allowed (UNB was 5th with 60).
- They led the country with 1155 shots on goal (UNB was 3rd with 1020).
- They were 2nd with a 25.7% power play percentage (UNB was 15th at 19.2%).
- They were 6th with a 88.1% penalty kill percentage (UNB was 10th at 84.3%).
- They led the country with 8 shorthanded goals (UNB was tied for 13th with 4).

Unlike Windsor and Guelph, who have good top-6 forwards and top-4 defenceman but weren't able to match UNB's depth up and down the line-up, the Golden Bears won't be at the same disadvantage. Alberta has quality major junior graduates at every spot in their line-up and had 10 different players contribute 10+ points this year. They are led offensively by Canada West MVP and 1st Team All-Canadian T.J. Foster (18 goals, 24 assists) and Canada West 1st Team All-Star Jordan Hickmott (19 goals, 21 assists) while also receiving contributions from forwards Brett Ferguson (27 points), Levko Koper (25), Canada West 2nd Team All-Star Kruise Reddick (22), and Canada West rookie of the year and CIS All-Rookie Team member Stephane Legault (21). CIS Defenceman of the Year and 1st Team All-Canadian Jesse Craige (19 points), Canada West 2nd Team All-Star Jordan Rowley (18), and Thomas Carr (16) are the catalysts from the back-end. In goal, they have rotated goaltenders much of the year with Kurtis Mucha (1.87 GAA, 0.917 GAA) most likely getting the call tomorrow night.

Obviously, the V-Reds will be in tough against the Golden Bears. However, there are a few things working in their favour (courtesy UNB supporter and historian Eric Drummie).

- The #1 seed has won 5 out of the 8 finals they have been in. The #2 seed, which UNB is, has won 6 out of their 7 appearances.
- 59% of the time the eventual winner has come from the host conference.
- 59% of the time the winner has played 3 games in 4 days (as UNB did this year). Only 41% of the time has a team won after playing three games in three days (which Alberta is looking to accomplish).
- 65% of the time the winner has played in the afternoon pool (like UNB this year).

When it comes down to it, this is going to be a very tough game for the V-Reds. The Golden Bears play a similar style to UNB - speed, quick transition from defence to offence, constant puck pressure, and a relentless fore-check with scorers up and down the line-up - but they might even be better at it. Just like any game between two evenly matched teams special teams and goaltending might be the difference. David Shantz needs to be on top of his game as the Golden Bears will undoubtedly generate more than than the 12-15 shots Windsor and Guelph did against the V-Reds. Shantz will need to make all of the easy saves and probably a few that he shouldn't make. On the other hand, UNB should look to get as many pucks as possible on the Alberta goal. Mucha had good numbers this year, but how much of that was a product of the team he plays on? Much like UNB goalies over the years, he probably isn't used to seeing 30+ shots a game. Of course UNB will need to remain disciplined as the Golden Bears power play is extremely dangerous. On paper Alberta has the better special teams so if UNB can at least keep it even that will go a long way to securing a victory. Having said that, while UNB hasn't seen a team like Alberta this year the same could also be said in reverse - the Bears haven't faced a team as good as the V-Reds either. At the end of the day, it is anyone's game. All I know is that it will be a fantastic game that will be close right to the end. 

What do you think?

Who wins: UNB or Alberta?

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