LETHBRIDGE, AB – It’s tournament week for the 2019 Cavendish Farms U SPORTS University Cup Men’s Hockey National Championship, and the field has been set.
The tournament bracket is finalized and the University of Alberta Golden Bears, one of three teams representing the Canada West Conference, were selected as the top seed. They will face off against the host University of Lethbridge Pronghorns on Thursday, Mar. 14 at 7 p.m.
University of Lethbridge President and Vice-Chancellor Dr. Mike Mahon says a lot of preparation has gone into this week, and it’s something they’ve been excited about for a long time.
“We feel very fortunate to have been trusted with this national championship event, and we can’t wait to show off U SPORTS men’s hockey and the City of Lethbridge to the rest of the country. It’s going to be a great week.”
This is a one-and-done tournament, and Mahon has seen it himself before.
“I’ve seen upsets in this tournament before, and anything can happen,” Mahon continued. “Our guys I know will be pumped to play against the Golden Bears, and hopefully we’ll see the outcome we’re looking for.”
Over the weekend, the final qualifier for the eight-team tournament was declared, and on Sunday evening the field was seeded and first-round, quarter-final matchups were determined.
The tournament kicks off at 1 p.m. on Thursday with the University of Guelph Gryphons, the Ontario University Athletics runner-up, against the Canada West runner-up University of Saskatchewan Huskies.
For local fans, the main draw will be the evening game on Thursday, and Mahon says they’re focused on making sure the building is loud.
“We’re setting up to get our alumni out, get the city out, and to have some really exciting energy in the building. Hopefully, that will then set the tone for the rest of the tournament. What we hope is that we get some people out on Thursday night, they see the calibre of the hockey, and come back on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Mahon stated.
All of the games will be played at the ENMAX Centre, and below are the full first-round matchups:
Thursday, March 14
(4) University of Guelph Gryphons vs. (5) University of Saskatchewan Huskies, 1 p.m.
(1) University of Alberta Golden Bears vs. (8) University of Lethbridge Pronghorns, 7 p.m.
Friday, March 15
(2) University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds vs. (7) Carleton University Ravens, 1 p.m.
(3) Queen’s University Gaels vs. (6) St. Francis Xavier X-Men, 7 p.m.
Tournament semifinals will be played on Saturday, Mar. 16 at 1 and 6 p.m., followed by Sunday’s Bronze Medal Game at 1 p.m. and the Gold Medal Game at 6 p.m.
“Because it’s a one-and-done tournament, the energy in every game is so high because the players know if they don’t win, they’re done. These are highly, highly competitive young guys who have played junior hockey and are now in university. This is an environment that they just relish,” Mahon added.
In addition to the games, there are many activities associated with the University Cup event going on as well.
On Wednesday evening, U SPORTS will honour the top performers from across the country at the annual Awards Banquet. Then on Thursday afternoon, the Light It Up in Lethbridge Tailgate Party outside the ENMAX Centre will begin at 5 p.m., and they’re inviting all Southern Alberta hockey fans to come and get fired up for the Pronghorns opening game later in the evening.
As well, all Pronghorns alumni are invited to the 2019 Horns Alumni Reunion on Thursday at 5 p.m. in the Canadian Western Bank Lounge. Finally, Hometown Hockey festivities will begin with two days of activities outside the ENMAX on Saturday and Sunday.
The University of Lethbridge is going to be doing a lot of the same things they did for the Thursday game during the regular season against the Calgary Dinos, with buses set to get as many students from across the river to the game.
“We’re doing everything we can to communicate with our alumni, in particular, to hopefully get a big turnout from them. The last piece for us is hoping we get lots of fans from up the way in Edmonton and over from Saskatoon to support the tournament,” Mahon said.
Tickets for each game are now available here.
Pronghorn Athletics Executive Director Ken McInnes sees this week as an excellent opportunity for everyone to come together to show their community spirit and their Pronghorn pride.
“Southern Alberta has a wonderful tradition of supporting big-scale events, and I expect this week will serve as another great example. On an excitement scale of 1-to-10, it’s about 200. It amped up when I went out and saw the ice, and it came home to see the big U Sports logo,” McInnes said, adding he can’t stress enough how much he can’t wait for Thursday because it’s a culmination of a lot of months of work.
In particular, he too is hoping to make Thursday night a big night.
“We’ve got the tailgate party and a number of different events around to bring people down to the ENMAX Centre. I think playing the U of A which is a team we’ve played before, so people are familiar with who they are, and the calibre of hockey they bring as well. We are looking for home ice advantage to get this place rocking and I think we can.”
It’s not every day that two of the competing teams in the national championships will have played each other, and in the tournament, venue to boot as the Pronghorns and Golden Bears met in the ENMAX Centre back in the fall.
McInnes says that’s huge, but it’s also like two sides of a coin.
“There’s the positives that we know what to expect they’re a big, fast, strong team and on the flip side they know what to expect from us. We have to come out and play our game, we have played with them at times, but they’ve certainly shown the capability to raise their game. I think we can get there too; I like this team.”
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