Last updated: March 21, 2012 3:21 pm
CIS men's hockey finals preview: Saskatchewan Huskies
As the men's hockey national championship gets set to kick off in Fredericton, The Brunswickan staff tees up the competitors
FREDERICTON (CUP) — After losing in the semifinals in Canada West last year, the University of Saskatchewan Huskies missed nationals by hairs’ breath.
However, the tables have turned this season as the Huskies beat both of last year’s contenders, the University of Calgary Dinos and the University of Alberta Golden Bears, and will be the only team to represent Canada West this week at nationals.
University of Saskatchewan men’s hockey coach Dave Adolph, has high expectations for his team, that hasn’t been to nationals in the last three years.
“None of our players have been to a national championship,” Adolph said. “So they were really excited [to qualify].”
But alongside qualifying comes the presence and pressure as the only team from Canada West.
“That’s a lot of pressure. You know, for the longest time the CIS national championship has always had a University of Alberta rep or that significant rep.”
“I think we’re a bit of an underdog this year and there’s a lot of pressure on us to represent for sure.”
Beside the watchful eyes of fans from across the country and their appearance on the national stage for the first time in years, the Huskies are just pups in both age and height, in comparison to some of their competitors in this tournament.
“One of the knocks on our team is that we’re not big enough, we’re not strong enough, we don’t have any superstars,” Adolph said. “Our defence is all in their first and second years, so they’re all young guys just trying to make it, you know, figure out the CIS game.”
But there are multiple positives to this team, one of which includes two strong goaltenders who see equal playing time and will continue to see that at nationals.
What the Huskies may have lost in physicality, they’ve made up for in — as Adolph says — a unique blend.
“Some years you have it, some years you don’t.”
But this year, like any good team, the Huskies have all their players working together as one unit, something Adolph attributes to the science of recruiting.
“If you find kids who were leaders, not only maybe on the ice but in the dressing room, those guys stand the best chance because they understand how important chemistry is.”
The Huskies have a unique story to them, as most have been recruited from Major Junior teams, they’re all Saskatchewan natives, playing not only for their university, but their home province.
As Adolph says, it’s all about the salesmanship of recruitment, and that has only benefited the Huskies.
“You have to be a leader, I think, more than anything,” Adolph says. “You have to show that you have passion in what you do, and I think we all do. I think every good coach in the CIS does that.”
“It’s a trust thing. You know, I think if you have enough kids that trust you and you trust them, it works really well.”
Some of the team’s key players who have stemmed and benefited from their status as a Huskie include their team captain, Kyle Ross.
Ross, who is ranked in the top five in regular season goals in CanWest, with a plus/minus of 14 and earning 16 goals and 17 assists for 33 points, has held the position of captain for the last three years, after transferring from the University of Regina to the College of Law at the University of Saskatchewan.
“He is a very, very strong character, hard working, very dedicated to both his studies and his game. Not a big guy, but plays, you know all coaches look for kids who play with passion and a real love for the game and he has that.”
Alongside Ross is second-year forward Derek Hulak, who has 11 goals and 33 assists for 44 points, with a plus/minus of 22-14.
“[He] led Canada West in scoring and maybe lead the CIS in scoring. He’s a good player.”
Next year will mark the start of the two years that Saskatchewan will host CIS nationals, something the team will be getting a taste for early, as they get their feet wet this year.
“You have to make sure that you have some legitimacy in your hockey program. You can’t just host because you made a great bid. You have to back it up with a strong program.”