Fom legendary head coach Clare Drake to current bench boss Ian Herbers, the University of Alberta Golden Bears men's hockey team has some kind of legacy.
This weekend the program that has been golden all these years hopes to celebrate its 100th anniversary season with another national title at the six-team University Cup in Saskatoon. Anything short of a championship will be considered a failure for the nation's No. 1-ranked team.
But even though they mowed down opponents with relative ease, including a convincing 4-1 win over the Canadian juniors in an exhibition game before a packed rink in Calgary three months ago, Herbers has kept his players grounded.
"That's the good thing, it hasn't been easy for us," Herbers said. "We had a three-game losing streak at the beginning of the year that we had to figure out. There have been a lot of one-goal games. In the world junior game, we had to deal with all the media attention and the crowd. We lost a game to Saskatchewan in the [Canada West final].
"There are five really good teams at this tournament. Anybody can beat anybody on any given night. You have to be at your best. You have to be at your best for 60 minutes or 70 minutes or 75 minutes. Whatever it takes."
The take on the 45-year-old Herbers a year ago was he was a coach on the rise. When the Nashville Predators lost their AHL coach Kirk Muller on Nov. 28, 2011 to the Carolina Hurricanes, the Predators didn't hesitate to promote Muller's assistant, Herbers, to head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals.
Herbers stuns Predators
But Herbers stunned the Predators last May. He stepped down to return to coach his alma mater at the University of Alberta. It was partly a family decision - his eldest daughter attends U of A - and there was more job security.
Herbers also desired to restore the proud program, which hasn't won a national championship since 2008 and failed to make it to the University Cup tournament last year. Five year without a national championship is too long at a place like the University of Alberta.
Herbers, a defenceman and 1987 10th-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres, was a two-time all-Canadian and celebrated a University Cup title with the Golden Bears in 1991-92. He got to know Drake when he was an assistant coach with the Winnipeg Jets and Herbers had a tryout with the NHL team.
Before he turned to coaching, Herbers played 65 NHL games with the Edmonton Oilers, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders. He won the 1992-93 Calder Cup with the Cape Breton Oilers and 1996-97 Turner Cup with the IHL Detroit Vipers.
When he arrived back in Edmonton last summer, Herbers immediately brought back the Golden Bears up-tempo game with a relentless forecheck and determined work ethic.
Herbers also included Drake and another U of A legend, Bill Moores, as part of the solution. The new head coach regularly tapped into the two coaches for their knowledge.
The 84-year-old Drake has relished the opportunity. The two reviewed old videotapes of the Golden Bears glory days in the 1970s. Drake had Herbers check in with him weekly, even went he went to Palm Springs, Calif., for a month during the winter.
"He never wants to stop learning," Herbers said. "He knows there's always room for improvement.
'Even last week, I got together with Clare, Billy and [Golden Bears general manager] Stan Marple for a meeting. Clare was the only one who brought paper with rink diagrams to draw up some plays. He had a folder. He was the most prepared."
Because of the Golden Bears up-tempo game, Herbers likes to roll four lines. As a result, there are no stars on his team with the exception of goalie Kurtis Mucha, who has been spectacular all season long behind a team that set a Canada West record for fewest goals allowed in a season at 46 in 28 games. The next stingiest was New Brunswick at 59.
Below is a glance at the University Cup's six teams.
No. 1 Alberta Golden Bears (31-6-0 overall)
Canada West champions
Head Coach: Ian Herbers (1st season)
Top scorer: Jordan Hickmott, 15-20--35 pts (28 games)
Top goalie: Kurtis Mucha (14-2, 3 SO, 1.30 GAA, .936 SV%)
Last appearance in University Cup: 2011 (3rd in pool)
Titles: 13 (2008, '06, '05, '00, '99, '92, '86, '80, '79, '78, '75, '68, '64)
No. 2 New Brunswick Varsity Reds (32-8-0)
Head Coach: Gardiner MacDougall (13th season)
Top scorer: Chris Culligan, 4-27--31 pts (26 games)
Top goalie: Dan LaCosta (15-1, 2 SO, 1.92 GAA, .917 SV%)
Last appearance: 2012 (2nd in pool)
Titles: 4 (2011, 2009, 2007, 1998)
No. 3 UQTR Patriotes (31-10-0)
OUA East champions and Queen's Cup winners
Head Coach: Gilles Bouchard (1st season)
Top scorer: Félix Petit, 11-32--43 pts (28 games)
Top goalie: Guillaume Nadeau (11-2, 0 SO, 1.97 GAA, .925 SV%)
Last appearance: 2012 (3rd in pool)
Titles: 4 (2003, 2001, 1991, 1987)
No. 4 Saint Mary's Huskies (26-15-0)
Head Coach: Trevor Stienburg (16th season)
Top scorer: Lucas Bloodoff, 20-18--38 pts (28 games)
Top goalie: Anthony Peters (17-9, 5 SO, 2.44 GAA, .909 SV%)
Last appearance: 2010 (champions)
Titles: 1 (2010)
No. 5 Saskatchewan Huskies (24-14-0)
Host team and Canada West finalists
Head Coach: Dave Adolph (20th season)
Top scorer: Kyle Bortis, 10-26--36 pts (28 games)
Top goalie: Ryan Holfeld (18-9, 1 SO, 2.74 GAA, .905 SV%)
Last appearance: 2012 (3rd in pool)
Titles: 1 (1983)
No. 6 Waterloo Warriors (19-19-0)
Ontario West champions
Head Coach: Brian Bourque (8th season)
Top scorer: Justin Larson, 17-28--45 pts (28 games)
Top goalie: Keaton Hartigan (9-12, 0 SO, 3.36 GAA, .902 SV%)
Last appearance: 1996 (finalists)
Titles: 1 (1974)
Tournament schedule (all games at Credit Union Centre)
Pool A - Alberta (1), Saint Mary's (4), Waterloo (6)
Pool B - UNB (2), UQTR (3), Saskatchewan (5)
Thursday (all times Central)
1. Alberta vs. Waterloo, 1 p.m.
2. UNB vs. Saskatchewan, 7:20 p.m.
3. Loser GM #1 vs. Saint Mary's, 1 p.m.
4. Loser GM #2 vs. UQTR, 7 p.m.
5. Winner GM #1 vs. Saint Mary's, 1:30 p.m.
6. Winner GM #2 vs. UQTR, 8:00 p.m.
7. University Cup final, 5:30 p.m.
(all games on www.CIS-SIC.tv)
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