New Brunswick

UNB Varsity Reds set to host top hockey teams at David Johnston University Cup

The UNB Varsity Reds and seven other top university hockey teams are getting ready for the championship tournament in Fredericton, meanwhile organizers have been preparing since the last championship ended.

The men's university hockey championship begins on Thursday as UNB goes for the three-peat

Organizers hope to be able to sell out the Aitken Centre for the curling tournament. (Philip Drost/CBC)

The UNB Varsity Reds and seven other top university hockey teams are getting ready for their national championship tournament in Fredericton, which organizers have been preparing for since the last one ended a year ago.

"I've been thinking about it all the time," said event co-ordinator Kate Morrison. 

"There's just so many pieces to making sure this all falls into place."

Starting Thursday, Fredericton will host the U Sports men's University Cup for the second year of its two-year hosting stint.

Morrison was involved with organizing the event last year, and she said this time around is a lot less stressful. 

"I would say this time last year I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off, not really sure, really, if I was going to sleep for the next week or not," she said. 

"This year I feel a lot different in the sense that I kind of have something to go on, so I'm not as worried. I know things will all work out."

Kate Morrison has been thinking about the tournament since the last one ended. (Philip Drost/CBC)
Morrison, UNB administration and an organizing committee of about 40 people have been taking care of the details, from where the teams are going to stay to getting some mobile homes so attending coaches can have offices while in Fredericton. 

Filling seats

Morrison said the number one challenge for the organizing committee is making sure the seats at the Aitken Centre are  filled during the games that don't involve UNB. If the seats are filled for those games, she would consider the tournament a success. 

The university has a plan to do that, and it involves giving kids some swag and a team to cheer for. 

Starting Thursday, the Aitken Centre will host the top university men's hockey teams from around the country. (Philip Drost/CBC)

"So the afternoon games that we have on Thursday and Friday afternoon, we work with the school district to invite children to come and to watch, so they get bused here and assigned a team to cheer for," said Morrison. 

Morrison hopes the kids will come in their assigned team's colours, and maybe make some signs.

UNB has done this in the past, and the teams have loved it, Morrison said.

"Some, in fact, will even bring swag, different things to provide for those kids to make their experience and the team's experience even better. So that's one way we try to get people here."

The home-crowd advantage

The Varsity Reds come into the national championship as the overwhelming favourites, after ending the season as the top ranked team in the country, and winning the Atlantic University Sport conference championship. 

UNB has won the past two national championships, with the last victory also being on home ice. 

"The one thing we've been really fortunate is to have some experience at the nationals, and getting there different ways," said Varsity Reds head coach Gardiner MacDougall, who's in his 18th season with the team.

Player Mike Thomas of Fredericton remembers watching the national championship at UNB when he was a kid. (Philip Drost/CBC)
"We have some things that we think can work for us, on the ice, off the ice and I think this time of year the mindset is the most important part."

For players like Fredericton's Mike Thomas, it's exciting to be able to play in front of the home crowd. Thomas remembers watching a national championship game at UNB when he was in middle school. 

Now, he's playing in the tournament at home for the second year in a row.

"It means a lot. I mean, we have a great group of guys, and just to have it at home, at UNB, and for me and the other guys in their last year, you couldn't ask for a better tournament setup," said Thomas. 

The Varsity Reds play their quarter-final game against the Concordia Stingers on Thursday night at 7 p.m.

The final game will be played Sunday afternoon.