Concordia favoured as U Sports women's hockey championship returns after 2-year pandemic absence

The University of Prince Edward Panthers host seven other of the best U Sports hockey teams from across Canada in order to crown a national champion. The tournament runs March 24-27, streaming live on the CBC Gem and the CBC Sports' website.

Canada's top university teams travel to Charlottetown, P.E.I., from March 24-27

The University of British Columbia returns to the U Sports championships having already won a Canada West gold medal. (Rich Lam/UBC Thunderbirds)

With some hockey legends behind the bench, Canada's eight best university hockey teams make their way to the University of Prince Edward Island in search of the Golden Path Trophy and the U Sports women's hockey championship.

In addition to UPEI, the tournament will feature New Brunswick (UNB), McGill, Concordia, Brock, Nipissing, Saskatchewan and British Columbia (UBC). Each team, other than the host, reached the final of its respective conference.

Teams are seeded based on regular-season performance and compete through a single-elimination knockout bracket.

The tournament runs March 24-27, streaming live on the CBC Gem and the CBC Sports' website.

Caroline Ouellette looks to lead Stingers to gold

The Concordia Stingers, with four-time Olympic champion Caroline Ouellette behind the bench, are outright favourites. They easily won the Quebec-based RSEQ, including a big win over the high-powered McGill Martlets.

While their power-play clicked along at a 28 per cent clip, the second-best in Canada, the Stingers' penalty kill often relied on stellar play from goaltender Alice Philbert, who registered a .930 save percentage this season.

"She stood tall and strong, and looked calm and confident," Ouellette told CBC Sports about Philbert's 54-save performance over two games in the final against McGill.

"It's a great feeling for the whole team when you feel like nothing is going to get by the goalie. You play better, you are more confident — and that was key for us."

With some of the best players in Canada, including leading goal-scorer Rosalie Begin-Cyr, the Stingers enter the tournament with the Golden Path Trophy on their minds. They play No. 8-ranked UPEI in the quarter-finals on Friday at 6 p.m. ET.

UBC returns for 1st time since 2017

The UBC Thunderbirds last won a Canada West title in 2017, but in the second game of the best-of-three against the Saskatchewan Huskies, forward Chanreet Bassi ended the drought with her overtime winner.

"The group was really tired of losing," UBC head coach Graham Thomas told CBC Sports.

"Kenzie [Robinson], our captain, is the only one who has won a championship with us. Once we got that win, we got a whole new level of confidence with us, and we've just kept rolling."

The Thunderbirds finished second in the Canada West regular season, thanks in part to Bassi leading the conference with 22 points in 19 games, and defender Rylind Mackinnon chipping in 21 points in 20 games.

While UBC scored the most regular-season goals, goaltender Elise Hugens provided stability, posting five shutouts.

Already with a Canada West title, the Thunderbirds enter the tournament as the third seed, set to face the No. 6 Nipissing Lakers in the quarter-finals on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.

Brock, Nipissing represent Ontario

Since launching their hockey program in 2000, the Brock Badgers had never won an OUA championship. Yet they captured their first McCaw Cup in COVID-disrupted 2021-22, led by head coach and former Team Canada forward Margot Page.

"It's really exciting, we're obviously going [to nationals] to win, but we're going in to learn too because we've never been there before," Page told CBC Sports.

"I want our players to take it all in and enjoy short tournament hockey and something that isn't just regular-season or playoffs."

Page played every player on the Brock roster throughout the season en route to claiming the OUA title with a 2-1 win over Nipissing in North Bay, Ont.

The Badgers are contenders with stellar goaltending from Tiffany Hsu and an offensive explosion from senior forward Cassidy Maplethorpe.

"People underestimate us a lot," said Maplethorpe, who scored 21 points in 16 regular-season and playoff games. "We know that we've faced some of the highest competition, so we're not scared of anyone.

"They should be scared of us."

The No. 4 Badgers take on No. 5 Saskatchewan Huskies in the quarter-finals on Friday at 2 p.m ET. 

No. 2-ranked UNB plays No. 7 McGill in the tournament opener on Thursday at 2 p.m. ET.

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