From March 14 to 17 in Lethbridge, Alta., 83 WHL Alumni will compete for U SPORTS supremacy at the 2019 Cavendish Farms University Cup. The WHL is represented with graduate players on all eight rosters of competing teams at the annual tournament, including 26 with the Canada West (CW) champion University of Alberta Golden Bears, 23 with the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and 17 with the host University of Lethbridge Pronghorns.
Over the course of their time at the University of Alberta, members of the Golden Bears men’s hockey team have utilized their Western Hockey League Scholarship to gain an education at the one of Western Canada’s finest post-secondary institutions. However, in addition to their academic studies, players are given a second education of sorts as they become part of the winning culture.
That education in winning has the Golden Bears in a spot they’ve become all too familiar with in the month of March, being the team to beat at the U SPORTS Cavendish Farms University Cup.
Thursday, the puck drops on another edition of the prestigious national tournament, which has been won by the Golden Bears 16 times previously, including last year. While WHL alumnus Riley Kieser was familiar with the program as a kid growing up in northern Alberta, Ben Carroll was more familiar with the University’s reputation for academic excellence. Nevertheless, the team has become a home and a second family for the pair among 26 WHL Alumni skating with the team.
“I had known of the tradition of excellence that they had growing up here as a local kid,” Kieser, a fifth-year Engineering student and captain of the Golden Bears, said. “I watched the Golden Bears play and I wanted to join that legacy that they created and help continue it on.”
For Carroll, with all the success he had on the ice throughout his time in the WHL, his parent’s reinforcement of academic strength brought him to the University of Alberta with the Golden Bears’ program being an added bonus.
“School has always been an important thing for my family and my parents were always on me to achieve in my sporting world but as well in my academic world,” Carroll said. “I wanted to get the type of schooling that once I was finished here, I would have a good stepping stone to set myself up for later in life.”
Already immortalized in Golden Bears history as national champions last year, both Kieser and Carroll are looking to add another over-sized ring to their fingers. The pair played key roles in helping another Edmonton team taste victory on the national stage as part of a 2013-14 Edmonton Oil Kings squad that won the Ed Chynoweth Cup and Memorial Cup.
“It’s been great to be able to stay at home,” Kieser added. “We have a lot of support from family and friends that cheer me on every game. It definitely means a lot for me to have that support.
“That’s definitely helped me succeed throughout the years.”
Though they readily admitted both the Memorial Cup and University Cup were ‘different beasts’ in terms of trying to win, there’s no doubt the challenge to win the latter is unforgiving at best. Thursday’s tournament-opening game against the host University of Lethbridge Pronghorns can also send you packing on the opening night. No consolation final; no repechage for bronze.
In addition to the attention placed upon winning each game to stay in contention, the Golden Bears have the pressure of knowing every team will be coming for them. Though Kieser has followed his own path to the Golden Bears’ program, the captain has his heart and mind set on finishing his U SPORTS career like Stephane Legault did last year.
“Being in my graduating season, I’d definitely like to go out with a bang,” Kieser said. “There’s definitely some pressure of being the champions last year.
“People are trying to knock us off the number one spot again. It’d be great to finish off a university career with a national championship.”
For the former Vancouver Giant and Oil King turned engineer, the same effort he gives to his studies can be used to showcase his preparation ahead of each game. When the rest of the country is chasing your program, excellence is required as a minimum.
“You’ve got to make sure you’re putting in the effort every year, the preparation and that comes with confidence,” Kieser said. “You put in the work and have that confidence and that belief that you’re going to succeed.”
The Alberta Golden Bears and Lethbridge Pronghorns will meet in the second of four quarter-finals Thursday, March 13 (7:00 p.m. MT) at the ENMAX Centre, home of the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes. The tournament concludes Sunday, March 17 (6:00 p.m. MT) with the gold-medal final.