Cougars take on Pandas in home-and-home openers

Cougars take on Pandas in home-and-home openers

EDMONTON – The Mount Royal women's hockey team is poised to open their season with matchups against the top-ranked Alberta Pandas. Puck drop for Friday night is set for 7 p.m. at Flames Community Arenas.

Ranked No. 6 coming into the season from Canada West's coaches, the Cougars are looking to build on their sixth place finish from last season. Second-year Zoe De Beauville will start in net after a great first season where she put up the best save percentage in the league last year at .938. She averaged just 1.5 goals in 11 games for MRU. Despite some losses to graduating last season, some rookies will be looking to make their mark including Tatum Amy, Andrea Sanderson, Kate Scidmore, Emily Severson, and Mikayla Swallow.

A trio of teams received first-place votes from the conference's coaches, who have tabbed the Alberta Pandas (45 pts.), UBC Thunderbirds (43 pts), and Manitoba Bisons (41 pts.), as the leaders of the CW pack heading into the 2017-18 campaign. The three teams topped the conference standings a year ago, with just five points separating the T-Birds (67 pts.) and Pandas (62 pts.) for first in the conference.

UBC, Alberta, and Manitoba have what it takes on paper to claim not only a Canada West title, but also a U SPORTS championship, which will be handed out March 18 at Western University in London, Ont.

The conference's top contenders from a year ago all return strong rosters for the 2017-18 season and should once again pack the firepower to find the back of the net, just as they did a year ago when the Pandas scored 74 goals, the Bisons 84, and the Thunderbirds with a conference leading 86 goals.

For the Pandas, Alex Poznikoff will once again lead the offensive charge, as the third-year forward is looking to build on her 13-goal, 25-point season a year ago. In Manitoba, the conference's leading scorer in 2017-18 and conference outstanding player Lauryn Keen is poised for another big season after breaking out with 34 points a year ago. The fourth-year veteran finished tied for fifth nationally in points after more than tripling her point total from 2015-16. 

When it comes to UBC, it'll be Cassandra Vilgrain charged with trying to help the T-Birds find the one title that has evaded them in recent years - a national banner. The forward has been a key driving force on UBC's women's hockey rise, and will be looking to make the most of her final university season. 

Slotting in behind the top three teams are the Saskatchewan Huskies (29 pts.), Regina Cougars (22 pts.), and Mount Royal Cougars (21 pts.). The trio all made the playoffs a year ago, and according to the coaches poll are comfortably positioned to repeat that feat again this season. 

Rounding out the poll are the Calgary Dinos (13 pts) and Lethbridge Pronghorns (10 pts.), who both finished well back of the sixth and final playoff spot in 2016-17. In Calgary, the Dinos are aiming for a return to the post-season after a year hiatus, while in Lethbridge the 'Horns are looking for a playoff spot for the first time since they finished fourth in 2011-12.

For more on all eight Canada West women's hockey teams, take a look at the team previews here and be sure to watch every CW regular season and playoff game this season online at Canada West TV. You can watch the games by purchasing a Canada West TV pass here. 

2017 CW women's hockey pre-season coaches poll

Place / Team / Points (First-place votes)

1. Alberta / 45 (4)

2. UBC / 43 (2)

3. Manitoba / 41 (2)

4. Saskatchewan / 29

5. Regina / 22

6. Mount Royal / 21

7. Calgary / 13

8. Lethbridge / 10

NOTES: First-place vote worth 7 pts., second-place worth 6 pts. etc.