Courtesy of Steve Knowles, CIS Hockey
FREDERICTON - When the puck drops at the Aitken University Centre in Fredericton on March 22nd, it will mark the start of the 50th annual University Cup tournament. Since 1962-63 the University Cup has been emblematic of Canadian Interuniversity Sport hockey supremacy.
Throughout its first 49 seasons, the University Cup has provided hockey fans with many memorable moments, including dramatic come-from-behind victories and the thrill of overtime goals. The annual tournament has featured outstanding teams, players and coaches which have generated many memorable performances.
Since the first championship tournament held in Kingston, Ontario in March of 1963, the University Cup has been contested for from coast to coast and in various formats. During the course of its history, the format of the University Cup playoffs has varied from four- to six-team fields featuring conference champions, host and wild card teams to progressive best-of-three regional series between conference champions. The tournament has been played at various sites from on campus arenas such as historic Varsity Arena in Toronto, Clare Drake Arena in Edmonton and the Aitken University Centre to NHL arenas such as the Montreal Fourm, Maple Leaf Gardens and Rexall Place.
Sixteen 16 teams have won the University Cup. The McMaster University Marlins, in their only tournament appearance, won the inaugural championship with a 3–2 victory over the UBC Thunderbirds in 1963. The Alberta Golden Bears have won a CIS record 13, while the Toronto Varsity Blues are second with 10. Three teams - the Moncton Aigles Bleus, New Brunswick Varsity Reds and Trois-Rivieres Patriotes - have each won four championships and the York Lions are next with three titles, followed by the Acadia Axemen with a pair. Joining McMaster with a single University Cup title are the Guelph Gryphons, Lethbridge Pronghorns, Manitoba Bisons, Saint Mary’s Huskies, St. Francis Xavier X-Men, Saskatchewan Huskies, Waterloo Warriors and Western Ontario Mustangs.
The Toronto Varsity Blues were the first team to put their stamp on the UniversityCup. Winning its first University Cup title in 1965–66, it was the first of Toronto’s 10 titles and it began an unprecedented streak of success for the Varsity Blues as they would win seven University Cup championships in a span of eight seasons from 1965–66 to 1972–73, including five straight from 1968–69 to 1972–73. The final four championships in Toronto’s amazing streak came against the same opponent. From 1969–70 through 1972–73 the Varsity Blues would face the Saint Mary’s University Huskies of the AUAA for the national crown, winning each time.
Though the four losses were painful for the Huskies, Saint Mary’s would finally taste victory, winning its first University Cup title 37 seasons later, defeating the Alberta Golden Bears 3-2 in overtime in 2010.
With 13 championships, the Alberta Golden Bears hold the record for most University Cup titles. Beginning with their first Cup victory in 1964 and continuing to their most recent in 2008, the Alberta Golden Bears have won a national championship in each of the five decades that the UniversityCup has been competed for.The holders of the tournament record for most appearances, the Golden Bears have appeared in 35 of the 50 tournaments since 1963 and they also own the record for most tournament games (93), wins (61), losses (21), ties (2) and most goals scored and allowed, as well as the most tournament final appearances.Alberta’s 18 University Cup championship game appearances is quite remarkable when you consider the fact the no other CIS team has appeared in more than 17 tournaments.
Other teams have had stretches of dominance in University Cup history. The Moncton Aigles Bleus won consecutive championships in 1981 and 1982 and added their third and fourth titles in 1990 and 1995. The York Lions won three in a span of five seasons between 1985 and 1989 and most recently the New Brunswick Varsity Reds have been a national power, winning three of the last five national championships, including last season’s 4-0 victory over the McGill Redmen in front of a hometown crowd in Fredericton.
The University Cup has seen many fine players and coaches compete for the national title. Tom Watt guided the Toronto Varsity Blues to nine University Cup championships in 11 appearacnes, while Alberta’s Clare Drake won six times. Alberta’s Rob Daum and Gardiner MacDougall of New Brunswick sit third with three national titles to their credit.
Many coaches who went on to successful careers in the NHL and/or
international hockey have guided teams in the University Cup. Names
such as Watt and Drake are joined by Dave King, George Kingston,
Father David Bauer – the founder of Canada’s modern
Olympic hockey program – Pierre Page, Martin Raymond, Don
MacAdam, Dave Chambers, Cory Clouston, Rob Daum and Bill
Three coaches have won the University Cup and the Stanley Cup. Jean Perron was the first to accomplish the feat, guiding Moncton to back-to-back CIS championships in 1981 ad 1982 and then leading the Montreal Canadiens to the Stanley Cup in 1986. Mike Keenan duplicated the feat by winning the University Cup with Toronto in 1984 and 10 years later guiding the New York Rangers to the 1994 Stanley Cup. The same season Keenan took the Rangers to the NHL championship, Mike Babcock, in his only season in the CIS, led the Lethbridge Pronghorns to their only University Cup title. Babcock would complete the championship combo with a Stanley Cup victory as bench boss of the Detroit Red Wings in 2008.
Several players have also made the jump to the NHL after skating for the University Cup. Dr. Randy Gregg won two University Cups with the Golden Bears in the late 1970s before winning five Stanley Cups as a member of the Edmonton Oilers. Paul MacLean, the current coach of the Ottawa Senators, helped the Dalhousie Tigers reach the 1978 University Cup final and then went on to a very successful NHL career with Winnipeg, Detroit and St. Louis.Other NHL players to skate at the University Cup include Mike Ridley and Stu Grimson of Manitoba, Moncton’s Charlie Bourgeios and Claude Vilgrain, Toronto’s Darren Lowe, Kent Ruhnke, Andre Hidi, Gary Inness and John Wright, Steve Rucchin from Western Ontario, Cory Cross, Dave Hindmarch, Don Spring and Kevin Primeau of Alberta as well as Billy MacMillan of UPEI, Bob Berry of Sir George Williams and UNB’s Darryl Boyce.
Unique among the players and coaches who have participated in the University Cup tournament are four individuals who won University Cup championships as both a player and a coach.
Mike Keenan and Graham Wise won national championships with the Toronto Varsity Blues in 1973 and 1976, respectivley and then went on to coach University Cup championship teams. Keenan won the University Cup in 1984 with Toronto and Wise won back-to-back titles with the York Lions (then the Yeomen) in 1988 and 1989. Rob Daum was a member of Alberta’s 1980 championship squad and then directed his alma mater to three University Cups as bench boss in 1999, 2000 and 2005. Eric Thurston, who served as an assistant coach to Daum, was a standout defencman on the Golden Bears 1986 title team and then led Alberta to its most recent University Cup titles in 2006 and 2008.
The University Cup has continued to evolve and grow during its first 50 seasons, becoming one of the highlights on the annual hockey calendar in Canada. With the efforts of the players and coaches of the CIS the University Cup can only get bigger and better in its next 50 seasons.