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STAUFFER STUFF: Oilers connections with CIS Champs

by Bob Stauffer / Edmonton Oilers
Sunday night, the number-one ranked University of Alberta Golden Bears claimed their 15th CIS National Championship with a hard-fought 6-3 win in Halifax over the other perennial powerhouse in Men’s University Hockey in Canada, the University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds.

Alberta’s victory not only gave the flagship program of the CIS its second-straight University Cup Championship, it also re-established the Bears at the top of the class when it comes to Men’s Hockey at the Varsity level in Canada.

The Bears victory is not just a celebration for the school but it also a win for hockey in Edmonton as a whole.

Golden Bears Head Coach Ian Herbers and lead Assistant Coach Fernando Pisani are both former Edmonton Oilers.

The Bears also have six former Edmonton Oil Kings on the team: the Bears top two scorers Jordan Hickmott and T.J. Foster (who was selected Canada West MVP), Stephane Legault (the Canada West Rookie of the Year), Riley Kieser (who won a Memorial Cup last May), Rhett Rachinski and glue guy Drew Nichol.

Alberta outshot their opponents 100-39 over three games at the University Cup, which included a 5-1 win over host St. FX in front of 5500 X-Men fans on Friday night in a game in which the Bears outshot “X” 15-1 in the second period; followed by a dominating 5-1 win over long-time rival UQTR on Saturday.

But it was the win over UNB, winners of the 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 University Cups, that illustrates how far the Bears program has come in four short years.

The great myth is that the Bears have always been really good, which is understandable. Clare Drake won six National titles as a Head Coach at Alberta, former Oilers Assistant Bill Moores won two, former Oilers Assistant and AHL Head Coach Rob Daum won three, and Eric Thurston won two.

In Thurston’s last year as Head Coach of the program in 2010-11 the Bears played an early season Non-Conference game against UNB at Clare Drake Arena and got smoked 6-1 by the Varsity Reds in a game that could have easily ended up 10-1. Thurston left the program at the end of that season, and Stan Marple served as Interim Head Coach in 2011-12 with a whole new slate of players.

After Alberta failed to qualify for Nationals that year, Marple graciously stepped aside as Head Coach to step into a GM role focused on recruiting and fundraising; and the U of A cast a wide net to bring in the best coach possible.

Surprisingly Herbers left Milwaukee where he was the Head Coach of Nashville’s AHL Affiliate in the summer of 2012 to return to the Golden Bears program where he played from 1988-92.

The Bears have been “arrow up” ever since!

Herbers -- who was a roommate of Oilers GM Craig MacTavish when he spent time with the Oilers in the mid 1990’s -- instantly got his players in better shape and to play a more attack-based, committed game.

The Bears won the 2012-13 Canada West title but were shocked 2-1 in their opening game of the University Cup that year despite outshooting Waterloo 43-13 and limiting them to two, that’s right… two (!) even-strength shots.

Alberta, though, ended a five-year University Cup drought last March in Saskatoon at the University Cup, including knocking off the host Saskatchewan Huskies 3-1 in the Final to win National Championship number 14.

Sunday in Halifax the Golden Bears made it back-to-back, becoming the first CIS team to repeat since…you guessed it…Alberta in 2005 and 2006.

The fact that Bears beat UNB in the Atlantic and limited a hard-working V-Reds team to just nine shots on goal in the entire game shouldn’t be overlooked. Alberta was the more talented and opportunistic squad with superior special teams.

And with their top six scoring forwards and three of their top four “D” likely back for next season, Herbers and the Bears will have an excellent chance at a three-peat with UNB likely in the way, once again in Halifax

Five Quick Facts:

#1. Two current NHL Head Coaches; Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis) and Mike Johnston (Pittsburgh) both used to regularly attend Golden Bears practices run by Clare Drake and Bill Moores in the 1980’s. Hitchcock was coaching the Sherwood Park Midget “AAA” Chain and Johnston was at Camrose Lutheran College (now Augustana University). Hitchcock has often stated that modern penalty-killing was first taught by Clare Drake. The Golden Bears went 7-for-7 on the PK Sunday in Halifax and scored two shorthanded goals.

#2. Ian Herbers was one of two members of the 1991-92 National Championship Bears to go on to play for the Edmonton Oilers; the other was Cory Cross. Herbers would win a Calder Cup with the Oilers farm team in Cape Breton in 1992-93.

#3. With the win Sunday in the University Cup, Ian Herbers' record improves to 119-19 (.862) as Head Coach of the Golden Bears. Alberta beat 2013 NCAA National Champ Yale 3-0 and Dartmouth 6-1 on an NCAA road trip in late October.

#4. Bears defenceman Brennan Yadlowski’s father Warren was an Oilers draft choice back in 1983. Brennan was a defence partner of 2012 number two overall pick Ryan Murray in Everett.

#5. Golden Bears Brett Ferguson and Colin Archer were 20-year-olds with Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in his draft year in Red Deer. Archer is in Medical School at the U of A. Another player from that team, Justin Weller (a Phoenix 4th round pick in 2009) is red-shirting after playing two years pro and will suit up on the Bears defence next season.

Bob Stauffer is Colour Analyst on the Oilers Radio Network and Hosts “Oilers Now” each day Noon to 2:00 PM Monday thru Friday on 630 CHED and you can follow him on Twitter at @Bob_Stauffer
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