Over the span of 365 days, you’ll find a multitude of sporting events scattered on the U SPORTS athletics calendar of different sizes, shapes, and significance. But of those thousands and thousands of events, you won’t come close to finding another one quite like the Crowchild Classic.
The stage is set on Thursday night where the Calgary Dinos and Mount Royal Cougars clash at Scotiabank Saddledome in downtown Calgary to put their men’s and women’s hockey programs to the test.
“It’s easy to say as a coach that you treat it like any other game, but it’s not”, says Calgary Dinos men’s hockey coach Mark Howell. “You need to find some peace in how you play the game. Enjoy the experience, but ultimately we need two points.”
Calgary Dinos sits four in Canada West, looking to hold off the Manitoba Bisons, and even go as far as leapfrogging the Cougars for third in the conference, just two points back. Meanwhile the Mount Royal men’s hockey team is also locked into the playoff picture, but there’s still a first round bye up for grabs should they move into the top two.
“I like the way [Calgary] plays”, says Mount Royal men’s hockey head coach Bert Gilling. “I expect [Calgary] to be a real handful. Everyone here is trying to gear up for a playoff push, so I think it’s going to be great hockey”.
Both Calgary and Mount Royal squared off back in October, with the Cougars taking both meetings, but times have changed in Canada West, and Gilling doesn’t anticipate he’ll see the same team Mount Royal beat in October.
The Dinos offence rolls into Thursday on the heels of a January which saw them score 25 goals over eight games with a powerplay operating at 24.1%. It’s been the best offensive month for the Dinos this season.
“We score by committee, and work as a group to do it”, says Howell. “Where we get into trouble is when we get too cute and turn over the puck too many times. That just leads to us chasing the game. Our offence is created off of wearing other teams down.”
On the other hand, Mount Royal comes into Thursday’s matchup after a turbulent month in January from a goaltending and defensive perspective, but still contain a roster worthy of their national ranking.
“We’re certainly an effort based team. By Canada West standards, we push the pace”, says Gilling. “We really try and play a skating game, complimented by some highly skilled players who can put the puck in the back of the net.”
On the women’s side, the Calgary Dinos haven’t found the same success their male counterparts have this season, sitting last in the Canada West conference. But beating Mount Royal is something they’ve already managed to do this season, winning 3-2 in double OT on October 20th.
Mount Royal’s women’s program has been marginally better than Calgary’s this season, as they find themselves locked into the final Canada West playoff spot with 30 points on the season. But with what’s sure to be an electric crowd on Thursday, the women’s game still provides plenty of intrigue.
Drawing a peak attendance of 12,859 fans at last year’s edition, the 2016 Crowchild Classic stands as the most attended U SPORTS hockey event featuring two U SPORTS hockey teams. The Dinos and Cougars hope to break that attendance mark this year. If they want to set an all-time attendance record for Canadian University hockey, they’ll have to outdo an exhibition game between the Alberta Golden Bears and Edmonton Oilers rookies from September of 2015, which drew 14,434 fans at Rexall Place.
For Gilling, an experienced coach at the NCAA level, last year’s Crowchild Classic stands apart as one of his most memorable experiences in hockey.
“There was so much energy in that building from start to finish. By the time everything was done, wrapped up, press stuff, postgame meals, I got home to bed at about one or two in the morning. I remember laying on my back and covering my ears because they were still ringing from all the noise.”
Dealing with all the noise, fanfare, and pressure that comes with the Crowchild Classic might just be the great equalizer on Thursday for all four teams in action. It’s all part of what makes it the biggest spectacle in U SPORTS hockey.