CanWest Ready for Homefield (CWUAA Preview)

Last year the Canada West sent a representative to the Vanier Cup as the Calgary Dinos repeated as Hardy Cup Champions and moved on to the finals. This year the CanWest conference will look to send another representative to the Vanier that will take place in their backyard, Vancouver, British Columbia. Last year the Dinos went back to the Vanier Cup for the second time in as many years but again came out on the losing end. In 2009 the Dinos fell to the Queen’s Golden Gaels and in 2010 they fell to the powerhouse from Quebec, Laval. Calgary got there as the #2 team in the CanWest behind the Saskatchewan Huskies who were hoping to go to the finals yet again. With the departure of Simon Fraser to the NCAA the CanWest became smaller giving the usual bottom teams a chance to make a run. This includes the UBC Thunderbirds who have struggled in the past few years missing the playoffs repeatedly. The Manitoba Bisons and UBC Thunderbirds have been the bottom of the league for years while two major powers fight it out on top. The Calgary Dinos and the Saskatchewan Huskies seem to be the two teams always competing at the top and are regularly ranked in the top 10 teams in Canada every year. Trying to challenge these two teams will be the Regina Rams and Manitoba Moose as well as a resurging Alberta Golden Bears. This year could be an exciting one and the winner will most likely make a strong run at the Vanier Cup this year.

Saskatchewan Huskies

Last year the Saskatchewan Huskies had a successful season finishing at the top of the CanWest conference. This success did not translate to the post-season as they lost to the Alberta Golden Bears in the semi-finals for the Hardy Cup. The disappointing end to a season with high hopes has led the Huskies into the 2011 season with a real hunger to get to the Vanier Cup this year. Their biggest change, and possibly biggest downfall, will be the departure of their Hec Crighton nominated QB Laurence Nixon. Instead Trent Peterson will take over but will gain support from a strong returning receiver class led by Rory Kohlert who earned 641 receiving yards last year. Peterson will also be helped by returning running back Ben Coakwell who will also assist him in the passing game. Defensively the Huskies will be strong returning 11 starters from a defence that led the CanWest Conference last year. They will be led by safety Bryce McCall who will start the season 6 INTs away from a CIS record. Along with McCall the Huskies defence will return their entire linebacking corps with Peter Thiel, Nico Higgs, and Tony Michalchuk. The Huskies are returning the majority of their starters and will be poised to make a strong run towards the Hardy Cup and into the Vanier. They will ride their defence this year and will most likely be able to stay at #1 this year. They may have to meet their foe from last year in the playoffs leading to an emotional rematch that could go either way.

Calgary Dinos

The Dinos have had some of their best seasons in the last two years as they made the Vanier Cup in the last two seasons. They have not had the best record in the big game however as they lost in 2009 to the Queen’s Golden Gaels and last year lost to the home team in Laval. This year the Dinos will look to finally win the Vanier Cup after two years coming up short but they will have a hill to climb if they wish to do this. On offence the Dinos have lost their all-star passing game as Erik Glavic (QB), Nathan Coehoorn (WR), and Anthony Parker (SB) have all left the team, Coehoorn and Parker are playing in the CFL. The Dinos will benefit from injuries last year that allowed players to get their playing time in but the departure of these key players will have an impact. New QB Eric Dzwilewski will have one veteran he can lean on as All-Canadian running back Matt Walter will return to lead the running game. On defence Calgary will also need to recover from a number of losses including three linebackers that will make the running defence suffer. The defence will be helped by the return of one of their linebackers in Ty Noble as well as the return of 5th year CB Mike Lau. The Dinos will also rely on a recruiting class that hopes to make an impact on both sides of the ball. The Dinos want to reload but it seems as though they may be on the decline for this year. Expect them to make the playoffs again but the Vanier Cup may be a little too far off this year.

Regina Rams

The Regina Rams earned a playoff spot last year getting to #3 in CanWest but eventually lost to the Hardy Cup champion Calgary Dinos. They surprised a lot of people last year as they were overachievers but this year they are out to prove all doubters wrong as they look to get past the big two and into the Hardy Cup. They will do this with a strong returning cast that includes 9 players on offence and 10 players on defence. On offence the Rams will return their 5th year QB Marc Mueller who was invited to Edmonton Eskimos camp this past summer. He will have First Team All-Canadian Adrian Charles in the backfield to keep the offence balanced along with passing weapons Mark McConkey and Brenden Owens. On defence Regina will return first Team All-Canadian CB Jamir Walker who will lead an experienced team. The big wholes will be in linebacker and safety but they will still have a strong bid to outdo the Saskatchewan Huskies defence. This year the Regina Rams will look to build on a strong 2010 campaign as they look to the top of the conference. The Rams will make the playoffs and have a chance in the playoffs although they will face a tough test against the #1 team in 2010, The Saskatchewan Huskies. With the changes in many of the teams it could be an opening for the Rams to get over the hump and challenge for the Hardy Cup.

Alberta Golden Bears

The Golden Bears have had success recently in the CanWest division making the playoffs in the last two seasons. Last year was their most successful as they made it to the semi-finals and shocked the west by beating the #1 team in the conference in the Saskatchewan Huskies. They moved on to the Hardy Cup where they lost to a very good Calgary Dino team. This year they will return a number of veterans as they will look to continue their improvement in the CanWest conference. They will attempt this with a new head coach in Jeff Stead who was previously the assistant coach under Jerry Friesen who has moved on to the CFL. The new coach will have all of his big weapons on offence as 5th year QB Julian Marchand will return along with receiver Ryley Richardson and running back KK Sonuga. With these three contributors back the Alberta offence will only get better and be able to battle the big teams for the Hardy Cup. The defence the backers will be a veteran corps led by ball hawking safety Jason Hetherington and Brent Krawchuk who will be returning for his 4th year. They will also have their defensive leader back in Linebacker Duncan Morris who will join Tyler Greenslade to lead the linebacking corps that may have their work cut out for them with a depleted defensive line. Alberta has continued to improve every year and with 54 returnees this year they seem to be just as poised to improve on last season. They will have a few holes to fill but will compete with Saskatchewan and Calgary for the top spot in the CanWest conference.

Manitoba Bisons

Manitoba had a bad season last year suffering from a lack of experience at almost all positions as well as having the worst offence in the CanWest Conference. Manitoba did not have the highest of hopes last year as they began a rebuilding phase with a number of changes on both sides of the ball. That bodes a little bit better for this year as many of those players will be entering their second years. Although many players will be somewhat experienced they will also need to fill holes of some key players. Their offence this year will be returning most players and will be led by athletic QB Khaleal Williams who will benefit from having most of his receiving corps back. The big change on offence will be at the running back position as there will be three freshmen vying for reps as Nic Demski, Kienan LaFrance, and Anthony Coombs will all be in their first year and hope to be the starting RB. On defence the Bisons will also return a number of key defensive players will return including defensive leader Adam Hindley, NT. They will need some improvement as their defence was also one of the worst in the CanWest conference. They will look to the limited experience of their returning players to lead the team while also adding some essential recruits to boost their skill on the field. Manitoba will still be in tough against the many favorites in the CanWest conference but they are beginning to build for the future. They will most likely improve on that year but I don’t think it will be enough to earn them a playoff spot.

UBC Thunderbirds

The University of British Columbia Thunderbirds will try to get out of the basement finally as they will return some key players and add some essential recruits. UBC will also have some added motivation as they will look to play a home game for the Vanier Cup. This year the Vanier Cup will be played in Vancouver where UBC is located and they will hope to get there this year. Their offence will lead the way with 4th year QB Billy Greene and 5th year running back Dave Boyd. Boyd will be the cornerstone of the offence after coming off of an injury riddled season last year. He will look to return to his form from 2009 when he rushed for 700 yards and became a leader for the offence. The defence will lean on Serge Kaminsky as they will only return 6 starters from last year. The rest of the defence will be manned by some key recruits including Adam Konar, DB/LB who was a top highschool player in BC as well as SFU transfer Vivie Bojilov, LB. The Thunderbirds will love to play at home in the Vanier Cup but it doesn’t seem likely as the defence will have some growing pains with so many new players starting. I wouldn’t expect UBC to get out of the basement as they will have too many better teams to get past and too many challenges in a growing team.


Conference Prediction:

1. Saskatchewan Huskies (6-2)

2. Alberta Golden Bears (6-2)

3. Calgary Dinos (4-4)

4. Regina Rams (4-4)

5. Manitoba Bisons (3-5)

6. UBC Thunderbirds (1-7)


CanWest Quick Facts


Alberta Golden Bears (University of Alberta; Edmonton, Alberta)

Calgary Dinos (University of Calgary; Calgary, Alberta)

Manitoba Bisons (University of Manitoba; Winnipeg, Manitoba)

Regina Rams (University of Regina; Regina, Saskatchewan)

Saskatchewan Huskies (University of Saskatchewan; Saskatoon, Saskatchewan)

UBC Thunderbirds (University of British Columbia; Vancouver, British Columbia)



Hardy Trophy

– Created in 1922 for the best Western Canadian Team

– Award to the best CanWest team

– Named after former University of Saskatchewan player Evan Hardy

– The Saskatchewan Huskies have won 19 times

– 2011 winner will play for the Mitchell Bowl

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