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Golden Bears cup run includes preparing for worst

Winning a national hockey title isn’t easy at the best of times. Winning one without your captain, league MVP and league scoring champion is an even more daunting task. Chad Klassen was Mr.
Alberta Golden Bears Derek Ryan. (Leith Dunick,
Winning a national hockey title isn’t easy at the best of times.

Winning one without your captain, league MVP and league scoring champion is an even more daunting task.

Chad Klassen was Mr. Everything for the Canada West champion Alberta Golden Bears this season, but a hit his coach deemed "nasty" could leave the fifth-highest point-getter in the nation sidelined for the Cavendish University Cup, dealing with concussion-like symptoms.

It’s something Alberta coach Eric Thurston would rather not think about, but he is preparing for the worst, after his star forward was laid out by Manitoba defenceman Travis Mealy in Game 2 of the Golden Bears three-game triumph in the Canada West final.

"He’s questionable for our tournament," Thurston said of Klassen, who checked in with 46 points on 18 goals and 28 assists.

"We’re trying to put into place this week and see who can fit into that role. But any time you take your leading scorer out and your league MVP, it creates a little bit of adversity and we’ll see how we get through that."

The No. 1-seeded Golden Bears, who have won 13 Canadian championships since 1963, including a pair under Thurston’s watch since 2006, have plenty of depth the fifth-year coach said. In addition to Klassen, three other players had 30 or more points and six players finished with at least a point-a-game average.

Thurston said he’s hoping one or more of those players can fill the gap if Klassen can’t go when the Golden Bears kick off the tournament on Thursday against the No. 6 seed University of Quebec at Trois Rivieres.

"They have to. They’re going to get the ice time and that’s just the way it is," said Thurston, reached last week at his Edmonton office. "You have to put the guys in that you think can and they’ve got to be able to step up and do that. But we’ll see what happens when the puck is dropped."

New this year in net is goaltender Travis Yonkman (12-2-0, 2.63), a replacement for the departed Aaron Sorochan, who last summer left for the professional ranks, forgoing a fifth season in the green and gold.

Yonkman, who once backed up Lakehead goalie Kyle Moir with the Western Hockey League’s Swift Current Broncos, has played well, but will have to adjust, his coach said.

"Any time you get a first-year kid there, that’s always a different dynamic," he said.

Thurston added fans can expect pretty much the same type of team they saw at last year’s University Cup, a puck possession squad, with a blueline capable of moving the puck quickly, two solid scoring lines and two lines of grinders.

"Our strength is to be able to work hard with 20 guys and making sure our defence is solid."
The key to an Alberta championship, he added, is not letting their guard down.

"You have to play your best hockey. Your best players have to be your best players and like anything else, with a tight, tight tournament like this, you can’t have a bad five-minute stretch, a bad two-minute stretch. It’s just so tight to win, so we have to play solid, very good hockey, disciplined hockey and mistake-free hockey for 60 minutes, because the teams there are just too good."

Don’t doubt that they can.

Leith Dunick

About the Author: Leith Dunick

A proud Nova Scotian who has called Thunder Bay home since 2002, Leith is Dougall Media's director of news, but still likes to tell your stories too. Wants his Expos back and to see Neil Young at least one more time. Twitter: @LeithDunick
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