In the world of collegiate hockey, the off-season hardly affords time to rest on the laurels of last season, no matter how substantive the accomplishments may have been. With a finite number of eligible years to play, Canada Interuniversity Sport talent is both given and taken away at the end of every season. This constant turnover means that recruiting becomes the most important part of building a championship-calibre team every season.
The University of Calgary Dinos men's hockey season saw tremendous progress last year, but was soured by defeat in the University Cup held in Fredericton, New Brunswick. The season ended with a trip to the CIS championship and a pair of heartbreaking one-goal losses at the hands of the University of New Brunswick -- the eventual national champions -- and the University of Western Ontario respectively. The loss against UNB saw the Dinos surrender a goal with 4.1 seconds remaining in the third period to lose 2-1. Despite the unceremonious exit from the University Cup, last season's accolades included the Dinos' first trip to the CIS championship since 2001. Dustin Butler was named the nation's top goaltender and head coach Mark Howell was named the 2011 CIS coach of the year. A first rate coaching staff includes former NHL regulars Cory Cross and Brad Isbister as assistant coaches teamed with Brad Kirkwood and Howell.
The Dinos are looking to build off the success of last season and assert themselves as a Canada West powerhouse and a threat to return to the CIS championship once again.
The defeat in Fredericton was the final CIS game for four Dino fifth-year players, including Aaron Richards and Torrie Wheat, who combined for 31 points in 37 games in the 2010-11 regular season. This year, however, the Dinos will feature one of the best recruiting classes for the U of C in recent years. Offensively, the Dinos welcome five former WHLers: Dylan Hood, Thomas Frazee, Taylor Stefishen and Max Ross join the Calgary Hitmen standout Tyler Fiddler to replace the outgoing senior forwards. Fiddler, a former 30-goal scorer in 2009-10, was a member of the 2010 WHL champion Calgary Hitmen, tallying 12 points in 22 playoff appearances while maintaining a plus-eight rating. Fiddler and fellow 30-goal scorer Dylan Hood will add scoring depth to a team thin on offensive prowess -- the team ranked third last in the Canada West Conference and 26th overall in the CIS with 82 goals scored. Howell is confident in his new forward recruits: "It was important for us to get some top-end forwards after graduating some guys last year . . . all of these guys fit into what we want to do."
When summarizing the additions made during the summer, Howell added "we are very optimistic about our chances this year -- we have great goaltending, great defence and we've got some excellent pieces up front."
If one is to believe the often-observed hockey adage that goaltending wins championships, the Dinos may have to start making room in their trophy case. Perhaps the most intriguing member of the new recruits is six-foot-two former Saint John Sea Dog goaltender Jacob DeSerres. Easily one of the top goaltending recruits of 2011-12, DeSerres was a member of the 2011 Memorial Cup Champion Sea Dogs and captured the QMJHL's Jacques Plante trophy for best goals against average in 2010-2011. DeSerres was a third-round draft pick -- 84th overall -- of the Philadelphia Flyers in 2008 and went to the Memorial Cup twice, once with Saint John and once with Brandon. However, as previously noted with CIS goaltender of the year Dustin Butler, the Dinos now have an embarrassment of riches between the pipes. The duo of Butler and back-up Kris Lazaruk were nothing short of spectacular last season, sharing the Canada West Adam Kryczka trophy for lowest goals against average last season. Adding DeSerres to the roster surely gives the U of C one of the deepest goaltending depth charts in the country.
There is plenty of reason to be excited for the upcoming season of Dinos men's hockey with this most recent recruiting class supplementing last year's roster. This year will bring higher expectations, and with it, pressure to succeed rather than the satisfaction of progress. No one will be surprised to see a strong Dinos squad this year and a freshly fashioned target placed firmly on the backs of the U of C. But judging by the new roster, returning veterans and coaching staff, the 2011-12 Dinos will be ready.