Wednesday, February 21, 2007


Alberta's Other Hockey Battle

Okay, that title is a tad misleading, as I'm not even certain Calgary College The University of Calgary has a team. Oh, the Dinos. That's right. Forgot about them.

Every year, I tell myself I'm going to attend all of the University of Alberta Golden Bears hockey games. And every year, I end up attending only two or three. Sadly, this year was no different. I attended the Oilers Rookies/Bears game in September, and failed to attend another game until this past Saturday, when the Bears wrapped up their regular season against the UBC Thunderbirds. So much for my attendance goal, and so much for my plan of writing about them all year on this site. What can I say? My bad.

The point is, three paragraphs in, that I went to the Bears game this past weekend, and loved it. I loved it, I loved it, I loved it. I loved it so much, I have no problem claiming that it's the best hockey product in the city. You heard me. The best hockey product in the city of Edmonton. Given the Oilers current woes, that claim may not shock some. But it'll most certainly set the die-hards off on a rampage. Well, I'm sorry. It's true. It's probably been true for the past 15 years, April to July of 2006 excluded. Here are five reasons why:

1) Affordability

The Oilers increased ticket prices by 21.4% this year. The average ticket now costs $61.16. It costs $95 for an entire season of tickets to Golden Bears games, including playoffs (but excluding the national championships). That's 16 games, for about $6 a pop. Even if you buy the tickets individually, an adult ticket only costs $8. And in an effort to encourage families to attend, tickets for a family of five (2 adults, 3 kids under 18) cost $20, total. This one isn't even close.

2) Proximity To The Ice

At the Clare Drake arena, anywhere you sit is like sitting in the reds at Rexall. The seats are less comfortable, and there's no server asking you if you'd like a $10 cup of half-warm Molson Canadian, but the action is so close you can literally smell it. I like the fact that I have to keep my eye on the game so that I don't take a puck in the face. I like feeling my body shudder when a big hit happens ten feet away from me. And I like being so close that the opposing team's players can hear my witty heckling about their name and lack of skill. I pay hard-earned money for those tickets. I have the right to let the future doctor, businessman or physical education teacher know what I think about his beard and the last name Gervais, don't I?

3) Success Is Fun

The Bears don't always win, but they almost always win. While Kevin Lowe's squad consistently finishes in 8th to 10th place, the Golden Bears roll over their opponents. Other than the Oilers rookie game this year, I've never been to a game where they lost. Never. Nor are the games usually close. When they lost two home games to Lethbridge at the beginning of February, it made the front cover of the city newspapers. That's how rarely they lose, especially at home. The Bears are currently the two-time defending National Champions. They are 25-8-0 on the season, 20-8-0 in their conference, and the #2 ranked team in the nation. Oh, and did I mention that they've accomplished this year's success with eleven rookies on their roster? Eleven. The Golden Bears are the most dominant force in the history of Canadian collegiate hockey, and likely deserve to be on any list of the most successful amateur hockey programs in the world. And they keep on winning. It just never ends. If that isn't enough reason to go to their games, I don't know what is.

4) The Quality of the Game

This is hockey how it should be: fast, hard-hitting, and with tons of creativity. I haven't been to games where the Bears aren't playing, so I can't speak to the quality of university hockey as a whole. But good God is there ever a beautiful game being played on the University of Alberta campus. There's no fighting, sadly, but that probably helps the overall quality of the game. If you can't skate and score, you won't make it. Actually, Cory Cross was a Golden Bear, so forget that. The officiating can be mediocre at times, but where isn't that true? This is a wide-open game with lots of skill and physical play. There's no clutching and grabbing, no trapping, and no skating up behind a guy and slamming his head into the ice. I don't know how else to explain it. It really has to be seen to be appreciated.

5) University Huss

I had another reason in my head when I thought of this post last night. Unfortunately, I was almost asleep, and fell for the old, "ah, don't get up, you'll totally remember it in the morning" ruse. F**k you, brain. Anyway, this is an excellent substitute that should probably be broadened out to say, "Campus Life." But I like the header, so it stays. As the old man at the club--not too old, just too old to be at the club--it gives me great pleasure to take in the optimism, vitality and overall sexiness of the UofA crowd. Sure, you get some beautiful babies of both sexes at Oilers games, but can you really be sure that they read and write? Exactly. Plus, the closest bar to Rexall is one where even the bravest souls fear to tread. At the UofA, RATT and The Powerplant are just a hop, skip and a jump away (and, to my knowledge, nobody dies there). Simply put, a Bears game is less crowded, less in vogue, and less dumb. Check, check, check.

Here's how the game went last Saturday. I attended with my son, girlfriend, and two friends. Most of us got in for free (passes), but it would have cost us maybe $40 as a group if we all had to pay. Parking was $3.75. We walked in and found seats about five rows up, at the end where the Bears would be playing offence for two periods. We saw a man bring in two large Pizza Hut pizzas from outside the arena to feed the group he was with. Bob Stauffer checked me out while I was walking to get some napkins, to the point that I was worried (he might have heard me cruelly giggling about his writing difficulties, or just longed for me. I don't know). I saw the single biggest, best and loudest body check of my life. We made pirate jokes about one of the Thunderbirds defencemen, and we know that he heard us (check out this list of UBC player names, by the way. Needless to say, we were in heaven). We actually saw a close game for once, and yet the Bears still came out with a 2-0 victory. I saw a woman's chest that was so...enlightening... I'm positive my IQ would have jumped 20 points if I had stared just a moment longer. Most importantly, other than anyone there to cheer on the T-Birds, people left happy. I know it. How can it be otherwise? The price is right. The environment is right. The quality is right. And the outcome is right. You don't get that combination much anymore, even at an Oilers game. Don't get me wrong, I'd take tickets to an Oilers game over tickets to a Bears game in a heartbeat. But looking at this list, I'm no longer certain why.

The Golden Bears have a bye in the Canada West playoffs this weekend. They will host the Canada West Semi-Finals from March 2nd-4th at Clare Drake Arena, on the University of Alberta campus. I plan on being there, and I hope you'll join me.



Terrific post!

The Bears' hoops games are also consistently entertaining.

As a Dinos alum, however, I'm unable to cheer for the UofA.

The Bears' hoops games are also consistently entertaining.

I hear that's because they beat the Dinos so consistently, especially in the late nineties or so.

How come you aren't on the list of the top 40 Dinos of all-time, Sac?

I was automatically disqualified when I chose to go to UofA to do my graduate work. That and I couldn't play defense.

I can tell you, as a former student at both the UofA and UofC (I actually graduated from the latter, and only sparsely attended the former), that UofA campus sports are head and shoulders above Calgary's. This description of Golden Bear hockey games is exactly as I recall them, to the extent that I can recall them through the alcoholic haze. Sacamano is spot-on about the basketball games too. I attended no UofC sporting events that could even compare.

I grew up in Brandon,MB back when the Bobcats had a hockey team. I always enjoyed the thorough pumping that the Bears gave the Bobcats back in the day.
Probably one of the reasons Brandson University no longer has a hockey team.

I can confirm your statement that CIS hockey is indeed a fantastic product. I took in a lot of the games in '99 when the championships were in Saskatoon, and the hockey was amazing. And in the UofS Huskies games I've taken in since, I have yet to see a bad game (well, one, but I don't want to talk about it). The CIS is where it's at.

When I was attending Wilfrid Laurier University (Currently ranked #3), I attended a number of the games. One of my fraternity brothers was the captain of the team and I had a number of friends that played for other schools as well. And it was a quick trip down the street to the University of Waterloo to watch my friends play there as well (although the venue there was horrible for spectators, although the games were free so you couldn't really complain about that)...

Always an entertaining game. I would go to CIS games now, but the closest school for me is the University of Toronto and they pretty much suck in all sports...

Terrific post on the CIS, Andy. I often took the opportunity to head over to the old barn on the U of S campus for Huskies match-ups. The hockey was always smart, fast and ferocious. Most importantly, however, it was affordable, making Huskies games the best bang for your buck in town.

I also enjoyed the Huskies winning all the time too, except when the damn Golden Bears came to town. Still, CIS hockey was -- and continues to be -- a terrific experience and I'm glad you pointed that out.

I don't know if it explains the Golden Bears' consistent success completely, but they seem to do a better job than most CIS teams of recruiting former WHL players to play for them -- guys who aren't going to the NHL and don't feel like toiling in the minors waiting for a shot, but instead play at the CIS level and get an education. I always recognized at least a half dozen on the roster that I watched when they were on various junior teams.

I'd be interested to see whether they are in fact more successful at recruting these players.

I think that next time you see a chest that could raise your IQ, it would be both blog worthy and a gift your fellow man to take a picture.

I think that next time you see a chest that could raise your IQ, it would be both blog worthy and a gift your fellow man to take a picture.

I was too close in. But by God I wish I had a pic of that. I think all of our head's whipped around on it, even my girlfriend's.

I agree with the atmosphere and the pace of the games. Notice there's always a kid running around wearing a greasy popcorn bucket as a hat? I always found that immensely amusing.

The Golden Bears volleyball games are, IMO, even better than the hockey games. In general, the various Bears squads are pretty fun to watch.

I don't like football as much though. Mainly because one of the coaches was a jerk to me when I took photos for the paper.

How come you aren't on the list of the top 40 Dinos of all-time, Sac?

They left the late, great Owen Hart off of that list, so I wouldn't put much stock in it.

When I was attending Wilfrid Laurier University (Currently ranked #3),

Seriously? The Hawks are #3? That's awesome. And a shame. The year I leave the country and the Kitchener Rangers are kicking arse and now apparently so are the Golden Hawks.

I didn't discover University hockey till my last year there, such a waste, the arena was a ten minute walk from my house.

I like Bears hockey so much that I'm hoping our local university (U of Northern BC) gets a pass into the CIS and has a hockey team, so I can at least watch the Bears without it involving an 8 hour drive.

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