After playing second fiddle to the Alberta Golden Bears for years, Jacob DeSerres and the Calgary Dinos are trying to skate out of their Edmonton rivals’ shadow.
The former Brandon Wheat Kings goalie has helped the Dinos to the No.1 ranking in CIS hockey this season, going into the weekend with a stellar 19-0-1 record in Canada West conference play. While the Golden Bears are one of the most celebrated programs in Canadian university hockey, with a record 13 CIS titles in their history as well as 11 Canada West crowns in the past 13 years, the Dinos have never won a national championship, and last won the conference in 1996. However, DeSerres believes the Dinos have what it takes to elevate themselves to the championship level.
"Of course you want to win during the regular season and do really well all year, but in the end the biggest goal is to win a championship and we’re not afraid to say it or talk about it. That’s what we want to do," DeSerres said. "… Every year U of A is awesome. They always have been, and I’m sure they always will be, but now we’re right there with them as well."
DeSerres, a 23-year-old Calgary native, knows a little bit about championships. He backstopped the Saint John Sea Dogs to the Memorial Cup title in 2011, one year after playing for Brandon in the final of the Canadian Hockey League’s championship tournament at Westman Place. And he’s giving Calgary championship-calibre goaltending, leading Canada West with a 1.56 goals-against average and a .937 save percentage, while going 11-0-1 in conference play. He said the playoff and Memorial Cup experience he gained with the Wheat Kings and the Sea Dogs is something that has helped him as a Dino.
"I had a pretty interesting (junior) career — a lot of ups, but some downs too, and I learned a lot throughout my career," said DeSerres, a former Philadelphia Flyers third-round draft choice who was unsigned by the National Hockey League club and opted to study international relations in economics at the U of C rather than trying to play professionally after graduating from junior. "It was very eventful so it’s definitely shaped who I am today and has helped me grow. And I can always draw back on past experiences from when I was in junior, and it can help me moving forward."
Now in his third year at Calgary, DeSerres played sparingly as a rookie in 2010-11 when the Dinos were surprise conference finalists, losing the third game of the Canada West final in triple overtime to the Saskatchewan Huskies. He played a bigger role last season, when the Dinos improved their regular-season record to 17-11-0, but took a back seat to fifth-year senior Dustin Butler in the playoffs as Calgary made it to the conference semifinals before being ousted by Alberta. This season, DeSerres and the Dinos have hit a new level, something he credits to a strong crop of first-year players and the guidance of head coach Mark Howell.
"He’s done a hell of a job recruiting and he spends a lot of time on making our game solid as well," DeSerres said of Howell, who is also a Wheat Kings alumnus, having spent two seasons as an assistant on former coach Dean Clark’s staff in Brandon. "He knows the coaching side of it really well and we’re very well coached on the ice with our systems."
DeSerres is the leader of a group of ex-Wheat Kings that is very prominent in Canada West creases this season. Andrew Hayes, who shared goaltending duties with DeSerres in 2009-10, entered Friday sixth in the conference with a 2.81 goals-against average for the Regina Cougars, while Joe Caligiuri — who passed Brandon’s starting role on to Hayes — was eighth with a GAA of 3.29 for the Manitoba Bisons. Hayes is among a handful of DeSerres’ former Brandon teammates playing in Canada West, and they enjoy meeting up whenever their paths cross.
"Whenever we play Regina, Andrew and I always get together on the night before we play them," DeSerres said. "… It’s always fun getting to see old teammates and old buddies and having some laughs together."
ONE-TIMERS: Canada’s West’s top eight in goaltending includes another player with Wheat King ties. Dalyn Flette of the Mount Royal Cougars, who went into Friday seventh in the conference with a 3.13 GAA, was with Brandon along with Hayes for the start of the 2009-10 campaign. Flette was traded to the Prince Albert Raiders without playing a regular-season game the week before the Wheat Kings picked up DeSerres from the Seattle Thunderbirds.