GRADE-POINT ANECDOTES: Brandon duo amped for big stage at Crowchild Classic


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Bradley Schoonbaert can’t wait to see his teammates’ faces on Friday night.

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Bradley Schoonbaert can’t wait to see his teammates’ faces on Friday night.

He knows how special this Crowchild Classic game is for the University of Calgary Dinos. They go from a few hundred fans at Father David Bauer Arena to 10,000-plus at the Calgary Flames’ home Scotiabank Saddledome against the crosstown rival Mount Royal University Cougars.

“There’s probably going to be over 12, 13,000 people. It’s half red, half blue and it is loud. It feels like you’re in an NHL game and it’s just a really cool experience,” Schoonbaert said.

The women’s game is first at 5 p.m. CT, with the men following at 7:45.

The six-foot, 182-pound forward from Brandon is one of just four Dinos who isn’t a first- or second-year. The big game hasn’t taken place since 2020 due to COVID-19, so the rest of the players, including second-year forward and former Brandon Wheat King Connor Gutenberg, haven’t experienced anything like this as a U Sports player.

The Crowchild Classic is a multi-sport series between the Dinos and Cougars, with women’s and men’s soccer, volleyball and basketball games also counting towards a season-long race for Cowtown supremacy. It started in 2012 when MRU joined the U Sports ranks. Calgary has won seven while 2014-15 and 2021-22 ended deadlocked.

Mount Royal leads 8-2, however, with just eight games to go including this weekend’s four hockey clashes.

So on one hand, the Dinos are on the verge of extinction. But can you say that about the No. 1 team in Canada? Calgary (19-3-0) started the year outside the top 10 and cracked the list in late October. It steadily climbed and has held the top spot for all of 2023.

MRU (16-3-3) is close behind at No. 4 and it’s just three points back of Calgary for the Canada West lead. This game — which is available for purchase on Canada West TV — needs no more words to establish its magnitude.

The Brandon pair, who are both alternate captains, are up for the challenge.

“There’s definitely a lot of hype behind it, everyone’s really excited but once you step on the nice after the first couple of minutes it’s just like a normal game,” Schoonbaert said.

“It’s not just a normal game, though, it’s a really important game so we’re excited and we’ll be ready.”

Schoonbaert admitted he started slow after what he felt was a good summer of training. He had just one goal and an assist through eight appearances but picked up 16 in the next 11 contests. He’s sixth in team scoring with eight goals and 10 assists.

Gutenberg also struggled offensively as the Dinos dropped to 2-3 early, recording just one assist. He has since hit the scoresheet in all but three games on a 17-game win streak and is fourth in team scoring with nine goals and 14 assists.

“We had a tough first five games or so and finally started clicking as a group. It’s been good ever since,” Gutenberg said, noting a few key differences from his time in the Western Hockey League. “It’s definitely a lot different going through school and playing hockey at the same time, I think that’s the biggest adjustment.

“The league is more defensive than the junior leagues where we came from … You gotta take care of your own end first, thinking defensively. And you just lean on the older guys with the school aspect of it.”

The Dinos had won nine straight after sweeping the Trinity Western Spartans but Schoonbaert didn’t feel the league respected them as an elite team. That changed with 4-0 and 3-2 victories over Alberta, then back-to-back overtime wins at Saskatchewan to close the first semester.

“Throughout the league, people started to take notice,” Schoonbaert said.

Calgary returned from the break for a special night.

It hosted the Ukrainian under-25 national team in its second game of the “Hockey Can’t Stop Tour,” in which the Ukrainians also visited the Universities of Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba to prepare for the FISU Games (world university games) that wrapped up on Sunday in Lake Placid, N.Y. The tour also raised money for Ukrainian communities impacted by the war with Russia.

The Dinos had a fantastic, emotional crowd of 1,700.

“You look into the crowd and there’d be Ukrainian flags everywhere, there were hundreds of refugees here and it was pretty surreal for us,” Gutenberg said. “We wanted to get ready for our season but at the same time, it was for a much bigger cause. It was pretty cool to be a part of that.”

The Dinos are in their home stretch now. They visit the Manitoba Bisons on Feb. 3-4, then finish with a home-and-home against MacEwan on Feb. 10-11.

The top two teams get byes in the conference quarterfinals and a perfect weekend against Mount Royal could all but secure that weekend off.

They’d also host the best-of-three conference semifinals and potentially the title series, so a good effort Friday night could go a long way in making it hard for anyone else to get through them to nationals.

“Most people at this game, this will be the only game they come to all year, which is kind of sad,” Schoonbaert said. “Our crowds have been better this year, which is good but hopefully some of the U of C fans come and see we can play, see why we’re number one in the country and start coming to more games.”

ICINGS: The Brandon University Bobcats have a week off of home action. The basketball teams hit the road to Edmonton today for a weekend set with the University of Alberta. The men’s volleyball team visits the Fraser Valley Cascades in Abbotsford, B.C., on Friday and Saturday.


» Twitter: @thomasmfriesen

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