Bears hunger for title

JASON HILLS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:33 AM ET

Every year seemed like a lock for the University of Alberta Golden Bears to make another trip to the National Championship.

After last season's heart-breaking loss to the University of Saskatchewan in the Canada West Final, the Bears have come back very hungry for the 2007/2008 season.

"Every year the expectations on this team and the program are very high and losing to Saskatchewan last season was tough," said Bears head coach Eric Thurston.

SO CLOSE

"The guys knew how close they were and after seeing some conferences have two or three teams at Nationals made it even tougher to take, because we knew we could compete there."

The Bears won't have 11 new faces in the lineup this season like they did last year. They lost forward Scott Henkelman when he graduated and they won't have forward Kieran Block or defenceman Kyle Fecho, who both were in off-season car accidents.

"Kyle won't be back until at least Christmas and Kieran won't be back this season. He unfortunately broke both his legs in the accident. It's very unfortunate, but we're just thankful they are both still alive," Thurston said.

HEAVY RECRUITING

Thurston heavily recruited defenceman Jason Fransoo, a power-play quarterback from the Western Hockey League's Everett Silvertips as well as forwards Eric Hunter, Kyle Pess and Derek Ryan for the upcoming season.

Hunter was the captain of the WHL's Prince George Cougars, Pess was the AJHL's deadliest sniper with the Fort Saskatchewan Traders and has three years of WHL experience behind him. Ryan is a four year WHL veteran who played his entire WHL career with the Spokane Chiefs.

The Bears return their entire defensive core led by captain Harlan Anderson and six-foot-five, fifth year defenceman Jeff Feniak. Between the pipes the Bears return both Aaron Sorochan and Blake Grenier, who were two of the top goaltenders in the CIS.

Upfront the Bears will have Dylan Stanley, Ben Kilgour and Ian MacDonald all of whom were key offensive components last year.

"Depth is going to be a huge strength of ours," said Anderson.

"We have a lot of talent but it can only take you so far, you have to put the work in. A lot of the guys are mad at themselves with what happened last year and we want to get back to where we know we should be and that's Nationals."

Thurston loves the intensity through the first few weeks of training camp.

The Bears have played two exhibition games to date. They lost to the MacEwan Griffins, 4-3 in a shootout and they beat the Edmonton Oilers rookies 2-1 on Monday.

"It's been a very good competitive camp," said Thurston. "We are still in the evaluation process, but there has been a definite sign of guys willing to pay the price. It's just a matter of guys finding a role and being comfortable in it."

The Bears will once again contend with the University of Saskatchewan for one of two Canada West berths for the 2008 National Championship in Moncton, New Brunswick.

But Anderson, who is entering his final year with the Bears, feels this is the strongest the Canada West conference has ever been.

"I can remember when I first came here and we would play a game against Lethbridge or UBC and you'd never think of losing," said Anderson.

"We feel we have a great opportunity to get back to Nationals but by no means are we going to take any of these other teams for granted."


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