Fluffy mammals whining on skates

By Lawrence Bailey

What do you do if improving opposition is challenging your supremacy? Well, if you’re a hockey-playing Panda, you get them to change the rules.

The University of Alberta’s women’s hockey team is, surprise, surprise, atop the standings heading into the Christmas break. As for the lady Dinos, well, if you missed it last week, our women’s hockey beat writer depicted the horrors of their season in quite colourful terms (see: horse flogging, throat clawing, et cetera).

Before we lynch our ladies though, there are some behind-the-scenes dealings that need to be carefully examined. In the off season, a rule change came into effect, a rule change heavily supported by the Pandas program and incredibly damaging to the program at the University of Calgary. The rule stipulated that a player could no longer be signed to more than one team.

For the displaced Bears living in Alberta’s north, this had little to no effect, as splitting time between club and school is not an issue. The Pandas have a solid program where there are plenty of opportunities to play a significant number of games and they face no direct competition from high level clubs within their own city. They are the premiere program in town.

As those of us in Calgary know, there are a great deal of Olympic training centres in our fine city, including the women’s Olympic hockey program, easily the best in the world. This leads to divided loyalties, as well as divided ice time. The Olympic Oval is home to both the Dinos and the club teams that are used to develop talent for the Olympic program. Previously, it was perfectly fine for a member of the university’s team to practice and play with the Dinos and supplement that with a club affiliation. In the interests of increased ice time for the players and competitiveness, the two programs would share their talent. The result was an improvement in the quality of player produced for our country, an improvement in the Olympic team’s player development and a rapidly improving Dinos squad.

This led to a close, well-fought Canada West final last year between these two aforementioned university teams, ending with the Pandas squeaking out a victory and fearing the improving competition. The Pandas went to nationals and won while the Dinos took a well-deserved break before preparing for next year. What they failed to realize is that events beyond their control would lead to the return of only a handful of players, devastating their program and giving the Pandas the breathing room they shrewdly maneuvered their way into off the ice.

It’s a travesty that the pride of a university program is undercutting the development of players in our Olympic system. Given the choice between the increased ice time and opportunity afforded them by the national program and the labour of love that is a university team, the choice was simple. What ensued was a mad scramble in U of C Athletics to salvage the program, gaping holes at every position, a 1-8-1 record and a cocky pack of Pandas greedily eyeing a defence of their national title.

I must now extend my congratulations to the Pandas, whose impending fourth consecutive Canada West title is a testament to their dominance on the ice as well as in the political arena. Bully to you!

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