Mount Royal University poised to leave ACAC; SAIT men's team looks at future without Cougars
Players come and go. Championships are won and lost. And rivalries build and fade over time.
But in Ken Babey's 25 years of coaching SAIT men's hockey, no bigger change came when Mount Royal University decided that its teams were leaving the Alberta Colleges Athletic Conference, or ACAC.
Babey can remember some of the most contentious moments between the Cougars and Trojans — everything from bench-clearing brawls, fights outside the dressing rooms, and cheer competitions between the two schools that would pack the arenas to the brim with noise.
Babey has seen it all, and he is sad to see this great rivalry come to an end.
Mount Royal University is set to leave the ACAC and move to the university league known as Canada West. With SAIT staying in the ACAC, this is the last season the two cross-town rivals will be playing against each other in the regular season.
"There is a lot of history there," said Trojans forward Travis Bradshaw. "The rivalry between our two teams goes back longer than I have ever played."
MRU has been part of the ACAC since the league's creation in 1981, and was also part of the previous sport league, the Western Inter-Collegiate Conference, or WICC that existed prior to the ACAC.
Babey calls the team's departure from the conference "an absolute loss" as the school is one of the founding members of the ACAC.
The two teams have played against each other in many playoff and championship games. One of the most dramatic games being last season's championship game, when the Cougars won 1-0 but were plagued by controversy of having a illegible player dressed who was a part-time student.
The cross-town rivals have had a storied history that is about "as good as it gets," said coach Babey. He said that it will be hard for the Cougars to find rivalries as strong as the one that SAIT and MRU have enjoyed because the tension "takes years to build it up."
"They push us to be a better team," he said. "And I think we push them too."
Trojans team Captain Jon Malin said that having Mount Royal University in the ACAC makes the league stronger, and that rivalry and competition against each other pushes the teams to be better.
Cougars Moving Forward
Looking forward, the Cougars are excited at what the future holds — hoping for new opportunities and rivalries to come.
Cougars' head coach Jean Laforest said that the "culture and work ethic" his team have brought to every game this season will carry forward into the playoffs this year, and into the new season next year.
Laforest said that by moving up to Canada West, the Cougars will be able to attract players that may not have previously made the choice to come to Mount Royal University — players from the WHL or higher-end junior hockey players.
The Trojans also have a positive outlook on next season despite their cross-town rivals not being in the league.
"Will other schools evolve and come into the ACAC picture? Maybe, but I don't think that either SAIT or Mount Royal University teams will be able to replicate the rivalry," Babey said.
For now, the Trojans aren't getting ahead of themselves and the questions that next season will hold, but are focusing on making it into the playoffs this season. The Trojans currently sit in third place in the ACAC south division, while Mount Royal University is in first place.
Laforest also thinks that the Cougars have to stick to their strong defensive play when making it to the playoffs, and try to relish in rounding out the season against their long-time rivals
The two teams wrap up regular season play with back-to-back games against each other on Feb. 17 and Feb. 18 at the Flames Community Arenas and the SAIT campus arena respectively.
"Whether or not we make it to the playoffs, it will be special to round out the season against them," Babey said.
- By CAITLIN GAJDOSTIK