Evan Daum, Canada West Communications
Coming off a Canada West championship a season ago with a relatively young group, there weren’t many holes to fill for the Alberta Golden Bears heading into this fall.
But that hasn’t’ stopped the Bears from putting together another strong (albeit shorter) list of recruits, who are set to add to head coach Serge Lajoie’s already impressive arsenal of talent.
In goal, former Moose Jaw Warrior Zach Sawchenko joins the fold after back-to-back seasons as a Western Hockey League Eastern Conference all-star. The Calgary native opted to forego his final season of junior eligibility to join the Bears after posting a combined .917 SV% over his last two years of junior – more on his unique road to Canada West later.
Up front, the Bears have added a pair of players to the mix, who have all the tools to crack an already deep lineup right away.
Former Victoria Royal Brandon Magee, who spent a year in the ECHL after five seasons in the WHL, and ex-Medicine Hat Tiger Steven Owre, bring a combined 485 WHL regular season points to the table.
“The reality is they’re ready to contribute right away,” said Lajoie. “There’s no doubt in my mind they’re ready,”
“Owre and Magee add that much more depth to an already very strong forward group and they’re going to get some opportunities early on.”
Owre, who had an 88-point season a year ago for the Tigers, is slated to play centre for Alberta, while Magee is pencilled in on the wing.
“With Owre coming in slated to play in the middle, it just provides us with a lot of opportunities to move players around,” Lajoie pointed out with respect to the flexibility Owre will create for the Bears up front.
As for the backend, the 13-time national champions only have one addition this season in the form of Clayton Kirichenko.
Kirichenko joins the Bears after a four-year WHL career, which wrapped up in Med Hat this spring.
The Sherwood Park product joined the Tigers midway through the 2016-16 season after a trade from Vancouver and immediately took on a leadership role, eventually taking over as the club’s captain for the 2016-17 season.
“That’s the No. 1 thing that attracted us to Clayton – his leadership,” said Lajoie. “He’s an all-in type of guy. He gives you everything he has and commits 100 per cent.”
“We see it already in practice. He has a very strong skillset and he’s no nonsense – what you see is what you get. He’s 100 per cent engaged in everything that he does.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Moose Jaw Warriors (2013-17)
Top WHL season: 2016-17 / 51 GP / 30-14-6-1 / .917 SV% / 2.79 GAA
Coming off back-to-back seasons as a WHL Eastern Conference all-star, Sawchenko had cemented himself as one of the WHL’s top netminders.
And with a season of junior eligibility left, you would’ve thought the Bow Valley Minor Hockey Association product would be a good bet for a third straight all-star nod.
More accolades may come Sawchenko’s way this season, but if they do, they will be at the Canada West level, as veteran of nearly 200 WHL games felt the time was right to make the jump to university hockey after flourishing with the Warriors.
“He’s a cerebral kid and he’s a mature guy. He knows exactly what he wants and he looked at university hockey as an opportunity to develop. Right now he’s 19 and in four years – with his academic track record – he could be close to having his Business degree,” said Lajoie.
Along with securing an education, Sawchenko is also hoping he’s also closer to a pro opportunity worth jumping at following his time in green and gold.
“It wasn’t him being upset that he didn’t get any solid looks at the pro game,” said Lajoie of the decision to join Alberta. “It was more that it led him in another direction and he took advantage of it. There’s no doubt, we’re excited to have him…he’s going to add to the fabric of our culture.”
Alberta Golden Bears 2017-18 recruiting class:
G – Zach Sawchenko / Calgary, Alta. / Moose Jaw Warriors
D – Clayton Kirichenko / Sherwood Park, Alta. / Medicine hat Tigers
F – Steven Owre / Rocklin, California/ Medicine Hat Tigers
F – Brandon Magee / Edmonton, Alta. / Victoria Royals
About CW and the WHL:
Every year 100s of former WHL players attend post-secondary institutions across Western Canada, putting to use their WHL Scholarship money. Last season, more than 200 former WHLers skated for one of eight CW men’s hockey teams, including 51 in the CW championship series.
As part of the WHL and Canada West’s ongoing partnership, the WHL powers CW series highlights the latest crop of former WHL recruits who will make the most of their scholarship package at a CW school of their choosing beginning this fall.