Jonathan Anderson, Mount Royal University
CALGARY - Not many athletes get to experience it, and not many memories can top it.
By now most Calgarians are familiar with the inimitable Crowchild Classic. The crosstown smackdown has turned into the premier scholastic sporting event for Calgary's two largest post-secondary institutions. The heart and hustle displayed during the women's and men's hockey games played on Scotiabank Saddledome ice are a point of pride for Mount Royal University students, staff, faculty and alumni alike.
The buzz surrounding each year's contest remains unbeatable for the athletes of both the Mount Royal Cougars and the University of Calgary Dinos that are fortunate enough to play.
"The atmosphere is just amazing," says fifth-year Cougar Megan Carver, who is in the process of completing her Bachelor of Arts ― Criminal Justice and will be playing in her final Crowchild Classic next Tuesday.
"It's so exciting and loud on both the ice and in the stands. Overall, it's just something that everyone should experience."
When tasked with picking a favourite memory of her U Sports career, the answer is easy for the local forward, who has twelve tallies in Cougar blue to her name since her first 2014 Canada West campaign.
"It has to be my first year. It was my first time getting to play in the Saddledome and it made it all the sweeter to be able to win. It was also the first time the team had won on that ice and I was beyond thrilled to be a part of that."
This year's clash will be Cougar Grant Baker's last time suiting up in the contest. The veteran of four previous Saddledome matches believes the atmosphere and the experience is second to none.
Undeniably the most exciting event on the annual U Sports calendar, the Crowchild Classic is now in its seventh year of existence. The winner is determined not just by the results of the Jan. 29 doubleheader, but by the school with the most wins across all the different sports disciplines (basketball, hockey, soccer and volleyball).
This year's clash will also be Cougar Grant Baker's last time suiting up in the contest. The veteran of four previous Saddledome matches believes the atmosphere and the experience is second to none.
"We normally do not play in front of big crowds, so when you come out for warmups and there are 7,000 people in the crowd, it definitely affects you," says the Bissett School of Business student. "I thought that after the first one I'd be used to it, but every year it almost always takes about a period to get used to playing in front of that many people."
The 2016 Saddledome Classic holds the all-time attendance record for a game between two U Sports opponents, with 12,859 fans in attendance.
Since the programs took to Saddledome ice first in 2013, four of the six match ups between the men's sides have gone to overtime, with the Dinos and the Cougars each claiming three victories.
Megan Carver is in the process of completing her Bachelor of Arts ― Criminal Justice and will be playing in her final Crowchild Classic.
For the women's games, U of C holds the edge with four victories over the past six years. The Cougars women's side last notched a textbook 3-1 win in 2017 in front of 12,205 fans.
"The competitiveness displayed from both the women's and the men's teams makes this an event that is worth being in the stands to see. The energy and team spirt that is displayed from both schools just makes this event loud, packed, exciting, and a fun night," says Carver.
This year promises to be much of the same. Mount Royal's women's team comes into the mini-tournament 15 points ahead of the last-place Dinos, while the Cougars men's side looks to gain ground on the Dinos, who are only four points ahead of them in the standings after 22 games played.
"I would say that it is one of the best events of the year," Carver says. "Get there early and get good seats. The rivalry is so intense and it's loud, fun and everyone just gets so into it."
Baker adds, "Usually the games are close and highly competitive. The atmosphere is unique to the event and something that you won't get at a Flames game."
Fans in attendance will be treated to an outstanding display of Canadian university hockey, with seven of the 12 previous games won by just a one-goal margin. A lucky student from MRU will also win their tuition for the 2019/2020 school year at the game. Those eligible must be wearing Cougars gear and in the Mount Royal section of the stands.
The annual celebration of university sport in Calgary is the largest city gathering of university students and alumni. The women's game is set for 4 p.m. with the men to follow at 6:45 p.m. Busses are scheduled to leave from each of the Mount Royal residences, beginning at 3:30 p.m.
Since its inception, the evening has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the Calgary Flames and the Flames Foundation, who continue to give the Cougars and Dinos the opportunity to play in an NHL facility with the full Flames entertainment experience.