Past, Present, Future: Taking stock of a winning tradition
By Shelagh Kubish & Geoff McMaster
The prolific scholar wrote hundreds of short stories and articles, but was equally passionate about sports, coaching the U of A hockey team through the early glory years of the 1920s. Today the holy grail of western Canadian university hockey—the Hardy Cup trophy—bears his name.
“People always ask why I, a professor of classics, have such an interest in sport,” he once said. “I tell them it is because I am a professor of classics that I am interested in sport.”
Hardy’s belief in balance of sport and intellectual pursuit was echoed years later when Maury Van Vliet came to the U of A to found an athletics program and the Faculty of Physical Education and Recreation, setting a high standard of excellence for a new program that stressed education of the whole person, including aspects of academics, athletics and community spirit.
A variety of U of A teams from the past stand out as particularly noteworthy for various reasons—but most often because they followed Hardy’s dictum by playing the hardest and using intelligence to carry off the laurels of victory. Whether you call them dynasties, winning streaks or just exceptional moments of team glory, we share some of those stories here.
1978–80 Bears hockey
(Dominating the competition)
The hockey Bears of 1978–79 dominated the Canadian university competitive season and post-season, winning the University Cup that year relatively easily, without the thrill of last-minute goals or dramatic.
“We were unbeatable that year,” co-captain John Devaney is quoted as saying in Bears on Ice. “We went into that tournament fully expecting to win.”
The team went on to win two more national championships for a streak of three, and Drake and several Golden Bears players left to join Canada’s Olympic program for the 1979–80 season.
1993–94 Bears basketball
(First of three national championships)
Some have described it as the high point of basketball in Edmonton and yet the Bears were never expected to make it to nationals and win that year. On March 20, 1994, the Golden Bears basketball team became national champions for the first time in the university’s history, defeating the heavy favourites, the McMaster Marauders, by a score of 73–66 in Halifax.
“We don’t have the country’s best talent,” said coach Don Horwood of that year. “But we were the most determined. I had a bunch of guys who did whatever it took to win. It wasn’t me, it was them.”
1994–95 and 1999–2000
(Six straight national wins)
In 2002, the Pandas volleyball players from the 1994–95 to 1999–2000 seasons were inducted as a unit into the Alberta Sports Hall of Fame in recognition of their remarkable streak of six consecutive national championships. Coach Laurie Eisler says what they all learned from those years was how hard it is to win.
“In those six years, that group is still perceived as special,” said Eisler. “They had a lot of adversity thrown at them, but they beat it.”
Adversity like blown-out knees, torn ACLs—a couple of players hobbled their way through key sets—and their coach delivering a baby in the hospital while the players were out on the court playing a game.
1967–68 Bears football
(An historic win)
Only 15 veterans were on the 1967–68 football Bears team coached by Clare Drake; the rest, rookies. Some key players were lost to injury early in the season. But as the Gateway newspaper said of the team, “some excellent player management, the finest college football coaching staff in Canada and one hell of a lot of desire combined to give the Bears their first national football championship.”
The gridiron Bears won the 1967 College Bowl in November, defeating the McMaster Marauders in what is considered by many to be the first true national championship game for Canadian university football.
1972 Bears football
(National win with dramatic play)
After a narrow defeat in the 1971 College Bowl, the Bears got their Vanier Cup the next season when they faced Waterloo Lutheran (now Wilfred Laurier) in the national final, held in Toronto.
The game is remembered by many people for a dramatic play near the end of the fourth quarter when #12, defensive back Dale Schulha, threw a touchdown pass off a fake field goal.
The touchdown pass clinched the game for the Bears, with the final score 20–7. Afterwards coach Jim Donlevy told the defensive back, “Lucky it worked, Schulha; it’s a long walk back from Toronto!”
2002–2005 Pandas hockey (Unbeaten streak)
Women’s hockey has a fine tradition at the University of Alberta, but the CIS didn’t start official ice hockey competition for women until the 1998–99 season. When they did, the Pandas were fast off the mark.
Howie Draper was named head coach and within two years had built a program that continues to dominate women’s university hockey. The team is known for a remarkable unbeaten streak of 110 games from the 2002–03 season through the 2004–05 season, as well as six national championships in eight years, but Coach Draper says it’s not all about winning.
The team consisted of outstanding hockey players who “were able to help sell the concept of togetherness, honesty, accountability and commitment to our younger players, which really lifted the team to achieve what it did over that period.”
Current Bears volleyball
The U of A’s exceptional team spirit continued this year as the Bears volleyball squad repeated as CIS men’s volleyball champions, decisively beating the Laval Rouge at home in March.
The team has now won six Tantramar trophies since the inaugural CIS championship in 1967, the first team to repeat as national champions since the Manitoba Bisons won the 2000–01 title. The Bears had been the No. 1-ranked team in the country since Nov. 28, 2006, which is 33 straight CIS ranking polls.
“Alberta was simply the better team tonight,” said Laval coach Pascal Clément after the win. “They had us on our heels all night. We were never able to get things going.”