Thompson Arena will be hosting the U Sports women's hockey championship. Games are scheduled for March 15 to 18. Mallory Thompson / GAZETTE
Jordan McGavin / GAZETTE

With the 2018 U Sports Women's Hockey National Championship set to kick off on Thursday in London, it's time to meet the eight teams competing for the greatest prize in the country.

Saskatchewan Huskies

The Huskies finished second in Canada West during the regular season before losing to the Manitoba Bison in the conference championship game. The Huskies are led offensively by Kaitlin Willoughby and and Emily Upgang, who combined to score 16 goals and 33 points in the regular season. Willoughby was the top performer in the Canada West playoffs, scoring three goals and adding an assist in four postseason games. 

Manitoba Bisons

The champions of Canada West were the top seed in the conference after the regular season, reeling off nine straight wins to cap a stellar regular season. As the number one seed in the National Championship tournament, the Bisons will be the team to beat. The Bisons are led by standout goalie Lauren Taraschuk, who went 10–2 in the regular season before winning four straight postseason games, including a quadruple overtime thriller over the Alberta Golden Bears that punched Manitoba's ticket to London. The Bisons are looking to win the first national title in program history.

Montreal Carabins

The runner-ups in Quebec's Réseau du sport étudiant du Quebec (RSEQ) conference lost only two regulation games during the regular season and come into the tournament with a swath of talented scoring threats. Alexandra Labelle and Jessica Cormier compiled 23 and 22 points respectively during the regular season, while Labelle scored two goals and four assists during six playoff games. 

Concordia Stingers

The Stingers shocked Quebec by beating the Montreal Carabins in the provincial finals to earn their second straight Quebec title. Entering the tournament as the fourth seed, the program that last won a national title in 1999 has been returned to its glory days under head coach Julie Du, who has taken the team from RSEQ cellar-dweller to perennial national title contender. Claudia Dubois is the Stinger to watch after leading her team with 20 points on the season.

St. Francis Xavier X-Women

The X-Women finished the regular season with a record of 20–2–2 and appeared in the national top 10 rankings throughout much of the year. Three St. FX players finished in the top five in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) in scoring, as Daley Oddy scored 16 goals and 15 assists, Sarah Bujold added 13 goals and 14 assists and Emerson Elliot compiled 11 goals and 15 assists. The X-Women led the country in scoring, with 79 goals. 

Saint Mary's Huskies

The Huskies won 13 straight games before falling short of the St. FX X-Women in the AUS championship series. The Huskies are led in scoring by Breanna Lancaleve, who scored 10 goals and 18 assists during the regular season. Saint Mary's is backstopped by Rebecca Clarke, who posted a 14–3–1 record. The Huskies are the second seed heading into the tournament.

Queen's Gaels

The Gaels finished in first in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) standings for the first time since the 1989–90 season thanks to a 17–3–4 record. Queen's is led by OUA MVP and scoring leader Katrina Manoukarakis, who finished the regular season with 15 goals and 30 points, and OUA goaltender of the year Stephanie Pascal, who posted 14 wins, a 1.33 goals against average and a 0.944 save percentage.

Western Mustangs

For the second time in three years the Mustangs will be heading to the national championship tournament, but this time time they'll be skating in front of a partisan home crowd. The Mustangs had a solid regular season, finishing in second place in the OUA with a 17–5–2 record. In the playoffs, the Mustangs went undefeated, winning five straight games to capture the program's second OUA title. Western is led offensively by April Clarke, who registered 12 goals and 10 assists during the regular season, while rookie netminder Carmen Lasis is likely to start for the Mustangs after posting two shutouts in the Mustangs' playoff run.

The tournament begins on Thursday as Saskatchewan and Saint Mary's face off in a battle of the Huskies at 4 p.m. while Montreal and Western meet at 7 p.m. On Friday the Queen's Golden Gaels and Manitoba Bisons meet at 4 p.m. while the puck drops on the fourth quarter-final game at 7 p.m. when St. FX faces off with Concordia.