To say it's been a long wait for organizers of the University Cup to host the annual tournament in Halifax would be an understatement.
Back-to-back tournaments were postponed due to COVID-19, meaning the trophy that goes to the top Canadian university men's hockey team has not been awarded since 2019.
"We are on the road to unfinished business," said Chris Larsen, president of Sports and Entertainment Atlantic.
Larsen and his team began hyping up the 2022 University Cup on Thursday in Halifax, announcing ticket packages and the slogan "U Cup Returns."
The university hockey season officially began last week.
Three teams from the Atlantic conference, including University Cup host team Acadia University of Wolfville, N.S., will play against teams from the rest of Canada when the tournament is played at the Scotiabank Centre from March 17 to 20.
"We had a plan in 2020, but we just never had the chance to deliver it all," said Larsen, who is also the general manager of the host committee.
"We've already started lots of the work that needs to be done. We're now 187 days out from puck drop and we're looking forward to every little bit of it."
Getting back to the University Cup would have special meaning for several members of Halifax's Saint Mary's University (SMU) men's hockey team.
They qualified for the 2020 University Cup and won their first game against the University of Guelph.
It meant they were through to the semi-final and just one win away from playing for the championship.
From 'so high,' to 'so low'
But then came the news that felt like a bone-crushing body check, all thanks to COVID-19.
"We were all kind of celebrating our big win over Guelph. We had the music going and I think it was [former SMU head coach Trevor Stienburg) who came in and broke the news to us that the rest of the tournament was postponed," said SMU captain Mitchell Balmas.
The Sydney, N.S., native was a rookie at that time.
"We were so high after that win and then we just went so low after we got that news," he recalled.
In March 2020, the tournament got underway in Halifax just as the first wave of COVID-19 began in Nova Scotia.
With two games and the opening day of the four-day tournament complete, the decision was made to postpone the rest of the event even though all eight teams, sponsors and officials, were already in Halifax.
"Thinking back to a couple of years ago, we were so geared up and ready to go," said Garrett McFadden, captain of the Acadia Axemen, on what it was like to hear the news the tournament was being shut down.
"But now today we're super excited about the opportunity that we are finally going to have and we can't wait to get things going."
COVID-19 washed out the next hockey season as well.
Acadia, Saint Mary's, Dalhousie University and St. Francis Xavier University were only allowed to play a few meaningless exhibition games against each other as a second University Cup tournament had to be nixed.
The University Cup will become the first national tournament to be played at Scotiabank Centre since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
The event will kick off with an all-Canadian awards gala at a Halifax hotel.
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