The reigning USports National Champion Alberta Golden Bears opened training camp today with medicals and physicals. Ian Herbers, who spent the last three seasons as an Assitant on Todd McLellan's staff with the Edmonton Oilers, has returned to the program as Head Coach after being on sabbatical. Herbers has gone 119-19 in three seasons at Alberta (2012-15), winning back-to-back University Cup's in 2014 and 2015. The Bears return the core of the team that Serge Lajoie coached to the school's 16th National title last March losing only top 6 forward Jamie Crooks and swing man Dylan Bredo to graduation-Bredo played mostly defence, but moved to center after returning from a shoulder injury last season. (FYI, Lajoie is now the Head Coach of the Kamloops Blazers in the WHL.) To start the season the Bears will be down a couple key bodies up front. Top-6 forwards Stephane Legault (2018 University Cup MVP, 5th in Canada West scoring last season) and Tyson Baillie (tied for 12th in Conference scoring) will both be unavailable to start the year. Bottom-6 forward Cole Linaker will also be out a while as he still recovering from a significant lower body injury that limited him to eight Conference games last season. That said the Bears do return the prolific trio of Trevor Cox-Luke Philp-Cole Sanford. All three were dynaminc players in the WHL. Philp was an All-Canadian last season and the Canada West MVP after leading the Conference in scoring with 40 points in 28 GP. This will be Philp's third season at Alberta and it could be his last as multiple NHL teams were scouting him last Spring. Cox, who scored 109 points with Medicine Hat in '14-15 last season was 4th in Canada West scroring last season. Sanford has yet to take his game to the next level since coming to USports. He scored 50 and 41 goals in back-to-back seasons in the WHL. Herbers had terrific Powerplays at Alberta before leaving for the Oilers; Sanford, who is a shooter could benefit the most from Herbers return. In the wake of the early season absence of both Legault and Bailllie (who had 43-52-95 as a 20-year old with Kelowna) the Bears will expect Steven Owre and Brandon Magee to be consistent top-6 performers. Owre was on the USports All-Rookie team last season. Magee is spirited player with offensive upside but has a reputation for being undisciplined in Junior and in USports-he was suspended for the University Cup last season; but could take his game to the next level under Herbers. Team Captain Riley Kieser will center the Bears third line, and has been the same glue guy for Alberta that he was on the WHL's last Memorial Cup Champion, the Edmonton Oil Kings back in 2014. General Manager Stan Marple has recruited two forwards out of the WHL who will play immediately: Curtis Miske, is a 6'3", 205 pound center who had 27-37-64 in 72 GP last season for Prince Albert and was the best Raiders forward in a hard-fought 7-game series loss to WHL regular season Champion Moose Jaw. Grayson Pawlenchuk, is a grinding bottom-6 forward who had 52 points in 72 GP last season playing for Brent Sutter in Red Deer, A wild-card for the Golden Bears is Jayden Hart. The 6'2" RW, scored 4 goals in 11 AHL GP for Rochester before coming to Alberta. He had a strong second season, but core issues have derailed his game and he was non-factor last season. Marple and Herbers still have lines in the water on at least three strong graduating WHL forwards who are headed to NHL camps without NHL deals. Whereas the Golden Bears will be lacking a little depth up front at least out of the gate, Alberta is as good as anyone in Country on defence and in goal. Alberta has three right shot D that ran powerplays in the WHL. Jason Fram was the USports Defenceman of the Year last season and an All-Canadian after registering 9-14-23 in 28 GP and going +25. Clayton Kirichenko heads into his second season at Alberta, he had 12-52-64 as a 20-year old with Medince Hat. Sawyer Lange was a 50-point man with Prince Albert before coming to Golden Bears. Left shot D Graeme Craig scored 9 goals in 27 GP last season with former NJ pick Ryan Rehill and Ben Carroll rounding out a Bears d corps that can really transition the puck. Herbers will also have the best goaltenders he has worked with at Alberta. Zach Sawchenko bypassed his 20-year old season in the WHL after winning back-to-back Eastern Conference Goalie-of-the-Year Awards with Moose Jaw to come to the Golden Bears last fall. Many believe that had Moose Jaw had Sawchenko as a 20-year old in goal last season that they would have been the WHL Champions instead of Swift Current. The Broncos beat the Warriors in a 7-game series. Ultimately after splitting time with incumbent Brendan Burke last season, Lajoie turned to Sawchenko in the USports Semi-Final OT win over Saskatchewan and the 4-2 U Cup Final win over St. FX. Both Sawchenko and Burke are #1 goalies at the USports level. The dominance of Herber's teams at the last two National Championships that he coached suggests that the Golden Bears might have the best Coach in the Country back in the fold. Marple has being relentless in his efforts to recruit the best players. Alberta will be good to start the season, they could be scary good by the end of the year assuming both Legault and Baillie return to full health and if the program adds at least one impactful forward at Christmas who wil be trying his luck at Pro in the Fall. Expectations are always high for the Golden Bears program, but the pieces could be there for a very dominant Alberta team (especially after Christmas).