03/22/2012 02:34 EDT | Updated 05/22/2012 05:12 EDT

CIS men's hockey tourney begins in Fredericton

The University of New Brunswick Varsity Reds are hoping to use its home ice advantage to repeat as national champions this weekend.

The 2012 Canadian Interuniversity Sports hockey championships will start on Thursday at the Aitken Centre in Fredericton.

It's the second year in a row that the UNB Varsity Reds have hosted the event, and they're looking to repeat as tournament champions.

Gardiner MacDougall, the coach of the Varsity Reds, said having the home crowd on their side is a definite advantage.

"I think we've been fortunate here that we've led in crowd attendance the last 12 years in the Atlantic conference and been the tops in the country in many of those years, as well," he said.

"There's a real passionate fan base here in Fredericton. I think we're fortunate that university hockey is the big item in town."

Although MacDougall’s team is ranked No. 1 in the CIS, he is quick to point out that anything can happen in the national championship tournament.

"Winning's difficult —at any level — and certainly at the CIS level. So, for the six teams that got here, it's not an easy road," he said.

"Certainly, this tournament may be the toughest tournament in Canada to win."

UNB isn't the only New Brunswick team playing this week. A rally was held Wednesday in support of the University of Moncton Blue Eagles.

Serge Bourgeois, the coach of the Blue Eagles, said he believes playing only a two-game round robin before the finals works to his team's advantage.

"We can shorten our bench a little bit. In a series, you have to go with four lines. So we feel that if we put our key guys out there, we can have success," he said.

The CIS tourney kicks off Thursday afternoon when the Blue Eagles meet last year's runner-up, the McGill Redman.

UNB plays its first game Thursday evening against the Patriotes from Trois-Rivières, Que.

Each of the six teams plays twice over the next three days. The top two teams meet in the finals on Sunday evening.