"It's just one game and anything can happen," Alberta head coach Ian Herbers said Wednesday.
His defending champion Golden Bears are the top-seeded team at this week's University Cup. The eight-team tournament, which previously used a six-team pool setup, begins Thursday at Scotiabank Centre.
Alberta opens Friday against eighth-seeded St. Francis Xavier in one of four quarter-final games. Winners will move on to the semifinals Saturday and medal games are scheduled for Sunday.
The Golden Bears won't be taking any team lightly. Herbers said his squad got a "wake-up call early" in their first pre-season game last September when a small college team beat the reigning CIS champions 6-0.
"Guys just thought we'd carry on where we left off last year," he said. "It doesn't happen that way. We're a new team, we had to go out and earn it."
Alberta posted a 24-3-1 record in the regular season and won four straight games in the playoffs to clinch the Canada West title.
The two schools that have won eight of the last 10 titles are in the field this week. Alberta also won in 2005, 2006 and 2008, while second-seeded UNB has won in every odd-numbered year since 2007.
The Varsity Reds will attempt to keep that pattern going beginning Thursday night against the No. 7 Windsor Lancers.
Meanwhile, the third-seeded Guelph Gryphons have been one of the hottest teams in the CIS since the New Year. Coach Shawn Camp thanked organizers for "letting them in the tournament despite our regular-season record."
With an 11-13-3 mark, Guelph is the only team to finish below .500, but it went 7-2 in the playoffs to win the OUA title. The Gryphons will open Thursday against the sixth-seeded Calgary Dinos.
"We were in last place," Camp said. "Our team had only won three games in the first half."
The team was working hard, but was hampered by injuries.
"We really struggled to score goals in the first half," Camp added. "But once we figured that out, we started to roll."
The Gryphons also faced some adversity, notably the death of player Cole Hamblin early in the season and the death of Rick Kohler, the father of player Thomas Kohler.
"He was just a lovable guy, very easygoing, and was great with the kids at our hockey camp," Camp said. "When Hamblin fell ill, he returned home to Manitoba for a medical checkup and was diagnosed with mucoepidermoid carcinoma, a rare cancer that spread to his lymph nodes, spine and other skeletal areas.
"They had to admit him right away and he passed away within a few weeks," Camp said. "It was devastating for our team. The guys who played with him were in shock."
Camp said that adversity helped his players keep things in perspective.
"It's really made our guys realize that we don't take anything for granted," he said. "There's an urgency to what we're doing, because they've seen that things can change in a second."
The No. 5 Acadia Axemen will take on the No. 4 UQTR Patriotes in the other quarter-final game Friday.