Edmonton, AB- What a past couple of days it has been in Canada West. Both the men’s and women’s side of the hockey playoffs are one round away from the final, but more importantly, teams are a series away from booking their place at the national championships, which both happen to be in the Maritimes this year.
The Cinderella story of the playoffs has been the same in each gender, however, this piece is focusing on the men’s tournament, with tomorrow’s on the women. The UBC Thunderbirds men’s and women’s teams were not expected to make it through one round of the playoffs, yet here we are, with the men a win away from the final, and the ladies still holding onto that possibility.
UBC Thunderbirds take down #1 Alberta Golden Bears
Starting off, we take a look at those aforementioned Thunderbirds, who are in Alberta taking on the regular-season champion Golden Bears.
It was not pretty, but somehow, someway the Thunderbirds managed to win the opening game of their semi-final series. When I say it was not pretty, it is in the true meaning of that statement that the Thunderbirds won. While the victory was found in overtime, the Thunderbirds trailed on the shot count 53-17, as they threw less than half of the pucks on the net that the Bears did, not exactly a consistent recipe for success.
The regulation scoring all took place in the second period, as the two sides split four goals with each other. UBC opened the scoring on a powerplay, a goal which proved the importance of playoff special teams and just how good the Thunderbirds have been on the man advantage this post-season. It was a veteran connection that led to the goal, as Matt Revel potted in the chance given to him by former Vancouver Giant Carter Popoff.
Although nice to have, the opening goal only stood relevant for less than 10 minutes, as Dalton Hamaliuk scored midway through the period to tie the game. His goal was assisted by Cole Sanford, who got his first point on what was a two-point night for the former ECHLer.
Soon after potting his first point, Sanford collected his second with a goal on the powerplay and a tally which put the home side and favourites up by a goal. That being said, the goal, like Revel’s earlier was cancelled out before the end of the frame. Alberta once again got themselves into penalty trouble, where they continued to be punished by the T-Birds powerplay, who had Colton Kehler tie the game up in the dying seconds of the middle period.
After a hectic second period, the two teams were knotted at a pair each. Combine the knotted score with no goals in the third, and this game was headed to overtime.
It was the second overtime of the day at6 Alberta’s Clare Drake Arena, as the two women’s teams took three overtimes to find their victor in the earlier game. UBC netminder Rylan Toth continued to stand strong, as he deflected 9 shots in the extra frame, paving the way for defender Jerret Smith to fire a point shot into the back of Alberta’s net, giving the underdogs the first game of the series.
Alberta has been a consistent presence at the national championship and is the four-time defending champions of Canada West. If the UBC Thunderbirds are to take them down, it will go down as one of the largest upsets in U Sports hockey history.
Calgary Dinos fall to Taran Kozun and the Saskatchewan Huskies
The result of this game was less of a surprise. Yes, the Calgary Dinos fared better than many expected, but game one still went the way fo the Saskatchewan Huskies who were expected to win. Some of the lacklustre play for the Huskies could be chalked up to not playing in two weeks, however, they got the job done and can move on.
Unlike in the UBC game, all of the scorings took place in the first period, and the rest of the game was a defensively sound affair. One only has to look as far as the shot count to see how conservatively both of these teams played, as each finished with a total below 20. It’scertainly odd to see two extremely different games happen in the same round of the series, yet that’s exactly what happened.
The Huskies won the game by bookending the scoring. The opened it with a goal from Levi Cable and won thanks to their second goal by Colin Shirly. The goal in the middle of those two was in Calgary’s favour, thanks to Ryan Graham.
Despite only having 12 shots in the game, the Dinos were still disappointed to only put one past Saskatchewan netminder Taran Kozun. Calgary head coach Mark Howell praised Kozun after the game but also stressed that he and his team need to find ways to get pucks by him.
“The last three games we’ve only scored one on him. Kozun’s a good goaltender. We’ve got to find some ways to get clean looks on him and get some traffic,” said Howell to the Canada West website.
It is going to come down to the ideas he has to beat Kozun if the Dinos are going to avoid being swept by the Huskies.
The second game of the series will be played at the same location, as is the case due to travel constraints in the conference, and is set for Saturday night.