Saskatoon, SK- Bill Shankly, a former head coach of Liverpool Football Club, once said “Form is temporary, but class is permanent.” Although his words were about English football, they rung true in Game 1 of the Canada West men’s hockey final. It was the class and experience of the University of Saskatchewan Huskies which led them to a series opening victory over the UBC Thunderbirds.
In front of a raucous crowd at Merlis Belshir Place, the T-Birds allowed a quick goal in the first period which eventually spelled the downhill trend of the game. The opening goal came from the Huskies Jordan Tkatch with the assist from the stick of Jared Dmytriw who was named the Canada West rookie of the year mere hours before the game.
In his post-game comments, the slow start was not a lost observation on UBC head coach Sven Butenschon. “We didn’t start the first period how we liked, they got us on early and kinda set the tone for the game,” said the third year man behind the bench of his team’s first period, yet he spoke positively about his team’s performance later in the game.
The second period began as a tighter matchup than the first. There were often times where the British Columbians were playing a tougher game than the Huskies and forced them off the puck at multiple points in the game. However, it was almost as though playing the body became too much of a focus. It was that which led to the second goal of the night which came from former WHL journeyman who finished off a near-perfect transition form the home side.
As we can see in the video above, the beginning of the clip shows a UBC forward down on the ice after finishing a hit, then the turnover in the neutral zone where the Huskies have every opportunity to capitalize on a three vs two rush. Johnson, who was the puck carrier, saw McVeigh well and the second pass across goal made sure UBC’s Rylan Toth had no chance at making the save. This is where the quote that led the article really comes into focus as a team that is so skilled and so confident has the ability to pull off such an offensive feat.
However, while the brilliant goal made it a 2-0 for the prarie boys, the coastal conquerers had something to say about it later in the period. In a beautiful transition of their own, the thunderbirds finally got on the board with five minutes left in the second thanks to first-year forward Jake Kryski who’s line was spoken about brightly by Butenschon after the game.
Cutting the lead in half was a critical moment for the Thunderbirds, but that was as close as they would get to finding a lead of their own. Before the five-minute mark of the final frame hit, the Huskies had restored their two-goal cushion. This time, the tally came from one of the few non-CHL alumni players in the game as Layne Young put his shot in the net.
Despite ferocious forechecking, the Thunderbirds were unable to close back in on the Huskies until they scored a goal on the final seconds following the departure of Toth to the bench in favour of an extra skater.
While the loss is the overarching thing that matters to the Thunderbirds, there were a few things that they did do well. One of those was limiting the shot count against them. For just the second time in the playoffs and the first since the first round, UBC limited the shots against to below 40. Although the chances that they conceded were of high quality, having less rubber hit your netminder is an indicator of success at a baseline level.
As for the Huskies, their game was executed exactly how they wanted, but their head coach Dave Adolph knows that the Thunderbirds are going to throw everything at them in game two. “We always talk about Game 2 and how important it is. You have to be better every night to be successful,” said the coach to media following the game. “Your next game has got to be better and we’ll be better.”
In-game one, it was the class and experience of the Huskies which led them to victory. That being said, the UBC Thunderbirds now know what they are getting into for Saturday’s do or die game and will use the knowledge they gained tonight to help them push the series to a third and decisive game.
GAME 2: Saturday Feb.29, Merlis Belshir Place, Saskatoon, SK: 5:00pmPT