Saskatoon, SK- Whether it is a good story or a bad story, all stories must have an ending and that is what happened for both the University of Saskatchewan Huskies and the UBC Thunderbirds men’s hockey team on Saturday night.
For the Saskatchewan Huskies, it was a good story that reached its conclusion. After a gruelling season where they finished right behind the Alberta Golden Bears after 28 games, they captured the banner as champions of Canada West. For UBC, it was the end of their Cinderella run to the finals as they combined a pair of upsets to reach the pinnacle of Canada West hockey alongside their prairie counterparts.
Coming into the series, the Thunderbirds were certainly very confident. They had just taken down one of Canada’s best in the Alberta Golden Bears and the thought of taking down a slightly lesser team in Saskatchewan was not an impossible dream to fathom. However, after 120 minutes of hockey over two nights, it was the better team that came out on top as the Huskies won their 11th Canada West title.
Game 2 was played in front of a sold-out crowd of over 2200 fans at the Huskies two-year-old arena, Merlis Belshir Place in Saskatoon. Regardless of the hockey, the fact that this atmosphere was present at a U Sports hockey game is something special. However, the performance of the hometown Huskies certainly will aid in the effort to bring these fans back next year.
The game began with the Huskies showing their might earlier. As has been a common theme for the T-Birds throughout the playoffs, they leaked shots in the opening frame which led to an inevitable goal for the Huskies. Just over seven minutes into the matchup, Huskies forward Carson Stadnyk sent the Saskatoon crowd into their first frenzy when he forced the puck past UBC’s Rylan Toth to make it 1-0 for the home team. While the first goal in a game always holds a level of importance, this one was different. It opened the scoring which was followed by three goals later, but it remained as the only goal to come at even strength. One can only learn so much from special teams, but it was an intriguing theme that weaved its way through the game.
Before the period ended, Stadnyk just had to add another point to his already lofty total. He did just that when he got the assist on the Husky’s second goal of the evening, this time, off the stick of Levi Cable as the Huskies scored on a brief power play. Cable, who was not named to any postseason All-Star teams, has come alive during the Huskies playoff run and will certainly be a force at the U Cup later in March.
By the end of the first period, the Huskies led 2-0 and were outshooting the T-Birds by more than double. Although UBC has found themselves in an adverse position like this before, being down to a team who has a tittle on their minds is a different kind of animal to tame.
Despite trialling by a pair, the Thunderbirds stepped up their game in the final portion of the second period. The British Columbians were able to keep the Huskies hemmed in their defensive end for the last five minutes of the period, although despite puck possession, Saskatchewan goaltender Taran Kozun stood tall and maintained the two goal lead.
The second period did not see things improve for the Thunderbirds. Cable, who already had a goal, potted his second of the night as he barrelled in a rebound given up by UBC’s Toth. Cable, whose goal was his third in four games has quickly become a crucial piece of the Huskies team. While the third goal definitely helped, it proved to be unnecessary.
With the goalie pulled and their championship hopes on the line, former Calgary Hitmen standout Jake Kryski scored for UBC, but it was too little too late for the Thunderbirds who were forced to take home the silver meal when the finals book was bound.
“Obviously we’re really disappointed, we came here to win a championship and fell short,” said UBC head coach Sven Butenschon to the media postgame. “We faced a real hot team, they’re a veteran group that knows how to win games.”
It is true that the Huskies are a veteran group as they had four players, Kohl Bauml, Cable, Andrew Johnson and Logan McVeigh who were all apart of the 2015-16 championship-winning team. The experience factor was not lost on their head coach Dave Adolph, who said, “You live and die by your seniors, I don’t care what sport it is and ours have been good.”
While the Huskies dominated in the series and their fans gave them some of the best support that any U Sports team has ever had, both them and the UBC Thunderbirds have one more challenge this season: The David Johnston University Cup which will be competed for by eight teams in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
With the win, the Huskies have assured themselves a top-three seed in the tournament while the Thunderbirds have clinched their spot in the bottom four. The teams will both have a couple of weeks to rest up as they make sure they are all set to go for puck drop of their quarter-final games on March 12/13.
For both teams, part of their story is over, but in two weeks, another story will begin as they search for the crown befitted for a national champion.
Cover Photo: Darren Steinke (Twitter)